Can Online College Education Make Students Smarter and More Moral? A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Two Online College Course Assignments on Students’ Moral Competence

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Marina A. Klimenko
Nicholas Surdel
Kathryn Muir
Fuaad Sofia


Higher education institutions in the United States have historically been tasked with the responsibility of scaffolding the moral development of students. Although empirical evidence suggests that attending colleges and universities can foster students’ moral development and reasoning, the effect of online higher education remains mainly unknown. The current study has examined the effect of two online psychology courses, Developmental Psychology and Research Methods Lab, and their respective assignments on students’ moral competence. The findings revealed that students’ moral competence in both courses was improved; this improvement was partly attributed to online group discussions in the Developmental psychology course. No other assignments were found to be significant contributors of students’ moral competence. Limitations and implications of the findings were discussed.


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Klimenko, M. A., Surdel, N., Muir, K., & Sofia, F. (2019). Can Online College Education Make Students Smarter and More Moral? A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Two Online College Course Assignments on Students’ Moral Competence. ETHICS IN PROGRESS, 9(2), 44-55.
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Author Biographies

Marina A. Klimenko, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Marina A. Klimenko - Ph.D. in developmental psychology from The University of Georgia, followed by an MPA degree with focus in policy analysis from the University of Georgia.  She is a Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, at the University of Florida. Dr. Klimenko's area of specialization spans social and emotional development of early childhood and adulthood, with a particular emphasis on emotional and moral development.


Nicholas Surdel, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Nicholas Surdel - up-and-coming, award-winning researcher and alumni at the University of Florida. When he is not researching Psychology at UF, he spends his time collaborating with partners at Harvard, Yale, Konstanz, and West Chester University. As a first-generation university student in America, he has a high drive and a thirst to create his own legacy through academia.



Kathryn Muir, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Kathryn Muir - completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Florida with a focus on developmental and social aspects of the field. Currently, she is continuing her research and studies in Gainesville, Florida, and serves as the lab manager for its Adolescent Social Development Lab. Her research interests include moral development, media influences on social interaction, and prevention science. In addition to her work in psychology, Kathryn assists various adolescent and emerging adult outreach programs in her community.


Fuaad Sofia, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Fuaad Sofia - currently a graduate student at the University of Oslo conducting research on neurodegenerative diseases. He is a University of Florida alumni, and hopes to, one day, contribute to the field however he can.



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