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Regular version of the site

Academic Environment Can Affect Student Honesty

Transparent rules of conduct for teachers and students can contribute to student engagement in learning.


Natalia MaloshonokResearch Fellow, HSE Institute of Education.

Disciplining students for a variety of activities, such as downloading papers from the internet, engaging in plagiarism or cheating on exams may not work when academic dishonesty is so commonplace at university that even top performers tend to follow the crowd in this. Indeed, academic misconduct can be self-perpetuating: if a student gets away with cheating once, they are more likely to cheat next time, according to Maloshonok.

A survey of 3,717 students of economics and management at eight universities in different Russian regions has confirmed that academic misconduct, such as plagiarism and paying someone to do assignments for them, is not at all uncommon among undergraduates.

According to 35% of students of economics and 34% of students of management surveyed, many undergraduates at their departments have downloaded papers from the internet instead of writing them. Similarly, 25% of economics and 28% of management students know peers who have paid someone to write essays or course papers for them, while according to 16% of economics and 17% of management students, cheating can get one through most tests at their departments.

Student Engagement in Learning Can Vary

Maloshonok demonstrated a correlation between academic honesty and student engagement by using six regression models, where student engagement patterns were the dependent variables and four types of academic dishonesty — downloading pre-written papers from the internet, cheating at tests, paying someone to do one’s assignment and bribing the teacher — served as predictors.

The study's author conducted a factor analysis and identified five distinct patterns of student involvement. Three of them are positive, including:

  • interaction with teachers, where students discuss their assignments, projects, choice of major and career plans with a teacher whom they perceive as a mentor and source of sound advice;
  • engagement in learning in and out of class, where students often volunteer answers and can readily accept additional assignments;
  • engagement in classroom discussions, where students can also rely on their learning from other courses, thus showing an ability for interdisciplinary and systemic thinking;

The fourth, negative pattern of engagement is student failure to comply with the study requirements, i.e. missing deadlines for submitting assignments, coming unprepared and becoming easily distracted in class.

The fifth pattern reflects student attendance of lectures and seminars.

Teacher Attention Can Stimulate Student Performance

The first student engagement pattern shows a correlation between student-teacher interaction and two academic honesty-related variables, i.e. whether students consider downloading papers from the internet a common practice among peers and whether they believe they can get away with cheating at exams. The author found a negative correlation between the incidence of these two patterns and frequency of student-teacher communication; in other words, the more they interact with teachers, the less likely students are to cheat in an exam.

Likewise, student engagement in learning was found to be negatively associated with the incidence of cheating at exams; i.e. students who work hard during the semester are likely to be honest at exams.

Ironically, students engaged in learning were also more likely to report higher incidences of dishonest practices among peers, such as downloading papers from the internet or paying someone to do assignments for them — perhaps because highly motivated students tend to be more critical of peers' dishonest behaviour.

Lack of Transparency Breeds Slacking

Student failure to meet the study requirements was found to correlate positively with cheating, paying others to write one’s papers or downloading them from the internet. In other words, an environment where cheating is common is also one where students are more likely to slack off.

Student engagement in classroom discussion was found to be negatively correlated with the likelihood of downloading papers from the internet or purchasing them from others.

Reported class attendance correlated negatively with perceived popularity of downloading or buying papers, and cheating. Whether or not students believed they could get away with cheating at exams was found to be closely associated with perceived class attendance.

The above findings demonstrate that a transparent educational environment and student engagement in learning go hand in hand, as do a non-transparent environment where cheating is common and student are negligent.

Maloshonok's paper "How Perceptions of Academic Honesty at University Correlates with Student Engagement: Conceptualisation and Empirical Research Opportunities" is published in Educational Studies, No.1, 2016. The study was conducted as part of the inter-university project Monitoring of Student Characteristics and Trajectories (2013-2014).
October 19, 2016