Can Online Classes Deter Cheating?

A McCabe and Treviño (Rutgers University) study took 1,800 students at nine medium to large-sized universities to examine the influence of contextual and individual factors on cheating behavior. Contextual factors of behaviors, such as peer cheating behavior, peer disapproval of cheating behavior, and perceived severity of penalties for cheating, emerged as the most significant. These contextual behaviors were more influential than individual factors (i.e age, gender, GPA). Peer-related factors emerged as the most significant correlate of cheating behavior.

Overall, the study suggested that academic integrity is not only learned from observing the behavior of peers, but that peers behavior provides support for cheating. Because others are cheating, the non-cheater may feel left at a disadvantage, and cheating may come to be viewed as an acceptable way of getting and staying ahead.

Another main factor for cheating?

According to the same study, students in large lecture courses cheated more. Students rationalized that faculty cannot possibly monitor all students in large classes; therefore, increasing cheating in these types of courses.

How do online classes deter cheating?

Based on this study, there are many ways that online courses help decrease cheating:

1. The influence of  peers cheating is greatly decreased.

In an typical online class, students do not develop relationships with their classmates, and do not meet their peers. In return, online students are less likely to be influenced by their classmates, if their classmates are in fact cheating. The feeling of competition, and staying ahead is eliminated.

2. The size of the online class doesn’t matter.

Because an online student is learning at their own pace, in their own time, a large online class is not a factor for cheating. Online classes help students feel that they have control over their own efforts in their learning. Being enrolled in a large online class can actually benefit students, with the ability to communicate with their classmates in online discussion boards, tips, advice, and different ways to study, can help motivate, and promote academic integrity.

3. There are continuous communication methods in online courses.

Online instructors are able to produce clear communication (using asynchronous and synchronous methods) of the rules and standards for the course. Being able to stay afloat of messages of clear guidelines and expectations from students can help deter cheating.

4. Instructors can link assignments to learning objectives

By informing students, and letting them know the point of assignments, students will less likely see the assignments as meaningless or “busy-work”; therefore, they will be less likely to cheat on these assignments. They are more likely to upload integrity to assignments they see as value.

Although, many may argue that online classes may promote cheating, online courses can eliminate the contextual behavior factors that influence cheating; ultimately, deterring cheating, and promoting academic integrity.