I just finished a six month study (part of a larger two year study) that focuses upon examining successful strategies for cheating in online courses. Yes, instead of studying those who get caught, I focused upon those who report never getting caught. I plan to submit the article to a journal next week, but here is the extended Twitter version.

Background - Many / most studies about cheating are policy studies, focused upon how to reduce cheating. A few focus upon cheating itself, but almost all of them are quantitative. I wanted to contribute a qualitative analysis of those who have cheated in online courses without getting caught.

Question – What are the strategies and perceptions of those who successfully cheat in online courses? As qualitative researcher, I allowed the participant responses to lead me into a second question as well. What are the beliefs and perceptions of those who report not cheating in online courses?

Method – I relied heavily upon an open-ended online survey, inviting participants at two Midwestern liberal arts colleges to share their cheating strategies.

Results – I was surprised to find that many people completed the survey who reported never cheating, even though I asked people to only complete it if they had cheated. In fact, the majority of those who completed the survey reported not cheating, and yet that percentage changed when they got to the section of the survey that asked them how they cheated. In other words, some stated that they never cheated and then went on to explain how they cheated. I go into a greater analysis in the full paper, but here are a few bullet points for now.

  • Most volunteered not only how they cheated but why they cheated even though the survey never asked about “why.”
  • Many who reported not cheating used the open-ended section to explain why they did not cheat.
  • The reasons to not cheat and to cheat were similar. They don’t cheat because they think cheating is wrong. Others do cheat because they think something about the course or the instructions is “wrong”, justifying the decision to cheat. Others do not cheat because they noted that it would cheat them out of necessary preparation for future work. Those who did cheat often noted that they did so because they saw the assignment as not valuable in preparing them for future work.
  • The cheating strategies revealed in this study were far from high-tech. In fact, not a single strategy required more than a few minutes of time and effort.
  • The most common focus of cheating was online quizzes and tests.
  • The most common strategy was simply meeting IRL to work through the online quizzes and papers together, or using a synchronous tool like a cell phone or Skype to work through the quiz questions with others.
  • People cheated when it was easy to do so and when there was minimal to no chance of getting caught.
  • Even minimal deterrents seem to drastically reduce the chance of cheating.
  • Among the 10 types of online learning activities, students reported the fewest incidents of cheating with regard to group or team projects.
  • Plagiarism in the form of taking direct quotes was rare, but source deception was much more common (find the content on Wikipedia but cite it as coming from a scholarly source).
  • Responses show significant student confusion about what does and does not constitute cheating in an online course.

Obviously, there is more to the full paper, but I thought I would share a few of these insights with you first. What are your experiences or perceptions about cheating in online courses?

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is Assistant Vice President of Academics for Continuing and Distance Education & Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin.

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