The Importance of an Honor Code Culture

An interesting study in relation to cheating and honor codes found that the lowest level of cheating among students occurred at a school that did not have an honor code. In contrast, it found that a school with an 100-year-old honor code had one of the highest levels of cheating among students.

According to research by The Ohio State University, less cheating usually occurs in honor code environments.

So that leads into the question:

Why was the cheating lower in a school that did not have an honor code?

According to the same study, although there was no honor code, the school developed a culture that emphasized many of the elements found at honor code schools, and encouraged academic integrity without having a formal honor code. It is not the existence of an honor code that is important in deterring cheating, but a truly effective honor code will be well implemented and strongly embedded into the school, and campus culture. The school without the honor code clearly conveyed their beliefs about the seriousness of cheating, communicated expectations regarding high standards of integrity, and encouraged students to know and abide by rules of proper conduct.

The school with the long standing honor code tradition failed to communicate the essence of its code to students and to indoctrinate them into the campus culture, this could be one of the main reasons why the level of cheating was one of the highest.

Overall, the research found that honor codes do not work without them being embedded in school culture.

How do we get the “honor code culture” embedded into a school?

According to the results of a five year study on the effectiveness of honor codes, there are many ways to help promote an honor code into a campus culture, including:

  • Faculty discussions of honor code in classes
  • Creating student honor councils
  • Displaying honor code plaques in classrooms
  • Inviting ethics guest speakers on campuses
  • Clearly communicating expectations, or behavior that is appropriate and behavior that constitutes cheating
  • Communicating cheating policies and encouraging students to abide by those policies
  • Being supportive when dealing with students, and giving students respect
  • Encouraging the development of good character
  • Focusing on learning, and not the grades
  • Fostering an environment of trust in a classroom

and maybe one of the most important ways:

  • Encouraging personal student responsibility for academic integrity: According to a student at Trinity University, the lessons of being honest and never cheating were never shown to be of importance to her until she signed the schools Honor Book at her Freshman Medal Ceremony. Signing the book impacted her view of honesty, personal responsibility, and academic integrity. When students gain a sense of personal responsibility, it helps them to preserve their own academic integrity and push them toward becoming an honest and responsible member of society.

In conclusion, honor codes are usually found in every school or university; however, honor codes are most effective when they are deeply supported and rooted into the culture of a school. There are many ways a school can incorporate an “honor code culture”, and arguably, one of the most important ways is to encourage students to hold personal responsibility for academic integrity. If you would like to read or learn more about the effectiveness of student led honor codes, be sure to check out this case study from two professors from the College of William and Mary found here.