A Literature Review on the Culture of Cheating in Undergraduate Engineering Programs

  • David M. Smith University of Saskatchewan
  • Susan Bens
  • Douglas Wagner
  • Sean Maw University of Saskatchewan


Anecdotally, cheating is perceived to happen in all Canadian engineering programs in varying degrees. The authors of this study want to understand the cultures of cheating in the Engineering Colleges at the Universities of Saskatchewan and Regina, to inform efforts to reduce the prevalence of cheating. The first step that has been undertaken in this process is a literature review of previous studies on the general topic of cheating in undergraduate engineering programs.
As it happens, virtually all of these studies have taken place in the United States, further motivating parallel work here in Canada. Surveys have recently been distributed to students and faculty at the Universities of Saskatchewan and Regina, where the content of those surveys has been strongly influenced by high-quality work carried out by American researchers of this topic.
In this paper, we will describe the research work that has been performed previously, and the survey and measurement tools that have been utilized in past studies e.g. PACES-1, PACES-2 and SEED. The general and specific methods that have been employed will be described, and the results will be summarized. For example, it is known that faculty and students often have very different definitions of, and beliefs around, cheating. In practical terms, this manifests itself in the differing attributions of responsibility for cheating.
We conclude our paper by constructing a concise framework that summarizes the current understandings of how cheating is defined in an academic context for engineering, the most common ethical footings that underlie those definitions, and the conditional behaviours that result from them. Finally, we speculate on the potential differences that may arise in a Canadian context, and we describe the approach that we have taken to studying cheating at our own institutions using surveys and other evaluative processes.