Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
September 29, 2006
Academic Misconduct Major Problem in Canada, Study Finds
Cheating, deceit and plagiarism are serious problems in Canadian high schools and universities, the first major study of academic misconduct in Canadian post-secondary institutions has found. Conducted by Julia Christensen Hughes of the University of Guelph and Donald McCabe of Rutgers University, the study will be published this fall in the Canadian Journal for Higher Education.
“Large numbers of Canadian students report having engaged in a variety of questionable behaviours in the completion of their academic work,” said Christensen Hughes, who’s director of U of G’s Teaching Support Services, an associate professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and president of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.
“These results are consistent with the view of 43 per cent of faculty and teaching assistants surveyed who felt that cheating may be a serious problem in Canadian higher education,” she said.
Christensen Hughes and McCabe surveyed 14,913 undergraduate students (including 1,269 first-year students who reflected on their high school experiences), 1,318 graduate students, 683 teaching assistants (TAs) and 1,902 faculty from 11 Canadian post-secondary institutions across five provinces.
Cheating on written work was the most common infraction for students from all levels. Seventy-three per cent of university students reported instances of serious cheating on written work while in high school. Fifty-three per cent of undergraduate and 35 per cent of graduate students said they cheated on written work.
“Serious cheating on written work could include anything from copying a few sentences from the Internet without footnoting to turning in a paper that someone else wrote,” said Christensen Hughes.
A surprising 58 per cent of the first-year students surveyed said they had cheated on a test or exam in high school by copying from another student without the person’s knowledge, helping another student cheat on a test or using “cheat sheets.”
Eighteen per cent of undergraduate students and nine per cent of graduate students said they had cheated on a test or exam.
McCabe, a management and global business professor and founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, noted that the Canadian results are fairly typical of what he has observed in his surveys of students in the United States.
Many students have a different view of what constitutes academic misconduct, particularly when it comes to working with others or in situations they perceive to be unfair, said Christensen Hughes. “Students may engage in these behaviours simply because they don’t believe they’re wrong. These results may be indicative of a clash between a collaborative student culture and a more traditional, individualistic faculty culture.”
The problem could also stem from the fact that only 14 per cent of the students thought they would get caught for cheating in high school and even fewer indicated they would be embarrassed to tell their friends they had done so, she said.
At university, although students considered faculty to be quite vigilant, 46 per cent of faculty and 38 per cent of TAs surveyed said they had ignored suspected cases of academic misconduct, mostly because they didn’t think they had the proof to back up their suspicions. Even if a student were found guilty, the majority of faculty and TAs said they believed the student would probably receive only a reprimand or warning, whereas they’d prefer that the student receive a failing grade for the exam or assignment.
“Institutions of higher education need to develop comprehensive strategies for dealing with academic misconduct, beginning with the explicit recognition that there is a problem,” said Christensen Hughes.
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