Do Students Cheat More in Online Classes? Maybe Not

A new study contradicts the perception that cheating is more widespread in online classes, finding that students in virtual courses were less likely to cheat than their face-to-face peers.

You can’t make any sweeping generalizations based on the results, since the study only looked at 225 students at Friends University, a private, mid-sized, Christian-based institution in Wichita, Kan.

But the study, “Point, Click, and Cheat: Frequency and Type of Academic Dishonesty in the Virtual Classroom,” adds fresh data to the continuing debate about academic integrity online. The issue is on the minds of many in the distance-education world because the recently reauthorized Higher Education Opportunity Act requires accreditors to monitor steps that colleges take to verify that an enrolled student is the same person who does the course work.

For the new study, researchers surveyed undergraduate students about seven types of academic misconduct. These included cheating on tests, plagiarism, and aiding and abetting (letting a classmate copy a paper, for example). In both traditional and online classes, aiding and abetting was found to be the cheating method of choice.

Asked about the results, Donna Stuber-McEwen, an author of the study, suggested that age may be one factor.

“Research has shown that older students tend to cheat less frequently than younger students,” Stuber-McEwen, a psychology professor, told The Chronicle. “And our sample tended to have a greater percentage of nontraditional students in the online classes.”

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