Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cybercheating Rate Tops 61% Among Undergraduate Students...

In the spirit of beginning a new semester, take a look at this research study conducted by Neil Selwyn. It finds that 61.9% of undergraduate students engage in "cybercheating". Furthermore, the most active cheaters are those in the sciences, and particularly those with higher levels of proficiency in computer technology.

Cybercheating is defined as any cheating that is enabled by the internet – so cybercheating can occur in any course, and is not unique to online courses.

As anyone who teaches undergrad courses will attest, cybercheating and all forms of online plagiarism, for that matter, run rampant. The study confirms this with the following findings...

  • 50% of students admitted to cybercheating at some point while they were in college.

  • Another 30-40% of students admitted to copying text from the internet into their own work without citing the source. 10-20% did so for large sections of their assignments (i.e. more than a sentence here and there).

  • About 25% of graduate students engage in these same behaviors.

What is particularly interesting is the breakdown by field of study...

  1. Engineering and technology (72%)
  2. Computer sciences and mathematical sciences (71%)
  3. Social studies (64%)
  4. Business and administrative studies (63%)
  5. Law (62%)
  6. Creative arts and design (61%)
  7. Architecture, Building and Planning (60%)
  8. Medicine (58%)
  9. Natural sciences (57%)
  10. Humanities (46%)

It appears that the more expertise one has in computer technology, the more likely they are to use it to their perceived benefit. That's hardly a shocking statement, and in my personal experience teaching Computer Science courses, this resonates as decidedly accurate.

However, what's perhaps most fascinating is that the digital culture in which these students have been raised - downloading copyrighted music on LimeWire, movies on BitTorrent, etc. - has created a certain psychology of permissibility. One 19-year-old engineering student is quoted as saying...

As more and more people are using the Internet illegally, I feel that the chances of being caught or the consequences of my actions are almost insignificant. So I feel no pressure in doing what ever everybody else is doing/using the Internet for.

Neo-academic Richard Landers is completely right in describing this as "purposeful deception, and not much regret over it".

Well, before any aspiring students get any bright ideas, let me assure you that while tech-savvy undergrads may feel inclined to give cybercheating a try, those of us tech-savvy instructors (who, by the way, may have spent numerous years in graduate school researching the ins-and-outs of said technologies) are even more likely to use digital tactics to detect and prevent it. And, in case you're unaware, almost every university these days buys licenses for different software tools that detect online plagiarism, enabling even the least tech-savvy instructors to prevent cybercheating.

Bottom line, the fact that 61.9% of undergraduate students are cybercheating isn't all that shocking. But, make no mistake, it's not allowed, and if you're caught, you will undoubtedly pay the consequences. Bottom line... don't be an idiot.

Have I scared you adequately enough yet?


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