Academic Integrity vs. Dishonesty

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Module Summary


Academic integrity is a critical aspect of actual learning in a higher education setting. This integrity carries over into graduate student research and professional lives. Given the importance of academic integrity and K-State’s Honor Policy, students need to be supported in their academic integrity and development. This module explores what “academic integrity” and “academic dishonesty” are. This also examines the implications of academic honesty in learning, research, and professional work life. This highlights some of the research literature findings about college student academic dishonesty in online learning. More important, this will introduce some methods and tools that may be used in identifying student academic dishonesty. Finally, this offers a look at K-State’s Honor Code and the support structures that bolster this student-peer-run program.


Learners will...

  • Study what academic integrity and academic dishonesty are
  • Consider the implications of academic honesty in learning, research, and professional work life
  • Explore what the educational research literature says about college student academic dishonesty in online classes
  • Review some of the academic integrity challenges in online learning, and consider some of the tools and methods that support faculty work in detecting academic dishonesty and enforcing academic honesty
  • Examine K-State’s Honor Code and some of the supports that faculty members have to enforce academic honesty in their online courses

Module Pretest

1. What is academic integrity? What is academic dishonesty?

2. What are the implications of academic honesty in learning? in research? in professional work life?

3. What does the educational research literature say about college student academic dishonesty in online classes?

4. What are some academic integrity vs. academic dishonesty challenges in online learning? What are some methods and tools that support faculty work in detecting academic dishonesty and enforcing academic honesty?

5. What is K-State’s Honor Code? What supports do faculty members have to enforce academic honesty in their online courses?

Main Contents

A widely held statistic on college student plagiarism suggests that approximately two-thirds of college students have admitted engaging in cheating at least once in their college lives (Berger & Berger, 1999, p. 289). A study of academic cheating in eight transitional economies of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the US found widespread cheating in all the surveyed countries with such behaviors seen as “socially acceptable and not ethically wrong” (Grimes, 2004, p. 273). There is variance of cheating incidences across disciplines of study (Sheard, Carbone, & Dick, 2002).

Beliefs about the prevalence and seriousness of academic conduct may affect both faculty efforts at heading off academic dishonesty and learner willingness to engage in it, according to social norms theory. Researchers have found a “strong association between beliefs about the frequency of peer academic misconduct and a student’s own misconduct” (Hard, Conway, & Moran, 2006, p. 1060).

Faculty members have apparently done little to prevent academic misconduct. Hauptman and other researchers suggest “a growing ethical deficit” in which faculty malfeasance includes a range of poor behaviors: “…they masquerade as something they are not; they dissimulate; they distort their credentials; they accept bribes; they steal; they plagiarize; they fabricate; and they fudge, cook, trim, republish, and destroy their data” (Hauptman, 2002, p. 40)

1. What is Academic Integrity? What is Academic Dishonesty?

Academic integrity refers to the honesty with which students do all their academic work and live their academic lives—from their studies to doing their own work to taking their own exams and to following through on their lab work. In athletic sports, this is about fair play and honesty.

Academic dishonesty refers to the use of unwarranted help, whether the student is giving that help or receiving it (or both). This may involve the creation of false data or the misreporting of findings. This may involve using books or online sites or instant-messaging or telephone “lifelines” for a closed-book test. This may involve the fraudulent creating of a human test proctor who is truly non-existent. Academic dishonesty may involve lying about a family member’s illness to get a deadline extension on work. This sort of academic behavior may involve the outsourcing of assignments, like research papers or work projects. Academic dishonesty involves untruthfulness, deception, and misrepresentation.

2. The Implications of Academic Honesty in Learning / In Research / In Professional Work Life

The validity of a particular domain field relies heavily on the professionalism of its practitioners and their ethical work. Reports of academic dishonesty are not uncommon in higher education in many places around the world.

In research and professional lives, various researchers have been pushed out of various academic positions due to manipulated data, plagiarized works, manipulated imagery, and other types of dishonesty. Research fraud is itself little-studied even though many in the field acknowledge its reality (Arrowe, 2001). Still, some basics are known. The research literature on faculty misbehavior is concerning: “In addition to falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism, other behaviors, including sexual or other forms of harassment, misuse of funds, gross negligence in a person's professional activities, tampering with the experiments of others or with instrumentation, and violations of government research regulations, are subject to legal and social penalties” (Bruhn, Zajac, Al-Kazemi, & Prescott, 2002, p. 475). Peer review processes have been compromised in other cases (Cossette, 2004). A core value in a field should be maintaining the quality and integrity of research (Bruhn, Zajac, Al-Kazemi, & Prescott, 2002).

Normatively, academia should have “an atmosphere of collegiality, mentorship, and excellence that should characterize academia” (Bruhn, Zajac, Al-Kazemi, & Prescott, 2002, p. 486).

3. Research about College Student Academic Dishonesty in Online Classes

The causal factors in student academic dishonesty are generally divided into categories: individual factors and contextual ones.

Individual Factors Leading to Academic Dishonesty: Research about academic dishonesty issues in higher education found the following:

“With regard to individual characteristics, results have typically found that underclassmen cheat more than upperclassmen (Bowers, 1964), that male students cheat more than female students (Bowers, 1964; McCabe & Treviño, 1997), and that students with lower grade point averages cheat more than higher achieving students (Bowers, 1964; McCabe & Treviño, 1997). With regard to contextual characteristics, studies have found that cheating is higher among fraternity and sorority members (Stannard & Bowers, 1970), among students involved in intercollegiate athletics (Bowers, 1964), among students who perceive that their peers cheat and are not penalized (Bowers, 1964; McCabe & Treviño, 1993, 1997), and is lower at institutions that have strong academic honor codes (Bowers, 1964; Brooks, Cunningham, Hinson, Brown, & Weaver, 1981; Campbell, 1935; Canning, 1956; McCabe & Treviño, 1993).” (McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 1999, p. 211).

Students with “high competence and intrinsic motivation” (to learn) were found to have lower expected rates of cheating (Rettinger, Jordan, & Peschiera, 2004, p. 873). Others found a correlation between higher levels of moral development with a lower incidence of cheating (Powers, et al., 1989, p. 213, as cited in Barnardi, Metzger, Bruno, Hoogkamp, Reyes, & Barnaby, 2004, p. 399).

Lower-achieving students who identify more closely with the school tend to engage in less academic dishonesty; for higher achieving students with low levels of academic self-efficacy, they have a higher tendency to engage in academic dishonesty (Finn & Frone, 2004). Researchers suggest that helping students feel more closely integrated to their university may head off some academic dishonesty. Further, higher achieving students should be encouraged in their senses of self-efficacy.

Contextual Factors: Some contextual factors that may encourage student academic dishonesty involve policy, administrator support, and faculty care. Other factors may include technology factors—which will be discussed a little further on.

4. Academic Integrity Challenges in Online Learning / Methods and Tools to Support Faculty Work in Detecting Academic Dishonesty and Enforcing Academic Honesty

A number of studies have suggested that online learning may be at higher risk of academic integrity abuses. The lack of face-to-face interactions may lessen the social bonds that establish the mutual respect between instructors and learners. The absence of the hallway conversations that help people humanize each other are also gone; most interactions in online classrooms are related directly to the learning with little occurring outside that dynamic. Further, there is less direct hands-on support for the learners. The conversations are mediated and “thin” instead of the more channel-rich face-to-face conversations and interactions of face-to-face learning. This context may enable easier justifications for cheating. The uses of the World Wide Web and Internet as substructures for online learning offer direct access to various resources that may make cheating easier—online sites for college note-taking, for example, and paper mills (Stebelman, 1998). One author called online spaces “a safe haven for misbehaving” with activities such as “misrepresentation of self, unauthorized downloading, Internet pornography, online plagiarism, and other “cyber-cheating”)” fairly widespread (Selwyn, 2008, p. 446).

E-cheating is a term made specially to refer to digital cheating: “Digital cheating is a term used to describe students who find a way to cheat using computer technology. One specific form of digital cheating is “e-cheating” which specifically relates to the use of the World Wide Web to assist with cheating” (Rogers, 2006).

Some Interventions

Researchers suggest that there are three stages at which academic dishonesty may be addressed: (1) preemption, (2) detection, and (3) response (Dick, Sheard, Bareiss, Carter, Joyce, Harding, & Laxer, 2003, p. 172). Preemption efforts head off potential academic dishonesty by informing students of standards and explaining the rationales against academic dishonesty. Detection involves a robust approach to identifying incidences of planned or performed academic dishonesty. Response involves, in part, upholding the policies against academic dishonesty and continuing trainings to encourage academic honesty.

Empowering Students: One endeavor is to support student knowledge of what academic dishonesty looks like in the particular learning context. To head off plagiarism, learners are encouraged to study citation standards and methods and to apply these to their works. Sufficient support for learners may lessen the incentive to cut corners because students can actually be encouraged to acquire the knowledge, skills, and professional attitudes.

Assignment Building: Another strategy used to head off academic dishonesty involves the changing up of assignments between terms. Instructors also will disaggregate a large project into smaller pieces and allow sufficient time for students to actually do the work piece-by-piece. The instructor will offer customized feedback at every stage, and the instructor will help evolve the project. This incremental work not only offers support for students, but it offers oversight to the instructor, and it makes it harder to have outsourced work slipped in. The standards of the assignment may discourage learners from copying, but evolving the standards over the lifespan of the project and by changing the direction of the work incrementally as it evolves. “Participatory” assignments in which students help evolve the standards for an assignment also seem to require more learner engagement and motivation, and to lessen risks of academic dishonesty.

Technology Enablements: There is a range of technology enablements that may authenticate student learners for the test-taking. Some technologies enable instructor monitoring of the students’ desktop computer screen (Rogers, 2006). Some software programs involve text analysis that compares the works of student writers against a database of prior submitted work and outputs a percentage likelihood that the work is plagiarized—in terms of how similar that work is to prior works; similar types of comparisons may be done of source code plagiarism in IT courses. Even searches of particular phrases from a piece of writing (placed in quotation marks) may result in hits in a Google™ search that may identify a prior published work, for example. Other security setups use web cams and some basic biometrics. Some faculty use human proctors to verify student candor in assessments. Some instructors use timed automated exams to limit what students may be able to access in a limited time period.

Resort to Face-to-Face: High-value exams are usually done in controlled environments like labs that are monitored by software and in-house cameras.

5. K-State’s Honor Code and Faculty and Learner Supports

Researchers have long established the importance of having a written code of conduct in higher education to promote ethical behavior (Rezaee, Elmore, & Szendi, 2001). Such codes help set norms of behavior in contrast to the “cheating culture” that develops on a campus.

Honor codes generally include the following elements: “According to Melendez (1985), academic honor codes include at least one of the following elements: (1) the use of a written pledge in which students affirm that their work will be or has been done honestly; (2) students comprise the majority of the judiciary that hears alleged violations of academic dishonesty or the chair of this group is a student; (3) unproctored examinations; and (4) a clause that places some degree of obligation on students to report incidents of cheating they learn about or observe. Although only a modest number of honor codes include all four of these elements, the vast majority include at least two, and many include three” ((McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 2001, pp. 29 – 30).

Honor codes usually involve a pledge of not to engage in academic dishonesty. K-State’s pledge reads: “On my honor, as a student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this academic work.”

McCabe, Treviño, and Butterfield (1999) found that students on campuses with an honor code tended to avoiding using school pressures to rationalize their own cheating: “Although honor code students feel the same pressures from the larger society as their non-code colleagues, they are significantly less likely to use such pressures to rationalize or justify their own cheating. Rather, they refer to the honor code as an integral part of a culture of integrity that permeates their institutions.” (p. 230) If learners perceive that academic integrity policies are widely accepted by others on campus, they will be less likely to engage in academic dishonesty, based on empirical findings (McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 2002, p. 375).

Some campuses with honor codes require compliance with high standards of honesty but repay that with “unproctored exams and self-scheduled exams” (McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 1999, p. 230). Honor codes are seen as one element in academic honesty, but some negative side effects may include “a stressful and fearful atmosphere, one that stymies intellectual discourse and discussions about cheating” (McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield, 1999, p. 232). How the code is introduced, maintained, and supported will affect student attitudes about it. Students have legal interests in their own education, and by rights, they should have due process (Berger & Berger, 1999). The K-State campus has guidelines for a process of implementation of the honor code which allows for due process.

Instructors fall on a continuum in terms of how they handle incidences of academic dishonesty. Some show zero tolerance. Some researchers have looked at how students deal with a “zero tolerance” professor in terms of academic dishonesty (Levy & Rakovski, 2006) and found mixed results but sufficient grounds to suggest that further research continue along these lines. A majority though seem to be reluctant to report students (McCabe, Butterfield, & Treviño, 2003, p. 368). The presence of a designed honor code structure though has been shown to increase general perceptions of greater fairness in the process of dealing with academic dishonesty and resolving faculty and student concerns (McCabe, Butterfield, & Treviño, 2003, p. 379) .


Examples of Academic Dishonesty

Student Tips

How To

Getting started in putting up an academic honor and integrity structure in an online class may involve some basic steps. Additional advisement will likely be available from the faculty member’s respective departments and colleges.

1. Set expectations early on for learners about this honor and integrity standard. Notify learners through the syllabus [and offer links to the Honor and Integrity link (below in Extra Resources)] and the undergraduate and graduate handbooks. Reinforce this message with postings throughout the term.

2. Have learners opt-in to the integrity regime by digitally signing an agreement to abide by the policy. Create assignments where learners have to demonstrate a full and comprehensive understanding of this policy and especially what comprises academic dishonesty. (Students from different learning backgrounds and cultures may have very different ideas of what academic dishonesty actually is.)

3. Document all student work to ensure integrity. Online learning / course management systems (L/CMSes) are very thorough in recording all learner actions, and these can leave trackable trails. In L/CMSes which allow the capability of enabling learners to delete their own postings, disallow this capability—for the easiest trackability.

4. Model integrity. Help learners see what faculty integrity looks like. Give from-life examples of professional malfeasance and why there are negatives to academic and professional dishonesty. Some researchers write: “In this role, the academic is perceived as highly educated, thoughtful, analytical, tolerant, respectful of diversity; a fiercely independent producer and guardian of "truth" who is combative with the administration when the internal goods of the profession are threatened” (Bruhn, Zajac, Al-Kazemi, & Prescott, 2002, p. 473).

5. Design incremental assignments that help students build the pieces of a larger, more complex project. This makes it harder to have a pre-made final project or research paper…if the instructor has input on every phase of the learning. Change up assignments between terms. Create assignments that are fresh and co-developed by the learners each term. If you must use multiple choice exams, use the randomization feature in the learning / course management system in order to change up the assessments. Use a number of lower-risk assessments instead of just a midterm and a final. Use assessments that are formative (and build the learning) instead of summative (just to assess the learning).

6. Uphold the honor and integrity standards. Follow through on your own policy. Apply it fairly and transparently (to the learner). Document transgressions accurately. Do not compromise student privacy while enforcing academic integrity policies. Do not over-reach beyond your purview as a faculty member. Use the methods and tools for detecting deception, and follow through appropriately based on the relevant policies.

7. Maintain a safe environment for learning. Allow learners to make mistakes, from which they will learn. An environment without second chances will discourage learner risk-taking and experimentation. It will make corner-cutting seem desirable—if students do not feel supported.

8. Make sure that there is administrative support for upholding the honor and integrity policy. This includes the support needed to enforce the policy, even if it means some political strife with learners who may have engaged in academic dishonesty.

9. Make sure that students are fairly treated. Make sure that all learners have due process (and that this is duly recorded). Make sure that learners have a voice in the process. It is important for learners to have a way to recover from academic dishonesty (unless the dishonesty was too egregious for recovery).

Some Anti-Plagiarism Tools



Search Engine Reports

Possible Pitfalls

Putting in a honor and integrity regime should be done within the context of professionalism, ethics, and learner and faculty safety. This approach requires support from administration, faculty, and staff, and it requires buy-in from students as well. Learners should experience the benefits of an honor and integrity system in several ways:

  • In protecting the value of their learning and degrees;
  • In protecting the intellectual property of learners’ work;
  • In protecting the validity of research; and
  • In ensuring that learners experience a nurturing and fair environment that helps them develop as ethical, moral, and professional individuals.

Excessive suspicion will result in plenty of false positives, which will alienate honest students. Some possible pitfalls of an honor and integrity regime would occur if a university does not apply the standards fairly, transparently, and with due process. If student privacy rights are contravened, that would be another pitfall. Inaccurate reading of the evidence would be another possible challenge.

At K-State, the Honor and Integrity Program has a long history of the fair treatment of learners. Fellow K-State students are part of the due process for evaluating the evidence of potential student academic dishonesty or plagiarism. The university focuses on the long-term good of the learners.

Module Post-Test

1. What is academic integrity? What is academic dishonesty?

2. What are the implications of academic honesty in learning? in research? in professional work life?

3. What does the educational research literature say about college student academic dishonesty in online classes?

4. What are some academic integrity vs. academic dishonesty challenges in online learning? What are some methods and tools that support faculty work in detecting academic dishonesty and enforcing academic honesty?

5. What is K-State’s Honor Code? What supports do faculty members have to enforce academic honesty in their online courses?


Arrowe, D.G. (2001). A survey of newly appointed consultants’ attitudes towards research fraud. Journal of Medical Ethics: 27(5), 344 – 346.

Berger, C.J. & Berger, V. (1999). Academic discipline: A guide to fair process for the university student. Columbia Law Review: 99(2), 289 – 364.

Bernardi, R.A., Metzger, R.L., Bruno, R.G.S., Hoogkamp, M.A.W., Reyes, L.E., & Barnaby, G.H. (2004). Examining the decision process of students’ cheating behavior: An empirical study. Journal of Business Ethics: 50(4), 397 – 414.

Bruhn, J.G., Zajac, G., Al-Kazemi, A.A., & Prescott, L.D. (2002). Moral positions and academic conduct: Parameters of tolerance for ethics failure. The Journal of Higher Education: 73(4), 461 – 493.

Cossette, P. (2004). Research integrity: An exploratory survey of administrative science faculties. Journal of Business Ethics: 49(3), 213 – 234.

Dick, M., Sheard, J., Bareiss, C., Carter, J., Joyce, D., Hardin, T., & Laxer, C. (2003). Addressing student cheating: Definitions and solutions. In the proceedings of the Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE-WGR ’02): New York, New York, USA. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin: 35(2),DOI: 10.1145/960568.783000.

Finn, K.V. & Frone, M.R. (2004). Academic performance and cheating: Moderating role of school identification and self-efficacy. The Journal of Educational Research: 97(3), 115 – 122.

Grimes, P.W. (2004). Dishonesty in academics and business: A cross-cultural evaluation of student attitudes. Journal of Business Ethics: 49(3), 273 – 290.

Hard, S.F., Conway, J.M., & Moran, A.C. (2006). Faculty and college student beliefs about the frequency of student academic misconduct. The Journal of Higher Education: 77(6), 1058 – 1080.

Hauptman, R. (2002). Dishonesty in the academy. American Association of University Professors. Academe: 88(6), 39 – 44.

Levy, E.S. & Rakovski, C.C. (2006). Academic dishonesty: A zero tolerance professor and student registration choices. Research in Higher Education: 47(6), 735 – 754.

McCabe, D.L., Butterfield, K.D., & Treviño, L.K. (2003). Faculty and academic integrity: The influence of current honor codes and past honor code experiences. Research in Higher Education: 44(3), 367 – 385.

McCabe, D.L., Treviño, L.K., & Butterfield, K.D. (1999). Academic integrity in honor code and non-honor code environments: A qualitative investigation. The Journal of Higher Education: 70(2), 211 – 234.

McCabe, D.L., Treviño, L.K., & Butterfield, K.D. (2001). Dishonesty in academic environments: The influence of peer reporting requirements. The Journal of Higher Education: 72(1), 29 – 45.

McCabe, D.L., Treviño, L.K., & Butterfield, K.D. (2002). Honor codes and other contextual influences on academic integrity: A replication and extension to modified honor code settings. Research in Higher Education: 43(3), 347 – 378.

Rezaee, Z., Elmore, R.C., & Szendi, J.Z. (2001). Ethical behavior in higher educational institutions: The role of the code of conduct. Journal of Business Ethics: 30(2), 171 – 183.

Rettinger, D.A., Jordan, A.E., & Peschiera, F. (2004). Evaluating the motivation of other students to cheat: A vignette experiment. Research I Higher Education: 45(8), 873 – 890.

Rogers, C.F. (2006). Faculty perceptions about e-cheating during online testing. Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges. Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges (JCSC): 22(2), 206 – 212.

Selwyn, N. (2008). A safe haven for misbehaving? An investigation of online misbehavior among university students. Social Science Computer Review: 26(4), 446 – 465. DOI: 10.1177/0894439307313515.

Sheard, J., Carbone, A., & Dick, M. (2002). Determination of factors which impact on IT students’ propensity to cheat. Australian Computer Society, Inc. In the proceedings of the Australasian Computing Education Conference: Adelaide, Australia.

Stebelman, S. (1998). Cybercheating: Dishonesty goes digital. American Libraries: 29(8), 48 – 50.

Extra Resources

K-State Honor & Integrity System

K-State Honor & Integrity System Basics

[ K-State Honor & Integrity System Faculty Tips]

K-State HIPE Organization (Honor and Integrity Peer Educators)

Development and Integrity Course

Roberts, C.J. & Hai-Jew, S. (2009). Issues of academic integrity: An online course for students addressing academic dishonesty. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: 5(2), 182 – 196. Retrieved Jan. 25, 2011, from

K-State Undergraduate Student Handbook

K-State Graduate Student Handbook (The downloadable .pdf version is available here.)