College Students Demonstrate Integrity in Learning and Ignore Cheating Opportunities

Digital textbook responses reveal students choose to study for the sake of learning

A graphic of a student on an ipad.

Most college students demonstrate integrity in online learning, a study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside shows.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Most college students make a legitimate attempt to answer questions in homework assignments, even when a short-cut to the answer is available to them through the click of a button, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside and zyBooks.

This evidence of integrity in study habits is promising, as an increasing number of instructors use online learning materials, many of which include built-in questions and solutions.

“With the right interactive material, we see that many students are interested in truly learning, rather than simply doing whatever it takes to get their grade,” said Alex Edgcomb, a research specialist at UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, zyBooks senior software engineer, and co-author of the study. “The study also addresses the question of whether digital textbooks can aid learning—and the answer is a resounding yes.”

The study analyzed data from 550 students enrolled in a fall 2014 Introduction to Programming course in four classes: one at a four-year public research university, one at a four-year public teaching college, and two at community colleges. Students completed short-answer homework questions using interactive digital textbooks that offer a “Check” button to submit an answer, and a “Show Answer” button to reveal the correct response without any grade penalty. 84 percent of students responded on their own without, or before, revealing the correct answer. Nearly 90 percent of students earnestly attempted 60 to 100 percent of questions. Only one percent of students blatantly “cheated the system” by attempting less than 20 percent of questions.

Experts were also able to compare response data to the makeup of the questions themselves to determine which types of questions are most effective, how much time is required to answer, and the value of building in and accepting alternative correct answers. The paper also discusses teaching practices that can have a negative impact on honesty such as assigning excessive work.

“We created the material under the assumption that, fundamentally, students want to learn. We believed they would challenge themselves to answer questions if those questions really help them learn. We were delighted that the study confirmed our assumption,” said Frank Vahid, a professor of computer science and engineering at UCR, and co-founder of zyBooks. “Such data not only guides us in creating and improving learning material, but can really change how teachers view and interact with students.”

Edgcomb, Vahid and Joshua Yuen, a researcher in computer science and engineering at UCR, presented these findings on June 29 at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference in New Orleans. The study was supported in part by the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program and a Google faculty research award.

Read the full study and findings here: https://www.asee.org/public/conferences/64/papers/16595/view

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