March 21st, 2011

Five Ways to Tackle Cheating in College

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Consider the following exam day scenario. While the students are taking their exam, you look up from the paper you’re grading and see a student repeatedly looking at another student’s exam. When your eyes meet his, he appears nervous. What should you do next?

A. Say “Mr. Smith, keep your eyes on your own paper.”
B. Walk up to Mr. Smith and ask him to turn in his exam to you.
C. Walk over and see approximately where he is on the exam and then ask several students to exchange seats.
D. Ignore it. Confronting cheating is not worth the hassle.

“Here’s what you need to remember when you’re confronting cheating in the classroom – do not take the exam away,” said Debi Moon, assistant vice president of educational affairs at Georgia Perimeter College. “Now if they’re using a cheat sheet, you can discreetly take the cheat sheet … but you need to let them complete the exam. For one thing, you don’t know for sure they’re cheating, and by taking their exam you’ve gotten yourself into a pot full of trouble”

The correct answer to the above scenario is C. This allows you to avoid embarrassing the student with public accusations, which could lead to defamation charges, while still giving you the opportunity to confront the cheating in a private meeting with the student. It’s also important to note that, as tempting as it is to use exam time to catch up on grading or other tasks, instructors can do a lot to deter cheating simply by walking around and being visible in the classroom, Moon said.

In the recent online video seminar, Cheating: A Legal Primer Toolkit for Faculty & Administrators, Moon and Rob Jenkins, associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College, shared strategies for creating a culture of academic integrity, as well as effective ways to handle cheating once it occurs. The key, Jenkins said, is to “make academic integrity visible to students – something that is a tangible part of your campus.”

Here are five ways to go visible and beat cheating, as recommended by Moon and Jenkins:

  1. Honor Code: Develop an honor code that fits your institution and makes it socially unacceptable to cheat. The Center of Academic Integrity has a number of resources for creating or updating your honor code.
  2. Orientations: As part of the orientation process for new students, some schools are beginning to ask other students to talk about the importance of academic integrity, and the consequences of cheating in college. Another interesting idea comes from The University of Notre Dame, which requires all new undergraduates to pass an online honor code orientation prior to finalizing their class registration.
  3. Tutorials: In some cases, students don’t have a firm grasp of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism. To eliminate any gray areas, a tutorial can provide clear definitions and specific examples of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
  4. PR Campaign: A lot of schools have honor codes (or in some cases multiple versions of an honor code) tucked away in a student handbook or faculty handbook. PR is about making your honor code visible and that includes communicating your values in those common venues such as handbooks, as well as through posters in classrooms, residential halls and the library, and on blue books. Holding contests that ask students to create a video on academic integrity is another way of getting students actively involved.
  5. Classroom Strategies: The final strategy for making academic integrity a visible part of your campus culture is by what you do in the classroom. This includes having a statement about academic integrity in your syllabus and talking about cheating during the first class of the semester. Developing cheat resistant assignments will help minimize cheating as well.

“I think as faculty members sometimes we’re afraid that if we talk about cheating too much [and list examples of cheating] that a student will say ‘Oh, I never thought of that,’” said Jenkins. “I really don’t think that’s a realistic fear. You’re not telling them anything they don’t know. They know these things are out there, but what they might not know if there’s anything wrong with them.”