Undergraduate Moral Development and Academic Dishonesty
Nuss, Elizabeth Mulvey
Carbone, Robert F.
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The study was designed to respond to the continuing concern for ethical conduct and to increase our understandings of the moral development of college students and of the extent and scope of academic dishonesty on campus. Kohlberg and other cognitive-developmental theorists base their theories on several assumptions. They are: (a) that structural organizations exist; (b) that these organizations are hierarchical and sequential, and (c) that development is motivated by an individual's interaction with the environment. Moral developmental research describes six stages of development that represent the logical organization or structure of thought, which underlies the manifestation of moral judgments. As people mature and develop, they progress through the stages and view moral dilemmas differently. It was hypothesized that there is a positive relationship between college students' stage of moral development and the degree of seriousness with which they view academic dishonesty; that there is an inverse relationship between college students' stage of moral development and their participation in forms of academic dishonesty; and that there is an inverse relationship between the degree of seriousness with which college students view academic dishonesty and their participation in forms of dishonesty. Several ancillary issues were also explored, but no hypotheses were formulated for these issues. Two instruments were used to collect data for this study. The Defining Issues Test, designed and tested by James Rest at the University of Minnesota, was used to assess moral development. The second instrument, the Survey of Academic Dishonesty, was developed specifically for use in this study. Three groups of items in the Survey were used to calculate subscores to assess the attitudes about the seriousness of forms of academic dishonesty, the amount of personal participation in academic dishonesty, and the amount of observed participation by other students in dishonesty. Both instruments were administered to a sample of 146 undergraduate students at the University of Maryland. Pearson Correlation Coefficients were computed to determine the relationship between moral development, using the P-score, and the "serious score" as a measure of the degree of seriousness with which students view academic dishonesty and the ''personal participation score'' used as a measure of participation. A Pearson Correlation Coefficient was also computed to determine the relationship between attitude and personal participation. Descriptive statistics and chi-square analyses were used to analyze student characteristics and responses to individual items. Two of the three hypotheses were statistically significant beyond the .05 level. There was a slight relationship between college students' stage of moral development and the degree of seriousness with which they view academic dishonesty and there was an inverse relationship between the degree of seriousness with which students view dishonesty and their participation in forms of academic dishonesty. The results failed to demonstrate a relationship between stage of moral development and personal participation. Other findings included: the modal stage of moral development was stage 4, conventional thinking; older students and students living off campus were more mature in their moral reasoning than were younger students or students living on campus; cheating associated with examinations was considered to be more serious than cheating on homework or term papers; active forms of cheating was considered to be more serious than the more passive forms; the majority of students would not report incidents of cheating to the appropriate authorities; the majority of students cheat to avoid failure; and older students consider academic dishonesty to be more serious and reported less personal and observed participation in academic dishonesty than did younger students.