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Study: Academic honesty increases in past year

April 30, 2007

By Elizabeth Boyle and Colleen Girton

A recent study shows academic honesty among Ohio University students has markedly increased in the past year. 

The study, by a communication studies doctoral student who co-authored a similar report in 2006, also found Ohio University students engage in less academic misconduct than their peers across North America. In the study, Melissa Broeckelman collected data from more than 500 Ohio University undergraduates, graduate students and faculty on the growing national issue of academic honesty.

Broeckelman found that the percentage of Ohio University undergraduates who acknowledged engaging in academic misconduct fell by almost half from last year, from 44.7 percent to 21.6 percent. The drop among graduate students was from 17.7 percent in 2006 to 13.7 percent this year. The percentage of faculty who say they have observed misconduct also dropped, from 68.3 percent in 2006 to 52 percent this year. (See accompanying table.)

Broeckelman compared her findings to surveys by Rutgers University researcher Don McCabe of almost 95,000 students and faculty on 83 U.S. and Canadian campuses from 2002 to 2005. With only two exceptions, Ohio University student behavior in 26 specific categories of academic misconduct is substantially lower than North American averages.

"Even more encouraging for Ohio University, the largest proportion of gaps between Ohio University and the North American average can be seen in … the most serious types of academic dishonesty," Broeckelman noted.

The co-chair of the university's Academic Integrity Committee is equally encouraged by the findings. "People are taking academic honesty a lot more seriously now," said Scott Titsworth, associate professor of communication studies and Broeckelman's adviser. "Events of the past year have made people think about their role as students and as teachers."

Broeckelman concurs. "While we can't be certain if the decrease is because students are cheating less or because they are more reluctant to admit to doing so, either case shows they are taking academic integrity more seriously," she said.

Academic misconduct often is defined as making intentional, unethical decisions to cheat and plagiarize. Broeckelman, also an academic honesty adviser for the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, points out that more often, and sometimes as a result of cultural differences, students simply don't know the rules or have the skills they need to do their work honestly. Understanding how to paraphrase and cite sources properly when rules about citing Internet sources are constantly changing can be overwhelming.

Ohio University ramped up efforts to reassert academic honesty as one of the university's core values after several dozen theses and dissertations in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology showed alleged plagiarism.

The Academic Integrity Committee was formed last summer to review the university's policies, procedures and processes related to academic honesty and make recommendations to strengthen them if necessary.

The university has since piloted the use of Turnitin.com software as an educational tool to deter academic misconduct; drafted an honor code to promote ongoing dialogue about academic integrity, to educate the university community and to create academic expectations; and worked with Student Senate to establish an honor council, whose initial charge will be to create a final version of the honor code.

The Russ College also implemented several initiatives, including a required technical writing course for graduate students, student and faculty honor councils, academic honesty workshops and a Russ College-specific honor code.

Provost Kathy Krendl said data in Broeckelman's report will be useful as the university moves forward. "Clearly, Ohio University is making great strides," she said. "This report will help us focus on some next steps as we continue to develop a leading program in academic integrity."

Broeckelman will present the report Thursday as part of the Ohio University Student Research and Creative Activity Fair in the Convocation Center.

Here are specific findings within the Broeckelman report:
     
  • Activities reported in the 2006 study as minor plagiarism – such as copying sentences – are now seen as serious.
       
     
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  • Faculty and students believe there should be more consequences for academic misconduct, especially educational ones such as referring students to campus writing and ethics resources.
       
     
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  • The most common ways students learn about academic honesty policies are through course syllabi, student and faculty handbooks, and faculty.
       
     
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  • Course size and instructor caring factor heavily in encouraging academic honesty. Other factors included course relevance, course difficulty and assignment type.
       
     
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  • Many faculty and students feel learning primarily is approached as a means to get a degree and a job, a fact that could contribute to academic misconduct.
       
     

Elizabeth Boyle is a writer with University Communications and Marketing. Colleen Girton is director of external relations for theRuss College of Engineering and Technology.

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