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Perceptions Of Cheating Behaviors By Freshman Engineering Students

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics, Academic Integrity

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.952.1 - 14.952.11



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Paper Authors


Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is the Director of the Environmental Engineering Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract



Educating students on ethical issues is an important requirement of all engineering curricula. This is particularly essential for civil and environmental engineering, as human lives may be lost and significant environmental damage may occur as a result of unethical behavior. At the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), the Civil (CVEN) and Environmental (EVEN) engineering curricula attempt to lay a strong foundation in ethics in the 1-credit Introduction to Engineering courses that first year students are required to take. It is hoped that drawing parallels between professional ethics and cheating behaviors among students will enhance the students’ understanding of professional ethics. The perception of cheating behaviors by students in these courses was evaluated using the 18 questions from the PACES-1 survey1. Despite linking the survey with the student review of the Honor Code which clearly describes a variety of cheating behaviors, significant percentages of the students did not acknowledge some behaviors as cheating. For example, only 43% stated that working in groups on take-home exams was cheating. There were only minimal differences in the responses of the students in the CVEN and EVEN courses. Using a contingency table and chi-square test, only one question had significantly different responses among the CVEN versus EVEN students. A higher percentage of the CU students did generally report that activities were cheating than the engineering students who previously participated in the 2006 Carpenter et al.1 and the 2008 Mattei2 surveys. The largest exception was that only 36% of the CU students indicated that working in groups on web based quizzes or tests was cheating compared to 41% and 44% among the Carpenter et al. and Mattei engineering student respondents. Differences may be attributable to the demographics of the CU students compared to the larger number of participants in the Carpenter study (39% female, 84% freshmen, 97% raised in the US versus 19%, 23%, and 77%, respectively), but further data would be needed to test this hypothesis. The results indicate that discussing ethics may cause small changes in student views about cheating behaviors, but a significant percentage of the students still do not consider many behaviors as cheating despite explicit descriptions of those same behaviors as violations of the student honor code. Discussing specific survey questions with the students after they completed the survey did seem to change their impression of some activities; data to quantitatively test this assertion have not yet been collected. Qualitative data from the ethics homework and final reflective essay written by the students indicates that linking cheating behaviors to professional ethics may be an effective way to impact students’ views on these matters.


Educating students on ethical issues is an important aspect of all engineering curricula. It is required by ABET accreditation standards3 and emphasized as an important part of the Body of knowledge for Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering4,5. At the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), students are exposed to ethics via modules in a variety of courses. This is particularly important for civil and environmental engineering, as human lives may be lost and significant environmental damage may result from unethical behavior. Media attention on the interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007, levee failures in New Orleans during

Bielefeldt, A. (2009, June), Perceptions Of Cheating Behaviors By Freshman Engineering Students Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5323

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