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Perceptions of Academic Integrity of Students in a First-Year Engineering Program

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Integrity and the Problem of Cheating

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Irene B. Mena University of Pittsburgh

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Irene B. Mena has a B.S. and M.S. in industrial engineering, and a Ph.D. in engineering education. Her research interests include first-year engineering and graduate student professional development.

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David V.P. Sanchez University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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David Sanchez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Assistant Director for the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. He directs the Sustainable Design Labs that is currently focused on fusing sustainability principles and design thinking to address the Water and Energy grand challenges in the natural and built environment. Current projects include: Renewable electrode materials for Microbial Fuel Cells and the Electro-Fenton process, Recirculating Aquaponic Systems, Environmental Quality wireless sensor networks, and incorporating Sustainable Design/Innovation into engineering curricula.

He serves as a director for Pitt’s Design EXPO and a variety of the Mascaro Center’s Sustainability Outreach and Education programs including the Manchester Academic Charter School “Green week” and the Teach the Teacher program, impacting thousands of students each year. Dr. Sanchez teaches Introduction to Sustainable Water Technology and Design, classes in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department and the Swanson School of Engineering First-Year program. He works directly with K-12 initiatives and outreach programs including Constellation Energy Inventor Labs, ReMake Learning Network, and INVESTING Now.

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Given the increasing efficiency and expanding functionality of communications technology, and the degree to which students use these technologies to connect and or access course materials, it is important to update our understanding of students’ perceptions and habits with regard to academic integrity.

The purpose of this study is to learn about engineering students’ perceptions of and experiences with academic integrity post K-12 (at the start of their undergraduate experience). It answers the following research questions: (1) How do students define academic dishonesty? (2) What is the frequency with which they witness and participate in academically dishonest behaviors?, and (3) What are the motivations for engaging in these behaviors?

A survey was administered to all first-year engineering students enrolled in the University’s required first-year engineering course (ENGR XX) in the Fall 2016 semester. The survey was administered at the beginning of the semester to capture their K-12 perceptions and experience. 113 of the 526 enrolled students completed the survey, for a response rate of 21.5%. The survey consisted of both qualitative and quantitative items.

Qualitative items included two open-ended questions: “How would you define academic dishonesty?” and “Please share your thoughts and experiences with academic dishonesty.” This second question included some additional prompts to guide student responses. Qualitative responses were analyzed using open coding to see what themes emerged from the students’ responses. The results indicated that a majority of students define cheating as receiving credit for work that was done by others, and as utilizing resources that are not available to other students.

Quantitative items asked students to select which behaviors, from a given list, they considered to be academically dishonest. There were also items asking them to select how often they have witnessed those behaviors, how often they personally engaged in those behaviors, and what are their motivations for choosing to engage in these behaviors.

Quantitative items were analyzed using descriptive statistics. According to the results, main motivations why students engage in academically dishonest behaviors include: stress level and frustration, pressure to maintain GPA, and the opportunity was available to get ahead. Main behaviors students witness include: asking another student questions about a test or quiz they have not yet taken, copying assignments from peers, and copying from another student during a test or quiz. Main behaviors students personally engage in (according to the self-reported data) is asking another student about a test or quiz they have not yet taken.

This study presents the initial findings of a study looking at the perceptions of and experiences with academic integrity that students bring with them post K-12, at the start of their undergraduate degrees. It also provides a foundation to help track the evolution of students’ perceptions of academic dishonesty as they progress through their studies.

Mena, I. B., & Sanchez, D. V. (2017, June), Perceptions of Academic Integrity of Students in a First-Year Engineering Program Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28736

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