Exploring the Relationship Between Moral Reasoning and Students' Understanding of the Honor Code at the University of Maryland
Goodwin, Andrea Corradini
Milem, Jeffrey F
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ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: Exploring the Relationship Between Moral Reasoning and Students' Understanding of the Honor Code at the University of Maryland Andrea Corradini Goodwin, Doctor of Philosophy, 2007 Dissertation Directed By: Jeffrey F. Milem, Ph.D. Department of Education Policy and Leadership This mixed methods study explored the relationship between moral reasoning and students' understanding of the honor code at the University of Maryland. The Defining Issues Test, version 2 (DIT2) was administered to 400 students residing in University housing in order to assess students' level of moral reasoning. Based on their scores on the DIT2, students were divided into three groups; those who scored high, medium, and low. Fifteen students were purposefully selected to participate in qualitative interviews to explore their understanding of the honor code. Data from the individual interviews illustrated that students understood the honor code in various ways including how they made meaning of the honor code, how they interpreted the honor code, and their attitudes towards the honor code. Specifically students at the highest level of moral reasoning believed that the honor code was common sense and therefore did not differentiate between the honor code and the honor pledge because the principle of academic dishonesty is evident in both. Students who scored in the middle of the other two groups believed that students' behavior was influenced by their values and judged the morality of actions by comparing their actions to actions that were socially acceptable. They focused on the importance of following the honor code because of its importance to the community. Finally, students who scored lowest on the DIT2 believed that the honor code was necessary so that students would not cheat. The meaning they made of the honor code was based on the honor code as a set of rules. They defined right behavior, in this case following the honor code, by what was in their own best interest. Students' attitudes toward cheating also emerged as a result of the analysis of the interview with students. Despite the differences found between students in this study, there were several findings that were consistent across all three groups of students. Students in the study had a favorable attitude toward the honor code and reported that they did not engage in academic dishonesty while in college. However, students in all three groups reported that they did not believe that the honor code directly impacted their behavior or the behavior of their peers at the University. They believed that faculty and peer behavior were more influential in their decisions regarding academic integrity than the honor code. Students in the study were reluctant to report their peers for academic dishonesty and many of the students focused on the importance of grades.