Stronger relationships among students result in a peer situation where pressure from the peer group encourages more cheating than in an environment where strong relationships are built with faculty.
The author provides evidence of the power of peer pressure as opposed to individual factors such as demographics or psychological tendency by means of data from students who live with their peers as opposed to those who live in a relatively isolated setting. She for example cites evidence to the effect that affiliation with a sorority or fraternity tends to increase the likelihood of cheating. The relationships that students develop with their peers also include the development of a common norm that may or may not be concomitant with the general norms of the institution. Hence, the student is more likely to adhere to the friendship norm than the more general institutional one.
Forming peer groups on campus (Hutton, 2006, p. 174) meant that the few leaders with strong personalities benefit, but that the followers in the group are often pressured to behave in an unethical way as a result of group pressure in order to maintain positive relationships with the rest of the group. All indications are therefore that peer pressure increases the likelihood of students to cheat.
Although there are certain pressures on institutions, the pressure on students more directly leads to cheating. The most direct of these pressures include the pressure to perform academically while maintaining social relationships, and pressure from immediate peer associations on campus.
The pressure on institutions is to find targeted and more effective ways to curb the phenomenon. Most importantly, institutions need to be aware of the changing environment of teaching and learning, and also that traditional methods of curbing dishonest behavior are no longer valid. In addition to therefore creating a common definition of the meanings and actions behind cheating, both students and lecturers must be subject to the same value code that both discourages dishonesty and encourages integrity. The best ways of accomplishing this should involve using the relationships that students cultivate to change the focus on cheating as pleasurable to one of cheating as shameful and therefore to be avoided.
Academic Dishonesty: The Internet
Many have argued that the Internet is the main culprit in the rise of cheating behavior today. Indeed, the technology has become so prevalent, easy to use and cheap, that an increasing number of students are also regarding it as an alternative to formal college learning. In addition, the general perception of Internet information as belonging to the public is further encouraging the unethical use of such information for academic purposes.
The increasing prevalence of cheap cell phone models and computers, in addition to affordable data deals has also made it increasingly easier for students at all levels and of all age groups to cheat. According to Flannery (2004, p. 40), a whole industry has grown from the cheating phenomenon, with Web sites offering "Grade-A" essays that students then use to hand in as their own. The author cites Web sites such as www.*****, www.*****, and www.lazystudents.com in this regard, where cheating is openly encouraged.
The prevalence of freely available information and sites such as those above has also inevitably influenced the perception of ethics among high school and tertiary students. Flannery for example notes that 74% of high school students admitted cheating on exams at least once in the past year, while almost half of these students expressed their agreement with the statement that it is sometimes necessary to cheat to get ahead. This is an assumption that they appear to carry along into the tertiary level.
According to the author, educators are faced with an increasingly technologically sophisticated student body, but also with a student body that displays a somewhat immature level of ethics. In other words, while the Internet provides them with the power of knowledge, they do not have a solid set of ethics to help them understand and utilize this power for their own long-term benefit.
Additionally, the increasing sophistication of the cheating student has resulted in the decreased likelihood of being found out and brought forward to account for their actions. They have no sense of the responsibility that should regulate the information age. In general, this cannot likely be blamed on any educator or parent, but rather upon the phenomenon known as the information explosion. The rapid development of information technology brought with it no consistent set of values to regulate its use. Hence also the prevalence of unchecked Internet crime unrelated to the academic setting.
According to Etter, Cramer and Finn (2006, p. 136), the ease of use of Internet technology, along with peer factors, can indeed be mitigated by demographic and institutional factors. Private institutions for example have shown lower levels of cheating than state-supported institutions where campuses are larger. This is also integrated with other demographic factors such as the above-mentioned element of age and gender.
The main problem with using technology to cheat at university level is the fact that there are no consistent policies or safeguards against it. Professors are unwilling to pursue cases of cheating when they notice it, while the majority of cases persist unchecked. It is for example easy to sneak a cell phone into an examination hall without notice and connecting with the Internet or with friends to find the answers.
Thus, the ease of access and use via the Internet is one major factor in encouraging cheating and perpetuating the cheating culture at university level. Students are all but given permission to cheat by being provided with online access to the Internet. Universities that do implement policies against Internet cheating appear to fight a losing battle between providing students with the necessary means to conduct their studies and curbing the unethical use of these privileges.
In order to discourage Internet cheating, Flannery suggests that teachers should also use technology. Because of the demographic tendency of younger persons to cheat, teachers should also play a role in educating their students on Internet ethics as early as possible in their school careers. On a more practical level, teachers can also easily check suspected essays for plagiarism by using phrases from the work as search terms. There are also Web sites that specifically cater to those looking for ways to identify plagiarism in essays.
The fact however remains that the main driver for the tendency to cheat among students is the ease of access to the Internet by a multiplicity of media. All modern cell phones have Internet access, while new handheld devices are developed almost as fast as buyers can purchase them. Parents provide their children with Internet access via these devices, often unchecked and unmonitored. Universities provide their students with Internet access without any consistent code of conduct to accompany it.
Given the maturity level of tertiary students, it should perhaps not be surprising that they increasingly use the increasing availability of access and information as means to obtain better results at their institutions of learning.
Further influencing this is the fact that young people tend to be more competent Internet users than their instructors (Etter, Cramer and Finn, 2006, p. 133). This causes a perception among students that it would be easy to deceive the instructor in question, and they are unfortunately but frequently correct in this assessment.
In addition to frequently checking assignments, the increasing use of the Internet for instructional purposes could cultivate respect and trust in the relationship between instructor and student that has been increasingly absent with the presence and use of the Internet on campuses.
Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century. Twenty-First Century Forces Shaping Academic Integrity.
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Engler, J.N., Landau, J.D. And Epstein, M. (2008). Keeping Up With the Joneses: Students' Perceptions of Academically Dishonest Behavior. Teaching of Psychology, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 99-102
Etter, S., Cramer, J.J. And Finn, S. (2006). Origins of Academic Dishonesty: Ethical Orientations and Personality Factors Associated with Attitudes about Cheating with Information Technology. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, Vol. 39 No. 2, pp. 133-155.