Reflections Newsletter

What does the 2012 Academic Integrity Survey tell us about cheating at Western? - Fall 2013

By Ken N. Meadows, Educational Researcher, Teaching and Learning Services

I cheated once on a [course name deleted] midterm. I hid a small note with multiple formulas in my pocket...I feel I am justified in doing so as the professor was notoriously difficult… offered little help with the material and the exam was unfairly designed” (Anonymous student).

The above quote is a Western student’s comment from the 2012 Academic Integrity Survey. This nation-wide survey assessed student and faculty perceptions of cheating. This was a follow up to the 2002 integrity survey which sought to determine if cheating was as prevalent in higher education in Canada as it was in the United States (Christensen Hughes & McCabe, 2006).

For the 2012 survey, all Western faculty and students, including those at the affiliated university colleges, were invited to participate in the anonymous survey. Below I address key findings from the survey.


Top Cheating Behaviours

The findings suggest that there is an issue with academic misconduct at Western, particularly with forms of cheating such as unpermitted collaboration (e.g., working together on an assignment, or take home exam). Unpermitted collaboration was the most commonly reported cheating behaviour in the 2002 and 2012 Western surveys and one of the least discussed forms of cheating by professors. It was also a controversial form of cheating as many students commented that it is an effective learning strategy and engaged in it even when they recognized it was cheating.

The results also show the gap between student and faculty perceptions of the seriousness of cheating behaviours. This gap is evident with most forms of cheating, but the size of the gap decreases as the cheating becomes more serious. Further, there is generally an inverse relationship between incidence and seriousness (i.e., fewer students engage in more serious cheating).

Incidence and Seriousness of Top 3 Cheating Behaviours

Incidence = % of students who self-reported engaging in the behavior at least once in the past year; % of faculty who reported observing or becoming aware of students engaging in the beaviour at least once in the last three years.

Seriousness = % of students or faculty who rated this behaviour as “moderate” to “serious cheating”

Incidence Seriousness
Students Faculty Students Faculty
1. Unpermitted collaboration 48% 64% 33% 80%
2. Getting questions/answers from someone who has already taken the test 32% 38% 68% 94%
3. Copying a few sentences from Internet source without footnoting 27% 80% 76% 90%

This seriousness gap and inverse relationship highlight the importance of educating students about Western’s policies concerning cheating, including the seriousness of cheating, to reduce intentional and unintentional misconduct. A common student comment on the survey concerned their lack of understanding of the policies and the need for specific examples of proper and improper use of others’ ideas and words, for example. A similar request was made by a faculty member:

“Despite repeated and regular… explanations, my colleagues (let alone students) are uncertain about definitions of varying kinds of academic dishonesty, and appropriate… responses…. The policy would…be enhanced if it were clarified with specific instances and examples rather than relying on… overall principles”. (Anonymous faculty member)

Illicit Ritalin Use

The survey also addressed the use of non-prescribed Ritalin and other drugs as performance enhancers. Although the reported incidence of such use was relatively low (7% and 5% for students and faculty), it was not considered to be a particularly serious form of cheating for students (39%) or faculty (30%). Given the possible legal and health implications of the use of such non-prescribed drugs, it is surprising that it is not taken more seriously and suggests the need for further education on the issue

“I would like there to be programs to say that using Ritalin or other drugs is cheating. I hear many students talk about taking Adderall, especially for studying, and I think it is an unfair advantage” (Anonymous student).

Online Cheating

Online academic misconduct such as cheating on online quizzes and tests was also assessed. The occurrence of this form of cheating was not disproportionate with other incidences of cheating; a finding which is also consistent with other online forms of cheating. McCabe, Butterfield, and Treviño (2012) suggest that online cheating is likely simply taking the place of more traditional forms of cheating (e.g., plagiarism from an online source instead of a hard copy of a document). They suggest that the number of students who cheat has not increased because of the online environment. That said they do suggest that cheating students may cheat more because of the ease of access to online information. These findings highlight the importance of education on the ethical use of technology for teaching and learning.

Occurence of Cheating on Online Quizzes and Tests

Students = “If you have taken an online quiz, test, or exam at your campus, have you ever: (check all that apply)”
Faculty = “If you have given an online test or exam at your campus, have you ever suspected that students: (check all that apply)”

Students Faculty
Collaborated with others during online quiz/test/exam when not permitted? 40% 47%
Used notes or books on a closed book online test or exam? 27% 30%
Received unauthorized help from someone on an online test or exam? 16% 30%
Looked up information on the Internet when not permitted? 27% 36%


The Western community works hard to maintain its high ethical standards but the Academic Integrity Survey results suggest that there is room for improvement. Continued education about Western policies, with clear examples, for students and faculty is crucial. As the quote below and McCabe and colleagues (2012) suggest, building a culture of integrity is best achieved by emphasizing the importance of values such as trust, respect, and fairness inside and outside of the classroom, not just punishment for misconduct. This aspirational approach helps to establish integrity as a foundational piece in an institution’s identity; it becomes just “how we do things around here” (McCabe et al., 2012, p. 168).

“I’d like to see a stronger emphasis on the values and principles of higher education in general… I would like students to be encouraged by their professors to consider…their role as a student in the development, proliferation, and dissemination of knowledge…I believe that an issue of academic integrity stems from a deeper lack of consideration of and respect for the broader principles of academia” (Anonymous student)


Christensen Hughes, J. M., & McCabe, D. L. (2006). Academic misconduct within higher education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 36(2), 1-21.

McCabe, D.L., Butterfield, K.D. & Treviño, L.K. (2012). Cheating in college: Why students do it and what educators can do about it. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

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