Tag Archives: cheating

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. 

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You can’t make this sort of thing up

True story from a faculty meeting today: A biology prof gave an assignment in a class at the beginning of last semester on the subject of proper academic conduct in a college class. The assignment was to research the definition of “plagiarism” and write about how it applies to the biology class. 

When the prof got the assignments back, guess what he discovered? That’s right: One of the students had plagiarized his plagiarism assignment.

As some great mind once said, there’s a fine line between stupid and clever. 

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Retrospective: Four reasons why academic dishonesty is bad (2.24.2006)

Editorial: Here’s the third article in the weeklong retrospective I am running this week. This article was, I think, the very first one I posted at CO9s about academic dishonesty (cheating, plagiarism, etc.) and might be the clearest statement I’ve made on this painful subject. Academic dishonesty remains one of the biggest personal issues for me in my work as a college professor.

Four Reasons Why Academic Dishonesty is Bad

Originally posted: February 24, 2006

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I’ve had to deal with my first academic dishonesty (AD) case of the semester this week. I won’t blog about the details, but suffice to say that this time it was plagiarism; a student copied some examples from a couple of web sites and submitted it as his/her own work. (I am now in the habit of typing any suspicious written work into Google to check for plagiarism, and that’s how I caught it this time.) In the recent past, I’ve also had to deal with larger plagiarism cases, situations where students copy each other’s homework, and catching a student with cheat notes on a test.

Every semester for the past few years, I’ve had at least one case of AD that I have to adminster. It is unfailingly a disappointing, saddening, time-consuming process. Even though my college takes a pretty hard line on AD, and so do I, some students still do it.

Why is academic dishonesty considered bad? Why do we in higher ed place such harsh sanctions against it? I’ve had to ask myself that this week, and here are a few ideas:

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Academic dishonesty again

OK, commenters, you win. My proposal for extending the punishment for academic dishonesty is probably too draconian fascist much like walking the plank strict. Even if I fixed the “five-game suspension” problem for athletes, I admit most students caught in academic dishonesty aren’t cold-blooded cheaters but basically good people who are naive to the ways of college and have gotten themselves talked into thinking that cheating is acceptable if one can sort of morally justify it. And as such, they don’t need the full force of the sanctions that I proposed to get the lesson across.

But at least at my college, the professor reserves the right to suggest withholding parts of the standard penalty for academic dishonesty. While I always report academic dishonesty to the Dean, and while I have done so at least once a semester ever since I started working here, in fact I have almost never recommended the full punishment. So even if the range of punishments allowed were expanded drastically, like I proposed, a professor could hold back whatever portions s/he chose while retaining the right to drop a bomb on somebody who was violating academic honesty blatantly and without remorse. So I’m not sure why raising the upper end of what punishment can be meted out should be such a bad thing.

But regardless, I still think that punishing academic dishonesty at the level of grades only is barking up the wrong tree. Students get into academic dishonesty — cold-blooded or otherwise — by thinking that cheating is what’s best for their grade right now. It’s all about the grade. The punishment needs to communicate unambiguously that academic honesty is not all about the grade but about defending the basic foundation of college, which is mutual trust. You violate that trust, you dismember the community, and you should receive some temporary but substantive time-out from being a part of that community.

If it hurts or takes away something that’s important to the student, then so be it — cheating takes away something that is important to the college, and to me. 

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Getting tough on cheaters

My college’s official policy on academic dishonesty (cheating, plagiarism, and the like) goes as follows. When a student is “convicted” of academic dishonesty on a course assignment and it is their first offense, then:

  • The student receives an automatic “0” on the assignment.
  • The student’s final letter grade in the course is reduced by one full letter. (An earned B- becomes a C-, etc.)

And should the student ever commit academic dishonesty a second time, the student is expelled.

This policy is pretty typical of a lot of colleges. But I am beginning to think it doesn’t go far enough. Here’s what I am thinking ought to happen to a student caught in academic dishonesty:

  • The student gets a grade of “0” on the assignment and a reduction of one letter on the final grade, as is currently the case.
  • The student is barred for one year from holding any officer position in any official college organization. If the student currently holds such a position, the student is to be removed from that position immediately.
  • The student is barred from membership in the Student Congress and any other form of student government for one year.
  • The student is barred for one year from being an admissions counselor, campus tour guide, or any other function in which they represent the college to the general public.
  • If the student is an athlete, the student is given a five-game suspension.
  • If the student is a member of a fraternity or sorority, then the student is banned from the fraternity or sorority for one full semester except for the use of study tables.

All students take their studies with varying degrees of seriousness at any given time, but when a student commits plagiarism or cheats, or deliberately allows it to happen, I think the gloves are off, and colleges need to start hitting these people where they live.

Additions? Comments? Accusations of draconianism?

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