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Academic Integrity in an Online Culture: Do McCabe’s Findings Hold True for Online, Adult Learners?


This study examines how the self-reported cheating behaviors of students from a single large institution serving primarily adult students in online courses differ from those previously reported in large-scale studies of academic integrity among traditional-age college students. Specifically, the research presented here demonstrates that students at a large online university are no more likely to engage in most forms of cheating than the traditional-age students in residential institutions studied by Donald McCabe in his seminal research on academic integrity. Relatedly, our study finds that students’ age decreases the likelihood of engaging in cheating behaviors. Moreover, traditional-age undergraduates in our study were no more likely to engage in cheating behaviors than the undergraduate students McCabe surveyed. Our study offers a unique contribution to the extant literature on academic integrity, as we believe this is the largest survey of student attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors from a single institution. The research presented here confounds the common (mis)perception that cheating is more prevalent and easier to accomplish in online learning and assessment.

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  1. As one of the preeminent scholars of academic integrity, Donald McCabe conducted many surveys of academic integrity and no doubt adapted and refined a variety of survey instruments over the years. The survey instrument referred to throughout this paper as “McCabe’s survey” and which we use for comparison purposes in this study was published by McCabe in 2005 (“Cheating among college and university students: A North American perspective”).

  2. However, we note that the International Center for Academic Integrity is currently developing survey instruments that will provide an interesting comparison to our results here by making more recent data available.

  3. An Ordered Logistic regression was also estimated, treating the dependent variable as ordered categories. The results were similar.

  4. For example, the sample is 46% male, while UMUC’s population (per IPEDS) is 54% male. However, UMUC’s population (per IPEDS) is 3% “unknown,” while the sample is less than 1% non-binary/third gender, 1% “prefer to self describe,” and 6% “prefer not to say.”


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Table 8 shows the results of a bivariate OLS regression where the predictor variable is a measure whether the respondent’s age is a missing value (coded as 1 if missing) and the dependent variable is a measure of how many cheating behaviors the respondent has engaged in.

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Harris, L., Harrison, D., McNally, D. et al. Academic Integrity in an Online Culture: Do McCabe’s Findings Hold True for Online, Adult Learners?. J Acad Ethics 18, 419–434 (2020).

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  • Academic integrity
  • Online education
  • Adult learners
  • Student surveys
  • McCabe