Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Instructional Technology), Under the Supervision of Professor Allen Steckelberg. Lincoln, Nebraska: January, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Martonia C. Gaskill


Cheating has been an area of concern in educational institutions for decades, especially at the undergraduate level. A particular area of concern is the increasing reports of the rise of cheating behaviors and the perceived cheating potential in online learning. As online learning continues to grow and become an integral part of education, concerns exist regarding academic integrity due to anonymity and the isolated nature of online learning. The purpose of the current study was to analyze cheating behaviors in an online environment, and determine students’ perceptions and motivation towards cheating. Another aim was to understand how and why online learning might make cheating easier.

A survey methodology with open-ended questions was used for data collection. Participants in this study were business undergraduate students (N=196) enrolled in online courses during the spring and fall semesters of 2011 and the spring semester of 2012.

Ninety-five percent of the students admitted to at least one cheating instance while taking online courses. Time constraints, course difficulty and unpreparedness were identified as the major motivators to cheat. Additionally, perception and engagement in cheating were found to have an association on several cheating behaviors. For some behaviors, the perception of cheating did not stop students from engagement. Transactional distance was not found to be a significant predictor of cheating.

Open-ended responses were analyzed using in-vivo coding approach. Data indicated that online learning itself has limited impact on students’ decision to engage in cheating. However, study participants suggested that technology in general makes it easier for students to exchange and collaborate, which can potentially lead to unethical practices with little or no effort involved. Misunderstanding as to what constitutes cheating might explain the high incidence of reported cheating in the present study.

Adviser: Allen Steckelberg