Study Reveals Disconnect Between Colleges’ and Students’ Perceptions About Cheating

By: Mike McKissack

Jarret Dyer Article Image

College of DuPage Researcher Examines Academic Honesty in an Era of Increased Distance Learning

When College of DuPage Specialized Testing Services Coordinator Jarret Dyer began his study on academic dishonesty in 2015, little did he know how timely the results would be. A paper covering the results, released this spring and co-authored by Dyer and his fellow researchers Heidi C. Pettyjohn from the University of Cincinnati and Dr. Steve Saladin from the University of Idaho, shows the increased potential for academic dishonesty in an online educational environment.

Published recently in the Journal of the National College Testing Association, their paper, “Academic Dishonesty and Testing: How Student Beliefs and Test Settings Impact Decisions to Cheat,” suggests that the testing environment plays a role in how students perceive academic dishonesty and, as a result, how they behave while taking tests.

Dyer said the study shows a divide between how college faculty and students perceive academic dishonesty. He added that beginning the conversation from that foundation is an important first step in effecting change.

“Colleges need to understand students’ perceptions about academic dishonesty,” he said. “This knowledge can then be used as a starting point for formulating plans to combat cheating on tests and engaging students in discussions of academic integrity.”

Teaching and learning are rapidly transforming as faculty members can engage students remotely, thanks to new methods and tools made possible through constantly evolving technology. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this transformation has accelerated exponentially as schools have been forced to transition to an online format. While online educational opportunities have many benefits including convenience and flexibility, they also present new challenges.

“Students take a proctored testing environment more seriously and respond more appropriately,” he said. “They take unproctored tests as an unspoken justification to cheat. The research shows that the way testing organizations and teachers treat assessments substantially impacts how students will behave while test-taking.”

According to Dyer, the study was not designed to address preventive security measures, but to look at how understanding attitudes about cheating in differing test environments could be used to direct a proactive approach to increasing testing security. He said the College plans to implement increased testing security protocols.

“The Testing Center and Learning Commons staff has always been acutely aware of the need for proctors,” he said. “This summer and continuing this fall, staff will be working to the best extent possible to facilitate remote proctoring for our classes.”

Dyer and his fellow researchers also wanted to fill gaps in existing research related specifically to cheating on tests and assessments, as opposed to academic dishonesty as a whole. Beginning with responses from first- and second-year engineering students at College of DuPage and then expanding to students from three four-year institutions, the authors set out to explore how student attitudes towards specific environments for testing might contribute to the prevalence or likelihood of cheating on tests and exams.

The authors hypothesized that while there would be no difference in students’ beliefs or attitudes regarding the acceptability of cheating behaviors in unproctored versus proctored settings, students are more likely to engage in cheating behavior in an unproctored setting. While the research supported that hypothesis, the team was surprised to learn that there was a difference between students’ attitudes regarding the acceptability of cheating in unproctored versus proctored settings. Simply put, students believe the responsibility for lessening the opportunity to cheat is strictly on the institution and the instructor.

“From the research, we found that students generally did not connect test taking to learning, and in many cases, they believed that they were taking the test at the face value that the professor was giving it,” he said. “If a professor gives a take home test with no test security built in, the students assume that the professor knows they’ll look answers up. If a professor introduces the importance of test security, academic integrity and puts in place the guardrails of proctoring, students are less likely to believe that cheating is okay, and less likely to cheat.”

According to Dyer, a standard practice in testing in an online environment is to record each student while they are testing and then to send the recording to teachers to review. He said that while research indicates that students should be observed at all times while testing and that proctors must be able to intervene immediately if they notice any unusual behavior, the current industry approach is impractical and unwieldy, requiring teachers to spend an extra hour or more reviewing each students’ recording.

Important even in normal circumstances, the question of academic dishonesty and academic integrity are especially significant as educational institutions move to hybrid and online formats. According to the Dyer, the implications of academic dishonesty go well beyond current circumstances and the simple question of ethics, it can strike at the heart of an institution.

“A culture of academic dishonesty can reduce the perceived integrity of the institution, as perceived by prospective students and the community, devaluing degrees from the institution and threatening the validity of those credentials,” he said.

Learn more about the Testing Center at College of DuPage.