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Cheating is highly prevalent in American high school students and across the globe. Although numerous approaches are in place to combat this issue, most character education approaches have focused primarily on fostering moral integrity (a strength of moral character). Here, we argue that a broad character education approach to addressing cheating culture--one drawing on moral, civic, performance, and intellectual character strengths - may provide new ways to address this epidemic. We begin by outlining current scholarship and approaches to addressing cheating. We then note that many of these interventions aim to foster academic integrity through a moral lens and posit that a broad character education approach that draws on all four areas of character (not moral character alone) may provide additional avenues for promoting student integrity and dissuading academic dishonesty. We discuss the potential benefits of building specific strengths within each character domain in relation to integrity, and offer suggestions for further research. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of how educators might leverage each of these character areas and the interplay between them to foster academic integrity.

A recent article in The Guardian entitled "China Deploys Drones to Stamp Out Cheating in College Entrance Exams" (2015) is a poignant reminder of the prevalence of cheating by high school students across the globe. Indeed, some scholars note that academic dishonesty has reached epidemic proportions (Stephens & Wangaard, 2013). In 2011, a survey of over 3,600 American high school students found that 95% of students had engaged in some form of cheating behavior even though 57% of the students agreed that it was morally wrong to cheat (Wangaard & Stephens, 2011). Similarly, Seider, Novick, and Gomez's (2013) recent finding that lower academic integrity--measured in their study as a higher willingness to engage in dishonest behaviors such as cheating--is associated with higher academic achievement in middle school students, lends support to the idea that, in today's culture, there is a perception that it "pay[s] to cheat" (Lickona & Davidson, 2005). Numerous methods have been employed to combat this cheating culture, including implementing preventative or punitive measures, building trust, and fostering student-teacher relationships (Lickona & Davidson, 2005; McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 2001; Morris, 2016; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens, 2016; Wangaard & Stephens, 2011). In addition, many whole-school intervention models have been proposed (e.g., Lickona & Davidson, 2005; Morris, 2016; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens, 2016; Stephens & Wangaard, 2013). For example, Stephens' (2016) "multilevel intervention model" for creating a culture of integrity promotes academic honesty through whole-school, context-specific, and individual approaches.

Often couched within these whole-school models are moral character education interventions, such as honor codes, which are used to combat academic dishonesty (Lickona & Davidson, 2005; McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; Stephens & Wangaard, 2013). Indeed, integrity itself is usually considered a strength of a moral character (Lickona & Davidson, 2005), and is defined by the International Center for Academic Integrity as "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty" (ICAI, 2015 citing While this definition and frame of reference certainly make sense, we posit that fostering a broad range of character strengths (not just those associated with morality) might also positively impact students' integrity and help to combat student cheating. Thus, whereas some whole-school approaches intend to specifically target students' academic integrity, our aim is broader, with a focus on promoting multiple character strengths in relation to integrity.

Character can be conceptualized in many different ways, but a definition used by numerous scholars (e.g., Baehr, 2015; Birdwell, Scott, & Reynolds, 2015; Seider, 2012; Shields, 2011) parses character into four areas: moral character, performance character, civic character, and intellectual character. Lickona and Davidson (2005) originally argued for a division between moral character (strengths that allow for successful interpersonal relationships) and performance character (strengths that promote excellence), but more recently, scholars (e.g., Baehr, 2013; Seider, 2012; Shields, 2011) have argued for the addition of civic and intellectual character strengths. Seider (2012) called for the conceptualization of civic character as those strengths necessary for responsible citizenship, whereas Baehr (2013) has argued that intellectual character includes the character strengths of a good thinker. Many scholars agree that character is a multidimensional construct (Berkowitz, 2012; Lerner & Schmid Callina, 2014; Seider, 2012), and factor analytic studies have begun to support the understanding of character in this way (McGrath, 2014; Park & Peterson, 2006; Shryack, Steger, Krueger, & Kallie, 2010; Wang et al., 2015). For example, Park and Peterson (2006) found a four factor structure of the VIA Inventory for Youth including intellectual strengths, temperance strengths (akin to performance character), theological strengths (akin to moral character), and other-directed/interpersonal strengths (akin to moral/civic character). Increasingly, educators and researchers alike have adopted this four-part framework that includes moral, performance, civic, and intellectual character (Baehr, 2015; Birdwell, Scott, & Reynolds, 2015; Seider, 2012; Shields, 2011), finding it a useful way to both conceptualize and talk about character development. Finally, it is important to note that scholars have acknowledged interconnections between the categories (e.g., Baehr, 2011; Seider, 2012), noting that some character strengths can be seen as falling into more than one area. For example, empathy could be seen as both a moral character strength and also a necessary component of open-mindedness, which is usually considered an intellectual character strength. However, scholars continue to see the value in parsing character into these categories, especially noting that some characters strengths (particularly performance and intellectual character strengths), need not be put towards moral ends (Baehr, 2011; Berkowitz & Puka, 2009; Seider, 2012). For example, one could apply perseverance (a performance character strength) to pursue a nefarious outcome.

Here, we focus on how a broad conceptualization of character can augment efforts aimed at fostering academic integrity and addressing student cheating behaviors. We define a broad character education approach as one that draws on moral character strengths (e.g., integrity, empathy), civic character strengths (e.g., social responsibility, civic action), performance character strengths (e.g., self-control, grit), and intellectual character strengths (e.g., curiosity, open-mindedness) (see Baehr, 2013; Berkowitz 2011, 2012; Davidson, Lickona, Khmelkov, 2014; Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Seider, 2012; Shields, 2011). Although Davidson and colleagues (2014) originally conceptualized a broad character approach as one that comprised moral and performance character, given the research described above, we find parsing character into the moral, performance, intellectual and civic domains most useful for educators and scholars alike. For example, we posit that fostering civic action might help to mitigate student cheating, and that perhaps fostering social responsibility and curiosity could actually bolster student integrity. This paper explores these hypotheses and calls for further research into the role such a broad conceptualization of character might play in efforts towards fostering student academic integrity and reducing student cheating.

Below, we begin by outlining current approaches to addressing cheating. We then discuss the potential benefits of fostering specific character strengths within each character domain in relation to integrity, and offer suggestions for further research. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of how educators might leverage each of these character areas and the interplay between them to help foster academic integrity.

First, though, it is important to note that each area of character referenced above envelops multiple character strengths, and, in accord with relational-developmental systems metatheory (RDS), is the result of complex, mutually beneficial person [left arrow] [right arrow] context interactions that can vary across time and place (Lerner & Schmid Callina, 2014). Although most character strengths could potentially help to ameliorate academic dishonesty, we have chosen to focus on specific strengths in each area of character that, drawing on previous literature, could have the largest contribution towards promoting academic integrity. Furthermore, in line with RDS metatheory and the long tradition of research that has found associations between situational variables and academic dishonesty (e.g., Bertram Gallant, 2008; Blum, 2016; Brimble, 2016; Hartshorne & May, 1928; Leming, 1978, 1980; Lerner & Schmid Callina, 2014; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens & Gehlbach, 2007), we focus on both individual and contextual variables that could contribute to the development of character strengths that may aid in combating academic dishonesty.


Numerous journalists and scholars alike have decried America's competitive, performance-based culture in contributing to its culture of cheating. David Callahan (2004), in his seminal book The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, argued that America's "winner-take-all system dangles immense rewards in front of people, bigger than ever before" (p.104), which, in turn, contributes to individual's willingness to cheat to get ahead. Similarly, Demerath (2009) argued that grades have become a commodity within American high schools, wherein high school students see "their primary work as credentialing" (p. 110). In this culture, Demerath (2009) continued, cheating is a logical response. Indeed, a 2002 survey by the Josephson Ethics Institute found that students were more interested in getting a high paying job than being an "ethical and honorable" person (Demerath, 2009). Moreover, several experimental studies have found that in cultures that emphasize performance goals (demonstrating competence) instead of mastery goals (developing competence), students are more likely to engage in cheating behaviors (Murdock & Anderman, 2006; Murdock, Hale, & Weber, 2001; Murdock, Miller, & Anderman, 2005; Murdock, Miller, & Goetzinger, 2005; Seider, Novick, & Gomez, 2013; Stephens & Gehlbach, 2007). Several scholars have corroborated that when pressure for grades becomes more intense--for instance during an adolescent's junior year of high school--cheating behaviors increase (e.g., Stephens, 2004; Taylor, Pogrebin, & Dodge, 2002).

Given the focus on performance in America's schools, a growing body of scholarship has started to investigate the relationship between student achievement and cheating behavior (Finn & Frone, 2004; Murdock & Anderman, 2006; Stephens, 2004). As noted above, Seider and colleagues (2013) recently found that academic integrity was a significant negative predictor of student achievement, with those urban middle school students who were more committed to academic integrity reporting lower levels of academic achievement. In interpreting this result, Seider and colleagues (2013) suggested two possibilities: (a) students who are more willing to cheat earn higher grades because of the cheating behaviors they engage in or (b) students who are more willing to engage in cheating behaviors are also those more invested in earning higher academic grades, regardless of whether they actually engage in cheating behavior. In all, this finding gives rise to questions of further ways to prevent cheating beyond focusing on academic integrity alone.

Preventing cheating has prompted scholars to advocate several approaches, ranging from smaller-scale and more individualized, student-level approaches (e.g., Christensen Hughes & Bertram Gallant, 2016; Lickona & Davidson, 2005; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; Stephens, 2016; Wan & Scott, 2016) to more comprehensive, whole-school approaches (e.g., Lickona & Davidson, 2005; Morris, 2016; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens, 2016). First, some teachers simply space out students during tests or give different versions of a single exam (Stearns, 2001; Stephens, 2016). Others have tried more punitive approaches focused on "policing and punishment" (Saddiqui, 2016, p. 1013; Stephens, 2016). Scholars note, though, that while such interventions may play a role in curbing cheating, they do less to actually develop academic integrity (McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 2001; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens, 2016). Alternatively, some scholars have advocated for a direct instruction approach. Such approaches have included implementing courses on "ethical decision-making" (Christensen Hughes & Bertram Gallant, 2016), considering best practices for promoting integrity through specific disciplines (e.g., Lofstrom, 2016; Stenmark & Winn, 2016) and, at the elementary level, bringing in information literacy programs that teach children about the different forms of plagiarism (Wan & Scott, 2016).

Other researchers underscore the importance of fostering strong student-teacher relationships as a way to reduce cheating (e.g., Genereux & McLeod, 1995; Stearns, 2001; Stephens, 2004; Waugh, Godfrey, Evans, & Craig, 1995). For example, some scholars emphasize the importance of fostering a strong sense of trust between students and staff (e.g., Berkowitz, 2011; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001). McCabe, Trevino, and Butterfield (2001) note that a student body entrusted with certain privileges such as unproctored exams and student councils involved in disciplinary processes value this kind of environment over one that enforces academic integrity through threat of punishment. Furthermore, teacher quality has been positively linked to lower incidences of student cheating. For example, Murdock, Miller, and Kohlhardt (2004) found that portraying teaching quality as poor in a vignette was associated with high cheating behavior, and, moreover, poor pedagogy was the only variable associated with students reporting cheating as morally acceptable. Similarly, Stearns (2001) found that students who self-reported academic dishonesty were more likely to have lower perceptions of their instructors. In fact, Murdock, Hale, and Weber (2001) found that social variables accounted for the greatest variance in cheating behaviors, with students reporting a lower likelihood of cheating if they believed their teacher was competent.

More comprehensively, there are many advocates of school-wide approaches to combating cheating and promoting academic integrity (e.g., Bertram Gallant & Drinan, 2008; Lickona & Davidson, 2005; Morris, 2016; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens, 2016). Stephens (2016), for example, promoted a "multilevel intervention model" that includes three tiers: school wide education (SWE), context-specific prevention (CSP), and individual remediation (IR). SWEs are aimed at the entire community and include components such as honor codes, student handbooks, student orientations, assemblies, and "organizational factors" (Stephens, 2016, p. 998). CSPs include course specific interventions, behavior controls (e.g., spacing students out or plagiarism detection programs), and "fair and caring instruction and assessment" aimed at developing students' authentic understanding of integrity (Stephens, 2016, p. 997). IR includes individual responses to dishonesty, such as "developmental sanctions" (Stephens, 2016, p. 1004), probations, or appropriate workshops addressing individual student needs (Stephens, 2016).

Other scholars have also advocated for a whole-school approach. Morris (2016), drawing on Bertram Gallant and Drinan's (2008) belief that academic misconduct is multidimensional and therefore requires an "institutional strategy" (p. 1038), proposed that schools promote academic integrity through integrity education, academic writing initiatives, and an emphasis on formative assessments. Likewise, Saddiqui (2016) promoted a holistic approach to promoting academic integrity, entitled a "community consultative process" (p. 1029). Essentially, Saddiqui (2016) argued that academic integrity could not be fostered through a piecemeal approach, but requires a whole-school assessment of the state of integrity at the institution, then the development of appropriate interventions, engagement of students in the process of developing their integrity, and the promotion of teacher professional development. Finally, Lickona and Davidson (2005) proposed the establishment of an ethical learning community that integrates both "excellence and ethics" (p. 32). Such a community aims to promote strengths such as academic integrity through six primary principles: developing a shared purpose and identity, aligning practice with research and desired outcomes, developing voice for all community stakeholders, taking ownership over self-development, practicing collective responsibility for ethics and excellence, and grappling with difficult issues (Lickona & Davidson, 2005, p. 33).

Woven throughout many of the aforementioned whole-school models are many moral character education approaches aimed at fostering academic integrity (Lickona & Davidson, 2005). Indeed, at the whole school level, some institutions have endorsed an honor code as a way of promoting academic integrity (Lickona & Davidson, 2005; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; McCabe & Trevino, 1993). Studies of students at such schools have found that they are less likely to succumb to cheating pressures or to rationalize cheating behaviors, and are more likely to discuss the importance of integrity and a moral community in minimizing cheating behaviors (McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001). Similarly, schools that intentionally create a culture of integrity (through the use of honor codes, mission statements that include integrity, and school-wide communication and expectations around honesty) have been shown to reduce cheating by a third to a half (McCabe & Trevino, 1993). Alternatively, other studies of character initiatives focused on creating cultures of integrity have found mixed results. For example, Stephens and Wangaard (2013) examined the implementation of a character education program (Achieving with Integrity) aimed at promoting academic integrity and found that the intervention did not change students' "perceptions, beliefs and behaviors related to academic integrity" (Stephens & Wangaard, 2013, p. 175). Nonetheless, Michael Josephson, the founder of the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, believes that there has been a major shift in American schools toward focusing on issues of honesty and character over the past decade (Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, 2012) that has contributed to the Institute's 2012 survey finding that for the first time in a decade American youth are lying, stealing, and cheating less (Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, 2012).


As noted above, many approaches that could be categorized as moral character education approaches have been implemented to help foster student integrity, such as honor codes (McCabe et al., 2001) and cultures of integrity (Stephens & Wangaard, 2013). It is not our intention to set up a dichotomy between a broad character education approach and whole-school or multitiered efforts aimed at combatting student cheating and fostering student integrity, but rather to suggest that a broad character education framework could augment such efforts. Indeed, here we argue that taking a broad approach to character education--one that focuses on fostering moral, performance, civic, and intellectual character strengths-offers educators and researchers additional whole-school and classroom-based interventions for addressing student cheating and fostering student integrity. For example, many of the interventions we mention below could align with each of Stephens' (2016) three tiers of intervention. However, instead of creating a whole school effort aimed at fostering academic integrity through creating an honor code alone, we suggest that perhaps by also fostering a range of character strengths we can offer educators and researchers alike new resources in this endeavor. Schools might, for example, create opportunities for service learning (fostering civic character) which could encourage students to see a larger purpose for learning and less of a reason to cheat. Or schools might focus specifically on cultivating students' curiosity (fostering intellectual character) which could inspire their intrinsic motivation for learning (Deci & Ryan, 2000), thereby possibly mitigating cheating behaviors. We explore such supporting literature in the sections below.

Moral Character

Moral character can be defined as character strengths that allow for successful relationships and ethical behavior (Lickona & Davidson, 2005; Noddings, 2002), and includes qualities such as empathy, altruism, gratitude and integrity. Given the research on the impact of honor codes on decreasing instances of cheating (McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; Shu, Gino, & Bazerman, 2011), fostering academic integrity appears to be one promising avenue for dissuading student cheating. However, other aspects of moral character have also been shown to impact ethical behavior, and a straightforward emphasis on building integrity may in fact be too narrow of an approach to take on cheating. Some scholars have focused more comprehensively on the development of moral identity and what the implications of such an identity might produce (Colby & Damon, 1992; Davidson & Youniss, 1991; Lapsley & Stey, 2014). Colby and Damon (1992), for example, investigated the lives of twenty-three "highly moral lives" (p. 293) and discuss the common thread of their strong sense of moral identity and sense of purpose dedicated to highly moral causes. While these individuals are held up as exemplars, and while there is certainly no roadmap for achieving this kind of deep moral commitment, it is worth considering the impact of a strong sense of moral identity, rather than moral integrity alone, on cheating behavior.

Weissbourd (2003), exploring some of the deeper reasons behind cheating behavior, posits, "People do not usually lie, cheat, or abuse others because they don't value honesty and respect; more likely, they suffer from feelings of inferiority, cynicism, or egocentrism that blind them to others' feelings" (p. 2). He also notes that when people have a moral conflict between their beliefs and actions, many will adapt their beliefs to justify their actions rather than the other way around (Weissbourd, 2003) suggesting that students may continue to cheat even if they understand its moral implications. Indeed, empirical research supports the notion that students are able to find a variety of ways to rationalize cheating (e.g., Murdock, Miller, & Kohlhardt, 2004; Murdock & Stephens, 2007; Shu, Gino, & Bazerman, 2011; Shu & Gino, 2012). Considering the cheating epidemic from this perspective (i.e., that multiple factors contribute to student cheating and that students can find many reasons to justify cheating), it seems unlikely that preventative measures or even honor codes can completely get at the root of why students cheat. Given this disconnect, Berkowitz's (2011) work provides a useful framework for fostering a more integrated approach to moral education. He outlines a number of techniques that are effective in fostering strong ethical and prosocial values in students, all of which could arguably be implemented to specifically increase student integrity and decrease cheating. These range from class discussions of moral dilemmas in order to develop strong moral reasoning skills, to modeling and providing mentors of ethical behavior, to fostering trust and trustworthiness, to maintaining rigorous and high expectations, to empowering students, to explicitly teaching about morality and character (Berkowitz, 2011). Despite these helpful suggestions, there has been a relatively limited link between these comprehensive approaches to moral character education and reductions in student cheating. We argue that further investigation is warranted to explore this connection.

Civic Character

Civic character can be defined as the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for active and responsible citizenship (Shields, 2011; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). While moral character can be understood as the character strengths that allow for successful ethical behavior in interpersonal relationships, civic character can be seen as the character strengths that allow for such ethical behavior as a part of one's communities and as a part of the common good (Seider, 2012). There are not many explicit examples in the literature of civic character in relation to student integrity. Nonetheless, some arguments have been made that a less individualistic, more outward focus in schools--such as one promoted by civic character--has the potential to foster the kind of strengths consistent with ethical and moral behavior. Haynes and Pickeral (2008), through descriptions of schools that have taken on such an approach, posit that youth with strong civic character "value and demonstrate personal integrity and respect for others" (p. 1), as well as a number of other prosocial virtues. Thunder (2014) likewise suggests that civic character and ethical integrity are inextricably linked. McCabe and Trevino (1993), building on their finding that peer behavior has the strongest impact on cheating, suggest that we explore "how an institution can create an environment where academic dishonesty is socially unacceptable" (p. 534). They call on Kohlberg's "just community" concept--democratically governed schools where students play an integral role in the creation of values, norms and expectations (Kohlberg, 1980, 1985; McCabe & Trevino, 1993)--an idea directly aligned with civic character pedagogy.

Many civic education scholars (e.g., Campbell, 2012; Johanek, 2012) remind us that the original purpose of education itself was to nurture democratic citizens and advocate for renewed efforts in this area. Arguably, such a change could shift both teachers' thinking about how to best prepare their students, and students' understanding about their own educational experience. This kind of fundamental restructuring transforms the purpose of cheating; if the outcome of school is not to simply achieve, but rather to become a contributing democratic citizen, then cheating takes on a completely different meaning.

Pedagogical approaches that have been shown to foster civic character include engaging students in debates on controversial public issues (Hess, 2002), "open classrooms" (Campbell, 2008) and experiential learning (Avery, 1989; Avery, Sullivan, & Wood, 1997; Kahne, Ullman, & Middaugh., 2012). Exposing students to perspectives other than their own, and teaching them to grapple with opposing viewpoints is considered to be a key building block for fostering responsible citizens in a democratic society (Hess, 2002; Levinson, 2012b; McLeod, Shah, Hess, & Lee, 2010). "Open classrooms," which refer to environments that "fosters a free, open, and respectful exchange of ideas" (Campbell, 2008, p. 450), have been shown to strengthen trust (Campbell, 2008; Levinson, 2012a), civic knowledge (Youniss, 2012), and social responsibility (Flanagan, Cumsille, Gill, & Gallay, 2007), all important components of a strong civic character. Finally, experiential learning (which can include simulations, role-plays, service-learning projects, etc.) can increase tolerance and acceptance of racial, political and social differences (Avery, 1989; Avery, Sullivan, & Wood, 1997; Kahne, Ullman, & Middaugh, 2012).

None of the above pedagogical approaches claim to directly impact cheating behaviors. However, the core tenets of civic character are directly connected with the values of honesty, trust, and empowerment--all characteristics associated with lower instances of cheating (e.g., Berkowitz, 2011; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001). Nonetheless, additional research is needed to make a more direct empirical link between growth in civic character strengths and academic integrity.

Performance Character

Performance character includes those character strengths that allow an individual to pursue excellence (Lickona & Davidson, 2005), including strengths such as self control, conscientiousness, and tenacity or grit. Although recently grit, defined as passion and pursuit of long term goals (Duckworth, Peterson, Mathews, & Kelly, 2007), has become an exceedingly prevalent topic in popular media (e.g., Tough, 2012), it is self-control, the ability to delay gratification in pursuit of a goal (Mischel, 2014) that has been linked to academic honesty, as lack of self-control and perceived opportunity are considered to be two primary elements of deviant behavior (including cheating) (Bolin, 2004). Indeed, several studies have found that cheating behavior in students is correlated with lower levels of self-control (Bolin, 2004; Cochran, Wood, Sellers, Wilkerson, & Chamlin, 1998; Jensen, Arnett, Feldman, & Cauffman, 2002). Importantly, scholars have suggested that individuals who have more control over their emotions may be more likely to adopt a mastery goal orientation, one focused on learning and thus linked to lower cheating behavior, due to a greater ability to reassure oneself in the face of failure (Meyer & Turner, 2006).

Although some scholars consider self-control to be a relatively stable personality trait (Bolin, 2004), new research has offered suggestions on how to build an individual's ability to self-regulate one's emotions, behavior, and persistence. In particular, Mischel (2014) has offered a variety of strategies children high in self-control display, such as distracting oneself, thinking "cool" thoughts about a temptation by making it distant and abstract, or trying to think about how to advise a friend or a future self in a tempting situation, that might be applied specifically to promoting academic integrity. In addition, educational interventions, such as the Tools of the Mind curriculum, have been shown to build students' executive functioning skills, including self-control (Mischel, 2014). Scholars have also found that adults who are responsive, consistent, and warm tend to foster increased self-regulation in students (Blair & Raver, 2012). Furthermore, Angela Duckworth and colleagues (2013) have promoted a strategy known as mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII), which has been linked to improved self-regulation. MCII is essentially the ability to use if/then statements to achieve self-control; the individual envisions a desired future, recognizes potential obstacles to reach that future, and identifies strategies to overcome these obstacles. Future research should consider the worth of using the MCII strategy, as well as other self-control tactics, in helping students to curb cheating behavior. Moreover, future work could consider how fostering other performance character strengths, such as grit and conscientiousness, might also help cultivate academic integrity in students.

Intellectual Character

Intellectual character includes strengths such as curiosity, reflectiveness, and open-mindedness that are associated with "productive thinking" or learning (Ritchhart, 2002). Inherently, focusing on intellectual character means focusing on creating a culture of learning over a culture of performance (Ritchhart, 2002), as "intellectual virtues are the personal qualities or character traits of a lifelong learner" (Baehr, 2013, p. 250). Curiosity, the "urge to know more" (Engel, 2011, p. 627), is one such intellectual character strength that may play an important role in promoting academic integrity. In fact, curiosity is a key element that leads to intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Schiefele, 2009), or a desire to engage with an activity because of its inherent worth rather than because of any extrinsic motivation or reward (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Yet, several scholars have suggested that America's performance culture has all but eliminated student curiosity (Demerath, 2009; Engel, 2011).

Thus, we would further argue that one way to promote a culture of academic integrity is through cultivating students' intellectual character, particularly their curiosity. In so doing, educators may spark within students their intrinsic motivation to learn (Schiefele, 2009), thereby combatting academic cheating and dishonesty. Recent research has begun to reveal numerous ways of fostering student curiosity in the classroom. In particular, curiosity is evoked by novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict (Berlyne, 1960) because these elements lead individuals to realize there is a gap in their knowledge that they wish to now understand (Kashdan, Steger, & Breen, 2007). In addition to drawing on these elements, educators should focus on creating meaningful activities for students that focus on real-world applications, as these have been associated with students' curiosity (Pluck & Johnson, 2011). Furthermore, curiosity can be fostered through direct instruction; indeed, studies have found that children are more likely to explore when encouraged to do so by their teachers (Coie, 1974). Ritchhart (2002) also noted the value of using thinking routines, such as brain-storming, pro and con lists, and the Know-Want to Know-Learned routine, for fostering intellectual character strengths such as curiosity. Finally, educators must work to create warm, welcoming environments in their classrooms in order to foster student curiosity, for a number of studies have found that individuals are less likely to display curiosity in high anxiety environments (Engel, 2011).


Relatively little empirical research has investigated how fostering areas of character other than moral character might contribute to discouraging student cheating and promoting academic integrity. Accordingly, our aim in this paper has been to discuss how a broad character education approach--one focused on moral, civic, performance, and intellectual character strengths--might be leveraged in America's classrooms to discourage student cheating and promote academic integrity. Indeed, a greater focus on developing students' moral identities, fostering their sense of civic engagement, cultivating their self-control, and promoting their sense of curiosity may each, in turn, discourage student cheating.

Although several scholars have noted interactions between the various areas of character (e.g., Baehr, 2011; Seider, 2012), here we have considered each area of character separately given the relatively little empirical research examining these possible interactions. We hope, though, to urge researchers to move beyond examining each area of character in a vacuum and, instead, to consider the worth of examining how these areas of character might curb cheating and promote academic integrity in concert with one another (and perhaps enmeshed within a multitiered intervention model; e.g., Stephens, 2016). Indeed, we envision classrooms wherein there is a constant interplay between all areas of character, as well as the individual and the contextual. For example, teachers might use interesting, novel information to spark students' curiosity (intellectual character) about a potential topic for a controversial conversation regarding a civic action topic (civic character), which might, in turn, promote a student's sense of purpose and moral identity (moral character). Throughout the controversial exchange, students would need to focus on honing their self-control (performance character)--for instance, "If Susie raises a point I wanted to make, then I will try to come up with a new argument rather than getting angry." We suggest that interventions such as this may help to reframe the purpose of education, so that the student's interest in the topic, commitment to civic action, sense of moral purpose and identity, and increased self-control would make cheating, if not superfluous, at least less likely to occur.

Thus, although popular media has recently focused primarily on performance character strengths that are highly correlated with academic achievement and success (see Tough, 2012), we would argue against this narrowing of America's character education. We urge both researchers and educators alike to consider the possible benefits of a multidimensional, broad approach to character education that draws on moral, performance, civic, and intellectual character strengths as well as the interplay between these areas of character.


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Shelby Clark and Madora Soutter

Boston University

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Author:Clark, Shelby; Soutter, Madora
Publication:Journal of Character Education
Date:Jul 1, 2016

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