Academic integrity: the experience of learning through cheating

Violations of academic integrity occur frequently throughout the nation's colleges and universities. How this phenomenon is addressed differs among institutions with some proactively embedding a culture of integrity through curricular and co-curricular approaches and others addressing it superficially through mission statements and campus policies. The research focus on academic integrity has largely analyzed the problem quantitatively, primarily paying attention to student characteristics associated with academic dishonesty, the role of peer perception's, the classroom environment, and organizational factors influencing the institution's culture of integrity. This multiple embedded case study explores the student perspective after an academic integrity violation has occurred by examining in what ways students accept responsibility for an integrity violation and ultimately derive a sense of meaning from their experience. Information derived from individual interviews, document analysis and survey data provide a critical vantage point that can serve to align an institutions response to academic integrity violations more closely with a student developmental approach. Students varied in their response to assuming responsibility for a cheating incident with some students engaging in neutralizing behaviors but the majority of those students interviewed exhibited strong remorse and contrition. Subsequently, those students who marginalized the experience reported less overall meaning derived from the incident than those students who more readily assumed personal responsibility. The impact of a cheating incident for the majority of students resulted in a profound learning opportunity.