Monday, September 24, 2012

Academic Dishonesty in Online Education- Katie Lewis Impelman

A significant portion of students in postsecondary education are currently enrolled in or have previously taken online courses. In Fall 2007, over 3.9 million students took at least one online course, which represented a 12% increase from the previous year (Allen & Seamen, 2008). In 2010, over 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course and 31% of all students enrolled in higher education have taken at least one course online (Allen & Seamen, 2011). As online education becomes increasingly popular, educators must address issues and challenges faced by students enrolled in online courses.

In Paying for an A, Alexandra Tilsley discusses websites that offer to take an entire online course for students for a flat fee. Sites such as market themselves as “an academic assistance service that is there to help you out with all aspects of your studies.” Posing as a consumer, Inside Higher Ed solicited a quote for completion of Penn State World Campus’ introductory microeconomics course, to which offered to take for $900. Steve Kolowich’s article Far From Honorable argues that students taking online courses may be more likely to cheat as a result of feeling less connected to their studies that their peers taking face-to-face courses in the classroom. Online courses face scrutiny both in terms of quality and student engagement.

Taking online courses provides students with flexibility and the opportunity to pursue a degree without setting foot in a classroom. Online degree programs can be especially beneficial for international students, students in the military, students with full-time jobs, and/or individuals with families. I recently took a course in which the instructor periodically hosted online sessions. This posed both advantages and disadvantages for me as a student. As a student balancing multiple priorities, I was able to attend the course, even while in another city. Had the instructor not offered the online course, I would have missed out on valuable class time with my peers.  During our online courses, however, I missed the social experience of sitting face-to-face and interacting with my classmates and instructor. 

Similar to face-to-face learning, students who feel connected to the online classroom community are more likely to feel engaged and remain actively involved in the class (Baker, 2010). Use of tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogging may increase an instructor’s online presence, therefore, making students feel more connected to the professor and course (Young & Bruce, 2011). Research shows that engaging students in an online classroom requires strategic professional development for those instructors who teach online courses. Despite best practices and efforts, an online course may not be able to cultivate the same sense of community and engagement as a face-to-face course. Yet, does a lack of engagement make students more likely to cheat? 

Whether a course is taken online or in person, students will have the opportunity to cheat. Certainly, cheating may appear to be on a larger scale if a student pays for a company to take an entire course, as offered by Nonetheless, cheating is cheating.  Who is responsible for preventing students from cheating? Do websites such as No Need to Study undermine the quality of online education? What does this mean for quality in online education?

As a student affairs professional, I ask myself how we can instill students with the proper support, confidence, and knowledge to prevent the use of websites that claim to offer “academic assistance”.  Furthermore, as the prevalence of online classes continues to grow, educators must ensure that students taking courses online receive proper support from student affairs professionals. Does the increased prevalence of online courses impact the duties of student affairs professionals?  How can we as student affairs professionals improve student engagement in online courses? Will enhancing student engagement decrease cheating and academic dishonesty in online courses? I look forward to seeing how student affairs practices adapt to meet the needs and respond to issues of those students taking online courses.


 Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2008). Staying the course: Online education in the United States. The

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2011). Going the distance: Online education in the United States. The
           Sloan Consortium. Retrieved from

Baker, C. (2010). The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning,
cognition, and motivation. The Journal of Educators online, 7(1), 1-30. Retrieved from:

Kolowich, S. (2011). Far From Honorable. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Tilsley, A. (2012). Paying for an A. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Young, S., & Bruce, M.A. (2011). Classroom Community and Student Engagement in Online
Courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2). Retrieved from


  1. Katie,

    Great reflections on academic dishonesty. You raise some great points on academic dishonesty as it relates specifically to online education. You are right in that students have the opportunity to cheat whether it is in class or online. I believe it comes down to an integrity issue in one's character that is directly linked to their value of learning. It is no question that students value their education and see the importance of what a higher degree means for them. But when times get tough and time is limited, I think academic dishonesty exists because many students do not value the importance of their learning, thus compromising themselves and this opportunity, regardless of whether it is in the classroom or online.

    You also bring in Baker (2010), who claims that "students who feel connected to the online classroom community are more likely to feel engaged and remain actively involved in the class". I wonder how this kind of online connectedness compares to that of an inside the classroom connectedness.

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  3. You bring up really interesting points about academic dishonesty and online education. As I reflect on both your reflection and Angela's from a couple of weeks ago, it is obvious that academic dishonesty is a hugely pertinent problem in higher education, whether classes are online or not. Online education is certainly an increasing trend in higher education, and often caters to a specific population, including those who are strapped for time and cannot afford the time to attend classes regularly in person. I wonder what the correlation is between academic dishonesty and student demographics. For example, are those who pay for websites like students who are already pressured for time and energy? Or are they students who do not really want the education but just the degree on their resume? I would be interested to see if there are any consistencies among consumers of such products.

    It is sad that students who have the ability to invest in education do not always take full advantage of the opportunity. Online education is a great option for many people, and it is unfortunate that some students abuse the system. I hope students begin to take their education more seriously and also come to terms with the moral injustice of cheating.

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  5. I agree. The question of how student affairs professionals can engage students in online learning is tough. I think that it is difficult enough to engage students that are on campus, let alone ones that are behind a computer screen 3,000 miles away.

    For some online programs, the student populations tend to be older, working professionals. It is probable that they cheat for the same reason that they sought to pursue an online degree: time. These same students might have high-pressure jobs and families which hinders them from really taking the time to focus on their studies. Students might also assume that these programs are easier to get admitted into, and thus easier academically. Consequently, they might not take the classes or the program itself seriously, which leads them to cheat.

  6. I think this is a very interesting topic that we do not talk a lot about. One thing that I was thinking about when reading your article, Katie, and the comments that follow, is how can we do a better job of engaging students online? If we are able to do this, the hope is that the students will feel more connected to the classroom - whether that be virtual or physical - and in turn, be more motivated to learn. Maybe the idea here is not to focus on how to prevent them from cheating, but on how to further integrate student and instructor interaction into the online classroom. If possible, as Katie mentioned, to include the use of multiple social media outlets that will encourage students to engage in the content with other students and the instructor. Or, could a class be designed to require some sort of student engagement, whether that is online or in person, in addition to attendance in the actual class, or completion of assignments online? (A good example would be this blog!) Additional engagement through social media or blogging, or reports on personal learning experiences (for distance learners) may encourage students to be more actively involved in their work. To address your point about, this may also discourage a student from taking this direction because so much varied interaction is involved in the course.

  7. Katie, I think you present many valid questions and concerns in your discussion of online classes and the impact on student affairs. I think we, as student affairs professionals, do need to challenge our traditional ways of thinking to prepare for an increased number of online programs. It seems to me that we are dealing with more instances of academic dishonesty in both physical and virtual classrooms. If this is the case, the bigger question becomes focused on student ethics and values. As discussed on this blog a few weeks ago, we need to examine why students are motivated to cheat or use services like It seems to me that this generation of students is so focused on achieving a high GPA and “getting the work over with,” rather than embracing a genuine desire to learn. There is definitely a decreased sense of connection and attachment in an online classroom but, as you mention, these virtual courses do a great service to many students. I am encouraged by the increase in online classes as it leads to greater access to education, but I hope that we can find a way to maintain integrity and promote ethical behavior among students in face to face and online settings. Chelsea Lucio

  8. Katie, I am so glad you brought the website noneedtostudy to my attention. I had no idea that websites like that existed. How are they not being sued? Although I see the benefits of an online education, the anonymity of it makes me wonder how many students cheat. However, I think this argument goes back to the value of a college degree. If what students learn in class helps them in the work place, than those who study and actually take the time to learn the material in the courses will be successful. Therefore, those who cheat will lose out. However, if students can cheat their way through a degree and still find success post college, what does this say about the value of higher education? I have to wonder.

  9. I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say that the growing popularity of online education may actually be detrimental to the integrity of higher education. I understand that working professionals, international students, etc. can benefit from online education due to its ease and convenience, but what does this say about the direction that higher education is moving toward? Does this mean that a significant portion of higher education will be online in the next 50 years? Are we moving away from a face-to-face teaching model to a virtual classroom? Technology has certainly moved this country forward and facilitated a substantial amount of innovation, but I believe it is important to not lose sight of the traditional values and systems that have produced numerous leaders in this nation. We all know that to truly receive the benefits of the college experience, a student must be engaged with their peers in person and on campus. Let's leave the online education to the for-profit industry and maintain a minimal amount of online options at non-profit institutions.

  10. Thank you for this informative article. I found it very interesting but also quite disheartening. I had no idea that there were companies that students can hire to do their papers and assignments. I understand the pressure that students feel to succeed in college. Students are expected to get good grades, participate in clubs and organizations, and work (or have internships). In addition, students also want to be able to go out and socialize. This being said, if a student makes the decision to go to college they MUST learn to manage their time. They also have to learn to prioritize their education. There are plenty of resources on college campuses to help students succeed. For example, there are writing and tutoring centers, most professors hold office hours, and there are libraries with quite spaces to study and write papers. By hiring an outside company to do an assignment, students are only learning to take the easy way out. Furthermore, these companies are taking advantage of overstressed students and making a profit. They are also undermining the value of a higher education.

  11. I tend to be a bit bias when it comes to online education only because I believe that the interaction we have with peers is fundamental to the academic process and growth we are seeking and pursuing as educators. When we listen to personal histories and perspectives, we are forever transformed. We may agree or disagree with the point of view being presented but the interaction and affective reaction that we may experience can only create in us inquiry and wonder. I believe that this is a fundamental question of ethical behavior and moral responsibility. Unfortunately, although it may seem that making decisions that are ethical are common sense - they are actually the most difficult decisions to be made.