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Survey Reveals Honesty Attitudes

By Sarah Y. Keightley
News Editor

The Undergraduate Academic Affairs Office has released the results of last spring's academic dishonesty survey in time for Wednesday's colloquium, "Success and/or Honesty: In Here, Out There." The Colloquium Committee was spurred to create the survey by the increased focus on cheating at MIT.

The survey results did not reveal any "real surprises" to the administration, said Alberta G. Lipson, associate dean for research.

The survey is composed of three parts: one for undergraduates, one for faculty, and one for graduate teaching assistants. The UAAO has not compiled the data from the TA survey yet.

(See the enclosed supplement for tabulated survey data and comments from completed surveys.)

In the survey, 91 percent of students and 96 percent of faculty agreed with the statement "An MIT education should include learning standards of academic and professional ethical behavior."

Definition of cheating

Because the definition of cheating is unclear, the survey asked respondents to divide various types of academic dishonesty into categories of not cheating, trivial cheating, and serious cheating.

Ninety-nine percent of students and faculty agreed that any cheating on an exam is serious cheating. However, there was a difference of opinion between the two groups in classifying problem set-related actions. Eighty-three percent of faculty, but only 54 percent of students, said that copying a problem set that would be graded was serious. Forty-five percent of students called this a trivial form of cheating.

Moreover, the survey asked undergraduates to indicate if they had committed a listed act at least once during the 1991-1992 academic year and if they thought other students had committed this act at least once last year. Sixty-seven percent of students said they had collaborated on a problem set when it was prohibited to do so, and 99 percent believed that other students had done this. Fifty-nine percent of students said they had copied a problem set that would be graded, and 99 percent estimated that other students had done this.

Six percent had brought crib sheets or other aids into exams, while 65 percent said others had done so. And five percent of students said they had copied from another student during an exam, while 60 percent said that others had done so.

Causes of cheating

Undergraduates and faculty tended to believe that students cheat for different reasons. The three reasons for cheating most frequently cited by students were that assignments are overly time-consuming, assignments are difficult, and many assignments are due the same day. Faculty most often said that students cheat because of the tremendous pressure to get good grades, because an assignment represents a significant portion of a class grade, and because students panicked because they were close to failing a class.

Seventy-four percent of undergraduates said cheating was likely in a class which is heavily "bibled," and 52 percent said cheating was likely in a computer programming class. Only 13 percent said that cheating was likely in a Humanities, Arts, and Social Science requirement.

Students agreed with most of the survey's suggestions to promote honest academic behavior at MIT. Many students said increasing the probability of being punished for cheating, having students take the issue of academic honesty more seriously, and less use of old problem sets, exams, and quizzes by faculty would encourage more honest academic behavior to a moderate or great extent.

The idea of reducing cheating through more student involvement in the adjudication process, for example through the creation of a student honor board, received the lowest percentage of student agreement of any suggestion given. Only 24 percent of students said this action would encourage more honest academic behavior to a moderate or great extent, while 49 percent of faculty thought it would. Furthermore, only 25 percent of students thought that open discussion about academic dishonesty in the classroom and the community would prevent cheating, while 68 percent of faculty believed it would.

The survey included other questions, some of which were open-ended questions, where students could write down comments.

Good survey response

The UAAO sent out the surveys to a randomly selected 20 percent of undergraduate students, 44 percent of whom responded. Of the 1400 faculty members and instructors who received surveys, about 450 (32 percent) responded, Lipson said.

"Considering the survey was lengthy, we were pleased with the response," said Norma G. McGavern, director of undergraduate education. The surveys were sent out in mid-April, and spring is a busy time for students, she said. The UAAO sent the surveys to the faculty at the end of the summer, which was an awkward time, she added.

Lipson said results from the TA survey were not available because a second survey for them went out last week.