Comparing engineering student use of solution manuals and student/faculty perceptions of academic dishonesty

Document Type

Conference Paper

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Proceedings of the 119th Annual ASEE Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, TX

Publication Date



Since 2002, student access to engineering textbook solution manuals has dramatically increased due to the advent of their electronic availability.1, 2 Newfound access to electronic solution manuals poses fresh ethical questions concerning when and how their use is considered “honest”. Research3 indicates that undergraduate engineering students agree that the instructor/ institution holds the primary responsibility for defining and limiting acts of academic dishonesty, not the student. Anecdotal evidence1 suggests that faculty may perceive academic dishonesty in the use of solution manuals when students do not. This attitudinal mismatch can be a cause for misunderstanding and discord between and among engineering students and faculty that, ultimately, has a detrimental effect on student learning and assessment of teaching effectiveness. This paper summarizes the results of a pilot study conducted within the College of Engineering (CoE) at a western, land-grant, state university to extend the original work conducted at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo (SLO). In 2006, Cal Poly SLO researchers reported student and faculty perceptions of the ethics of student use of textbook solution manuals, as measured by direct question surveys of engineering faculty and students, differed significantly.1 In 2007, researchers reported that levels of engineering student academic achievements, as measured by homework and exam scores, were higher when students did not have access to solution manuals during homework preparation.2 Replicating previous work, the current study uses direct survey of engineering undergraduates and faculty engaged in teaching undergraduate engineering courses to assess differences in the perceptions of academic honesty related to student use of solution manuals. Student participants are enrolled in one of two sophomore-level engineering mechanics courses (Statics and Dynamics) or a junior level environmental engineering course (Environmental Management). As in the previous Cal Poly SLO studies,1,2 courses involved in the current study make use of assigned homework as the primary mechanism of problem solving practice. The results of the current study are important in helping to 1) clarify the nature of the attitudinal mismatch between engineering students and faculty concerning the use of solution manuals, 2) develop means to promote acceptable learning-based uses for online and electronic textbook solution manuals, and 3) extend the body of knowledge concerning engineering student and faculty perceptions of academic integrity.

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