OU study uncovers dishonesty among online class participants

Online classes may have increased educational accessibility for many students, but a study conducted by two Ohio University professors shows they might have contributed to a large increase in academic dishonesty.

Mark Shatz and Frank LoSchiavo, two psychology professors at OU’s Zanesville Branch campus, used an introductory psychology course to survey the level of academic dishonesty in online courses.

At OU, students can take online classes through programs offered by the eCampus department.

The research found that, after students had taken a class with 14 online, not-proctored quizzes, 72.5 percent of the 40 students reported cheating on at least one of the quizzes. The 14 quizzes allowed students plenty of opportunities to cheat, LoSchiavo said.

“Cheating rates depend upon the situation the students are put in,” LoSchiavo said.

LoSchiavo and Shatz conducted two additional studies that incorporated the use of an honor code into the classes, but there was no statistical difference between the cheating rates of students who signed the honor code and those who did not.

“We wanted to see what kind of success (an honor code) had in an online course, and in general it had limited success,” LoSchiavo said. “That’s why another point of the study is that people need to be practical — cheating is going to happen if they give students the opportunity.”

But the honor code did have an effect when it was used in a “blended course” — a class taught partially online but mainly in a physical classroom.

“Fortunately, an honor code did reduce self-reported cheating in the blended course, suggesting that the academic environment plays a critical role in a student’s decision to abide by such a pledge,” LoSchiavo and Shatz wrote in the study.

The number of students referred for allegations of academic misconduct at OU has risen consistently over the past three years. In the 2008–2009 academic year, 42 students were referred. That number rose to 45 in 2009–2010 and even further to 58 in 2010–2011, said Chris Harris, director of the Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility.

Harris added that there was no breakdown of allegations for online classes but the office has seen reports of academic misconduct in online classes.

“I think as the university expands the use of online opportunities, we are likely to see students for academic misconduct from online programs as well,” Harris said in a statement.

Faye Miller, a senior studying political science and Spanish, has taken five online classes.

“I have never taken an online class where anything was proctored,” Miller said. “So (for) all my online classes, the exams have just been online.”

But she said she knew of other students who had to go to a branch campus and take proctored exams as part of their online courses.

Dustin Ewing, a junior studying media management, has taken two online courses and said there were many opportunities where students could consult outside sources.    

“We took online exams and it was basically the honors system,” Ewing said. “If you wanted to cheat, you could cheat.”


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