Cheating is rampant on college campuses. You should be prepared. Assume the best in your students, but be prepared for the worst in students. Fortunately good class design can help minimize the instances of cheating and clear cheating policies make it easy to deal with students when you find a student dabbling on the dark side.
1. Ask smart questions
“Write a 2 page summary of Marx’s Communist Manifesto,” is a terrible question in the Internet age. Ask this question and you should expect lots of copy/pasting. Smart questions today are specific, complex, and if possible related to something discussed in class.
Specificity is your friend. I often ask students questions like, “How does Prudence Carter define non-dominant cultural capital in Keepin’ It Real” There are very few correct answers to this question and if students Google “Non-Dominant Cultural Capital” they are very likely going to get an answer that does not sound like Carters which means they will either raise my suspicion and get caught or at the very least get a bad grade for an incorrect answer.
“How does Shapiro define institutional discrimination in The Hidden Cost Of Being African American? In your answer use examples from the video The House We Live In we watched in class.” This is a question I’ve asked my students to answer in the past. This is a good question because it asks students to apply a concept to something else. I could have asked the students to define Institutional Discrimination, but there are over 8 million webpages that students could copy/paste a definition from. By asking students to apply, compare, contrast, etc. multiple things, students are less likely to be able to find a ready made answer online and thus less likely to cheat.
2. Set clear expectations
Almost every time I catch a student quoting without attribution *cough* copy/pasting off of the net *cough, cough* the first thing the student says to me is, “I had no idea I could cite a source for this paper!”. Many of my students seem surprised when I tell them they could’ve just cited the website or article they quoted and they wouldn’t evaded receiving an F. While I wouldn’t give a good grade to a paper that cites Wikipedia, I wouldn’t call judicial affairs if they cited the Wikipedia article they quoted.
At the beginning of the semester I spend 15 minutes talking about what constitutes plagiarism and how it can be avoided. I provide my students with resources on campus and tell them, “If you are worried that what you’re doing may be plagiarism, come talk to me” 1 After we read the Academic Integrity section of the syllabus I say to my students,
“I became a professor because I wanted to help students reach their dreams, not because I wanted to possibly get them removed from school. It bums me out when I report students to judicial affairs, but I will. Last semester when I told cheating students I had reported them to Judicial Affairs they looked at me with astonishment. Don’t make their mistake. If you cheat, I’ll likely catch you and the consequences will be severe. Please don’t make me do this.”
3. Frequently reinforce your commitment to academic honesty
It’s not enough to tell you students once. Before any major assignment or test I remind my students what constitutes plagiarism or cheating and the severity of the consequences if they are caught. You don’t want your students to become paranoid, but you also don’t want them to become complacent.
It’s also a great idea to explore cheating as a social problem in your classes. When discussing deviance I’ve had students read Situational Ethics and College Student Cheating (1990 LaBeff, Clark, Haines, and Diekhoff)2 which describes how students use neutralization to maintain a positive sense of self despite engaging in behavior they know is wrong. My students love this article and they really love having an open class discussion about cheating. Of course they precede every statements with, “Well one of my friends told me…” I typically end this class discussion by asking students how prevalent they think cheating is on campus and what they think the consequences should be for cheating. At the end of the discussion I remind them of what the consequences are for academic dishonesty in this class.
4. Write a clear academic integrity statement
In your syllabus you need to define what academic integrity is, why it’s important, and what the consequences are for a student’s lapsed academic morals. I provide students with a link to the student handbook where they can see examples of what constitutes academic dishonesty and what consequences I am contractually bound to enforce.
Great teachers debate on how a academic integrity statement should be phrased. I’m inclined to be as explicit as possible when defining the consequences of cheating, but other teachers use more vague language to afford them flexibility in how they consequence dishonesty. 3 By allowing flexibility in your academic integrity statement you are free to make case-by-case decisions, but you also open yourself up to appearing to favor some students over others. An ambiguous academic integrity statement sees shades of gray and students may challenge your subjectivity in enforcing consequences. On the other hand, if you paint yourself into a corner with strict language you may end up delivering consequences that you do not feel are appropriate given the students circumstances. Both approaches have issues and limitations.
5. Enforce it equally
Students will respect you if you are fair. Before you make a deal with any student you should be sure you are ready to make that deal with any other student in the class in a similar situation. The value of a clear academic integrity statement is it does tie your hands and only requires you to carry out the consequences you promised all of your students you would. Students talk to one another to compare notes on you. If you are unequal with your treatment of students, it will cost you one way or another. I often say to students, “__ I really like you and it pains me to do this, but I did this to other students in your same situation. If I didn’t do the same thing right now with you I’d be playing favorites, I could lose credibility with the rest of my students, and maybe even be seen as unprofessional by my colleagues. I hope you can understand the bind I’m in. I know this isn’t the answer you want to hear, but I hope you can understand where I’m coming from.”
6. Enforce it with kindness and empathy
Teaching is about building students up not tearing them down. When you enforce consequences on a academically dishonest student don’t “teach them a lesson” or vent your frustration on them. This is disintegrative shaming and it will only push the student away and make them more likely to fail your class and/or drop out of school. Also, if you make them hate you, don’t be surprised if they do everything in their power to challenge your policies, the enforcement, etc. I feel ethically obligated to reintegrate students who’ve cheated.
When you meet with a student to discuss their academic dishonesty show them compassion. Tell them, “I know this isn’t reflective of who you are as a person. This was out of character with who you are.” Even if that’s not true, telling them this may be a self-fulling prophecy and that’s the best we can hope for. Next you have to tell the student how they can recover from this negative choice. No matter if a students gets a zero on a paper or an F for the class I always tell them what options they have and how they can get back on the path. You have to convince them that the consequences you’re enforcing are not a deathblow to their education.
1. This is as effective as parents telling their kids to come talk to them if one of their friends wants them to drink, use drugs, or have sex. However, I still think it’s important to show you are available to them.
2. LaBeff, Emily E., Robert E. Clark, Valerie J. Haines and George M. Diekhoff. 1990. “Situational Ethics and College Student Cheating.” Sociological Inquiry 60(2):190-197
3. My current academic integrity statement on the syllabus in the Soc101 Class Pack is far too ambiguous and it will be one of the first things changed in the Soc101 Class Pack 2.0 So unfortunately this part of the post is more of a “Do as I say, not as I do” until the next class pack launches this summer.