I’ll say it again:


Academic dishonesty is not only easy to catch, it’s a horrible miscarriage of the mutual trust upon which all of education is built, and students who willfully engage in it deserve all the punishment they receive, if not more. There’s simply no rationalizing it, and I don’t think we in higher ed do nearly enough to eradicate it. 

I bring this up because of virusdoc’s comment, just made on an old post

Resurrecting an old thread, but I just graded my first ever take-home essay test (open-book, open web, but no collaboration allowed and students were instructed to make sure their ideas and words were their own).

Out of 30 tests graded thus far, there were two students who boldly copied and pasted huge blocks of text from multiple websites into their test answers, without so much as an attempt to change any words or even alter the font from that in the website. It was horrific. In addition, I uncovered one clear example of two students who almost certainly shared answers. One of them had screwball, left-field answers for two questions in a row, using examples that weren’t in our text and I hadn’t discussed in lecture. This was odd, but I dismissed it as a singularity. Several tests later, another student used exactly the same screwball examples for the same two questions. (no other student has used these examples). Further comparison of the two students’ tests side by side reveals multiple verbatim quotes in their answers, and several of the answers that are not verbatim are structurally highly related.

I never anticipated senior level students would a) cheat so frequently, and b) do so in such stupid, obvious ways.

Yee-ha for higher ed!

Yep. I’m actually a little (pleasantly) surprised that I haven’t had a clear-cut incident of academic dishonesty yet in my own courses this semester. But that could be because I’ve taken to designing my courses specifically to avoid assessments with a high risk of cheating or plagiarism. I have very little in the way of take-home assignments that are worth very much.

That doesn’t seem right for higher education. Profs ought to be giving assignments that are challenging, engaging, and therefore take time and effort outside of class. But when we do that, there’s all this rampant and ridiculous cheating that takes place. So we profs feel this intrinsic pressure to make most of our grades come from timed assessments which are easier to manage, but which by definition operate at a lower cognitive level than the kinds of assignments we would like to give (and which college students ought to be getting). So cheaters and plagiarists are ruining not only their own education, but the education of others as well. 

6 Comments

Filed under Academic honesty, Life in academia

6 responses to “I’ll say it again:

  1. I have had pretty good luck (knock on wood) with take home exams in Calculus classes by including 1) a very clear policy on what is allowed and what is not allowed, 2) students must write out, sign, and date an “Academic Honesty Statement” at the end of the test, 3) I have students rehearse, out loud, what they will say to another student if they are asked for help “I’m sorry, but we aren’t allowed to help each other with this exam.” So I’ll say … a classmate says “Come on, just give me a clue for #4” you say … (class chants) “I’m sorry, but we aren’t allowed to help each other with this exam.” I’ll say … “Hey, did you think #2 was a difficult problem?” the class chants “I’m sorry, but we aren’t allowed to help each other with this exam.”

    It seems like such a simple thing, but I think that for most of them, it will make them think twice about what they are doing if they are thinking of being dishonest or are confronted with another student who is being dishonest.

    Here’s my statement (roughly):

    Rules: Discussion of problems amongst classmates is NOT permitted, although you may use your text or notes. It is NOT okay to work together on the problems, to show another student your results, to communicate with other students via email or the message boards, or to get suggestions from anyone other than your instructor.

    After you have completed the test, please copy the following statement on the bottom of the last page and then SIGN and DATE it to attest that you abided by it:

    I did not receive help on this exam from anyone other than my instructor. I did not help any other student with this exam.

  2. To echo largely what Maria said, I went to Rice University, which has (or at least had back then) a very strong honor code — by which I mean adherence to it and respect for it was strong, not that the code itself was draconian. I wish I could tell you how you go about inculcating such a strong sense of “honor” in a populace, but I was only a member of that body, I did not create that sense myself, only participated in it.

    I only remember at freshman orientation how a discussion of the honor code was treated quite reverently by our advisors. There was very much a sense of “This honor code, and your adherence to it, allows for some very cool things, and makes us all feel like we are trusted, responsible adults. So don’t screw it up by being selfish and cheating and making the university rethink its policy on this, okay?!“.

    Indeed, I felt really cool being able to take a test (I was an engineer, so I did less with writing papers) in the relaxed comfort of my room, or at a time I felt best for me (sadly, due to my study skills, this was usually at 1am in the library after a night of cramming, but oh well).

    Such was the respect for the honor code that I even turned myself in when, lamentably, I did cheat once. Of course, my faith played a role in that, too. But still. I still remember the Rice version of the pledge we signed on every major assignment on test: “On my honor, I have neither given nor received any aid on this exam.”

    Did some people take advantage of the system? Probably. But I’d like to think that overall cheating was greatly diminished because of the responsibility and advantages afforded by an overall air of honesty.

    The more I think about this, the more I come back to two concepts: the (Lutheran) notion of law and gospel. And the way that parents raise children, granting them responsibility as they get older.

  3. @tODD: Good point in your first paragraph — a college can make up all the policies in the world against academic dishonesty and devise all kinds of punishments for infractions, but if academic excellence and a sense of honor aren’t part of the *culture* of the college/university then it’s likely to go nowhere.

  4. virusdoc

    I could use some feedback/advice on this situation. My test instructions were very clear that no collaboration was to occur, and that the words on the test must be the students. Three students clearly violated this. My syllabus is very clear that any student caught violating the academic integrity standard at our institution will receive an automatic zero for that assignment (in this case, a full 20% of their course grade).

    So, my initial instinct is to follow through with these policies and give summary zeros. If the students don’t choose to appeal this, then my institution gives me the option to NOT report the infractions, which is obviously in the students’ best interest.

    However, a fellow faculty member (and a more senior and wise one) suggests that even though I am well within my rights to give a summary zero, I should offer the students the option to retake a different test, in a timed, monitored setting, to replace the zero. His concern is that this is my first semester teaching, and if I am as harsh as I have the right to be, I run the risk of getting branded as an ass through the gossip grapevine. My counterpoint is that these three students have now had the advantage of hearing me discuss the original test in class, so they would have information about those concepts that their classmates didn’t have when they took the exam.

    Thoughts?

  5. Your senior colleague is right that in enforcing your standards, you’ll be branded with a reputation — but not as an ass, but as a professor who means what he says, and who takes academic honesty seriously. Some students will think you are an ass for that; but those are the students who think that cheating is OK and the ends justify the means. Conducting yourself to make THOSE students safe and happy will lead nowhere.

    I think there is some middle ground between summary zeroes on the exam and offering a second chance. I think my ideas are lengthy enough to merit a post by itself, so watch for that momentarily.

    But again, with all due respect to your senior colleagues, offering second chances to known cheaters is bad policy and says that, despite all your rhetoric about academic honesty and all your rules, you won’t really punish cheating.

  6. Pingback: Handling academic dishonest « Casting Out Nines