inside higher ed – “who cheats and how”

The article published yesterday in Inside Higher Ed, “Who Cheats, and How,” confirmed much of what we already know about cheating. However, there were some surprising revelations.  Some of the things I found interesting had to do with perception.

Four in five faculty have reported at least one violation, and of those who have, 60 percent said they typically do so at least once a semester. Yet, most faculty don’t consider cheating a “rampant” problem, Baldasare said, and don’t think most students do it.

This is interesting in that while many professor do report cheating and students self reporting cheating at rate of 84 percent, professor still do not see it as a “rampant” problem.  It shows the gap between what’s really happening and our perception.  On my campus, I’ve heard a veteran professor say something to the effect of “In my 20 years of teaching, I’ve had maybe 5 cases of cheating.  It’s not really a problem.”

I’ve said this in many presentations before, and this article confirms the notion that students cheat when they see it as a viable option to a “problem” they face.

It appears that students are more likely to cheat out of perceived necessity than simply because they can get away with it.

The most dire circumstances were the ones under which students said they would be most likely to cheat: facing disqualification from the university or program of study (about 35 percent on average), when a scholarship was at risk (about 38 percent), when they ran out of time on an assignment (30 percent), or to maintain a grade point average (28 percent). Students are less inclined to cheat just because other students are doing it (15 percent) or the professor ignores it (20 percent).

The last part is interesting, because many previous studies have shown peer influence and institutional influence to be major factors.  I do wonder if students do not realize that the environment where cheating is common-place (everyone does it) allows them to consider cheating as an option.  It may not be that they’re thinking, “Well, everyone’s doing it, so I am going to do it.”  It’s probably more like “I really have to pass this class for my major. I’ll just do it once. What’s the big deal?”  The last part may stem from a campus environment where it’s understood that cheating is commonplace. (Of course, I realize, I’m just conjecturing here. Just trying to make sense of it all.)

The article does suggest that behaviors can be influenced by what professor do in the classroom.  For example:

[S]etting clear expectations, and repeating them early and often, is crucial. […]

“It’s about communicating clearly in the classroom and spending time on the topic,” said Angela Baldasare, divisional manager of assessment and data analysis at the University of Arizona, about clarifying expectations and increasing the intrinsic values of assignments, “so that there’s something more to it than just a grade.”

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the hoover institute and a high school senior agree…

The Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace  (Stanford University) published this wonderful article, “The Death of Honesty” by William Damon.  The article is an excellent discussion of why honesty is actually important in human society.  For instance:

When we no longer assume that those who communicate with us are at least trying to tell the truth, we give up on them as trustworthy persons and deal with them only in a strictly instrumental manner. The bounds of mutual moral obligation dissolve, and the laws of the jungle reemerge.

Then, a student, Zachary Slayback, wrote an article called “Instilling Honesty” in response to Damon’s article.  He says he wrote an article for his school paper discussing this subject matter.

Officials at the school did not believe that the subject was one for publication and did not submit the article. My rebuttal is as follows: how can we wish to correct a problem if we refuse to admit that it is a problem?

I did my homework on Zachary and while he and I may not be on the same political spectrum, we very much agree on one thing: The need for schools to be consistent, coherent, and transparent (Damon’s words) when it comes to dealing with dishonesty.  (I do acknowledge that I have not seen the actual article that Zachary wrote for the school paper, and so I don’t have all the information, of course.)

Zachary’s article in Daily American: Somerset County Newspaper, however, is a good one.  If you are a student, I hope you will really hear what he is saying. If you are faculty, I hope you will really hear what he is saying and encourage your students to read his article (and Damon’s article).

As long as there are young people like Zachary on this issue of honesty, I am hopeful for our country.