A better way to prevent student cheating

Honor, with its emphasis on doing the right thing for its own sake, is no match for the anxious cynicism of many college students. This point was driven home to me by a junior I met last year in North Carolina. Why not cheat, he argued, given how many of America’s most successful people cut corners to get where they are? Cheating is how the real world works, he said. Look at the politicians who lie or the sluggers who take steroids, or the CEOs who cook the books. The student also pointed to the hurdles he faced as he tried to get ahead: high tuition costs, heavy student loans, low-paying jobs without benefits. America wasn’t a fair place for kids like him, so it made sense to try to level the playing field by bending a few rules. —David CallahanA better way to prevent student cheating (Christian Science Monitor)

4 thoughts on “A better way to prevent student cheating

  1. I once came across a university in which the professors didn’t give out letter grades — instead, they gave out credit hours.

    That is, if you did all the work and satisfied expectations, you got 3 credits. If you did extra work, put a lot of extra effort into the class, you could earn up to 6 credits. If you only did part of the work, you’d earn only 2 or 1 credits — or none. If I taught at a school like that, I’d have to make the syllabus a bit more modular. It would be a challenge in a skills-based course, but I could imagine a news writing course in which students who want 5 or 6 credits could complete their news writing exercises early and then spend the 2nd half of the term working as editors, coaching the less-accomplished students along.

    I’m on a committee that reviews borderline applications — that is, the student doesn’t quite meet SHU’s expectations for grades or SAT scores. So we look closely at how challenging their courses are, whether their grades show a steady path upwards or downwards over their high school career, what they write about in their application essay (please, folks, if you write about how much you want to play your favorite sport, at least mention your academic aspirations too), and the strength of their letters of recommendation.

    In some cases, employers want to hire someone who’s ready to step right into a job with parameters that are carefully laid out. Teachers, nurses, etc. I don’t see you fitting into a box like that, Evan, but I’ve worked with you long enough that I know your strengths and have very strong feelings about how your contributions affect the classroom.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this comment because I’m sick and shouldn’t be blogging… but this time of year, it’s refreshing — and necessary — to remember that grades are a tool that we use; they signify value, but they are not valuable in and of themselves.

  2. …And what’s even harder is teaching students to be critical of themselves. And even harder still is getting students to integrate knowledge (both personal and objective) and synthesize new knowledge.

    I often tell my non-nmj-majoring, cheating peers: “I would love to see you try to pull that with Dr. Jerz!”

    But I think the most critical incentive to keep people from cheating is not putting so much emphasis on grades! In this capitalistic society, we tend to like a quantifiable, neatly packaged number… for everything. Without going on a complete communist-leaning diatribe of capitalism, I think this is an issue to be concerned about.

    Hearing stories about how cut-throat students of large universities are (marking extra spaces on scannable test sheets) makes me grateful that I did not go to one of those large big-name schools.

    We are under the illusion that people earn and deserve the grade they get. That unchallenged assumption sickens me to the point that I want to vomit. Cheating is a perfect example of how this idea is a myth.

    Would I hire a B- student if I owned a business? Perhaps. If the student worked honestly through school, tried the hardest, was committed, and retained the skills and knowledge needed. What good is a grade if it wasn’t deserved or earned? And what good is knowledge if the only motivation to attain it is the black mark on a piece of paper?

    I’m not saying this only because I am a A’s and B’s student, but also because I am a good student (I hope). I don’t get B’s because I am less competent than the straight-A students. I am just less efficient when it comes to anything timed. Does this mean I learn less? No.

    I think I learn more. I don’t work for a grade. I work to learn.

  3. Cheating doesn’t give you any control over your curriculum. If anything, it gives you some control over what your grades look like in your official record, but that’s not the same thing.

    Your point about who decides what is useful is a good one, and worth considering further.

    When I was a student, and there were few humanities courses that utilized the information on the internet, information was hard to find, and “research” meant spending time in the library, looking at tables of contents and indices of rows and rows of books. And the assignments I had to do — library scavenger hunts, annotated bibliographies, reading big comprehensive books — reflected the fact that the information my professors wanted me to find was rather difficult to come across.

    Today, I would think that including that kind of an exercise by default would be busywork, since that kind of information is easy to find. (What’s much harder is teaching students to evaluate the sources they find, and what’s even harder is teaching students to give a damn about the quality of the sources they find.)

  4. Cheating is also used in many different ways. For example, in computer science cheating in a computer science class was much more frowned on by the other students than, say, cheating in a gen-ed economics class.

    Cheating also provides a little control for the student over their curriculum – I wish I had been able to cheat in my discrete math class, because I know now the same thing I knew then – that I was never, ever, ever going to use anything from that class, ever.

    Anyways, my point is that cheating often has it’s own subtle layers. It may not be fair to cheat, but it’s not fair to make students take useless classes either. (Although who knows what ends up being useless and useful?…well, that’s another topic. ;-) )

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