May 9th, 2018

Cheating: Can We Be Doing More to Promote Academic Integrity?

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talking with students about cheating

The most common approach to cheating involves trying to prevent it—multiple versions of a test, roving observation during tests, software that detects plagiarism, policies that prohibit it. However, if we look at cheating across the board, what we’re doing to stop it hasn’t been all that successful. Depending on the study, the percentage of students who say they’ve cheated runs between 50% and 90% with more results falling on the high side of that range. Can we be doing more? Here are some ideas.

Teaching Professor Blog Don’t turn away when cheating occurs. The research is clear: the fear of getting caught is one of the most effective deterrents. There are issues here. Reporting systems put the burden of proof on the faculty member and a lot of cheating behaviors (wandering eyes, for example) are hard to prove in a definitive way. Reporting procedures can be time consuming and due process often feels as though faculty must do the whole process. But cheating is an offense that eats away at the very heart of education. There’s an ugly bottom line that we all must face. Students cheat because they get away with it.

Talk more about academic dishonesty. Having the policy in the syllabus and going over the details on the first day of class is where the conversation starts. It needs to carry on across the course. There are more than enough topics: why personal integrity matters and how it develops; how cheating hurts those who don’t; how those who cheat in college continue to cheat later in life; how to respond when friends ask for actions that enable their cheating; when collaboration crosses the line and becomes cheating; what behaviors teachers expect regarding homework, take-home exams, and group projects; what kind of support is provided to those who report cheating; and samples of plagiarism with details on how to correct them. These conversations can be planned so they occur at strategic moments; during the exam review session or just before a paper is due, for example.


Scenarios are a great tool for getting students to think about cheating in new and different ways. This collection of 20 cheating scenarios asks students to evaluate a variety of realistic situations that occur on college campuses every day and then decide whether what’s described is, in fact, cheating. Learn more about the resource »

Re-focus the conversation. Move away from the “Don’t cheat—I’m warning you, don’t do it” proclamations. Students regularly hear that message and they know that cheating is wrong, but they continue doing it. What they understand less well is why academic integrity matters—what role it plays in how knowledge advances within our disciplines. They haven’t thought much about cheating consequences beyond the pain of getting caught. Cheaters look like they have knowledge they don’t have—they have to fake it. The risk of getting caught continues, maybe even during a job interview. Discuss why students should report cheating and how ignoring it has personal consequences. Cheaters get grades they don’t deserve; they may even gain admission to professional programs or land job interviews because their GPA’s edged out the honest students.

Explore the influence of peers. Students cheat more when they think everybody’s doing it, if it’s socially acceptable, and not considered a big deal. And research has found the opposite is true. Students cheat less when peers they admire or their friends don’t. Honest students tend to keep a low profile. They think cheaters ought to be punished but they’d rather not be part of the process. Turning this around isn’t easy but students who care about academic and personal integrity must be empowered to take a stand. If enough of them do, that influences the decisions of others—potential cheaters and reporters alike.

Class honor code. If it’s a major’s course, a capstone, or senior seminar, consider challenging students to establish a class honor code that sets the standards for professional behavior. The code could prohibit cheating of various sorts and consider those who enable cheating guilty of an incriminating offense. It could hold everyone in the course accountable for any cheating by their peers and make reporting incidents of cheating an expectation. It could provide whistle blower protections of anonymity and confidentiality. An honor code like this is probably not possible in a large, required entry-level course, but when students are on the cusp of their careers, shouldn’t professional standards be an expectation?

Can we be doing more? Collectively? Individually? Can we afford to just throw up our hands and carry on? Personal integrity is an individual choice. In this case, the place to start is with a hard look at our individual responses to cheating. That can profitably be followed by discussions in our programs and departments and across the institution.

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