Is cheating widespread among high school students today? The unfortunate answer is YES. Do they see themselves as cheaters? No. What steps can teachers and school librarians take to stem the tide of cheating?
Last fall a class of Teacher Cadets at my high school participated in a round table discussion on ethics in the classroom. Teacher Cadets make up an elective dual enrollment class with the community college for future teachers. The round table was part of an effort to provide student input for a webinar produced by Linworth and iParadigms (Turnitin). These students were assigned a background e-text reading “Cheating in Academic Contexts” as preparation for the classroom and online group discussion which preceded the round table. We asked: “How well do you measure up? Are academic pressures along with time management challenges tempting students to cross the line? Are students who fail to learn the process of writing papers and to study course content preparing themselves for the rigors of college and the workplace?” Students’ frank and open comments opened our eyes to a startling point of view. Behaviors teachers and school librarians label as ethical or moral are interpreted differently by students who regularly cheat. To them it is simply a time management issue solved by technology.
Students today feel the same time crunch as parents who fill their calendars with extracurricular activities. One student wrote, “Students cheat because they feel it is the easy way out. They feel like they are full to the brim with academic and outside of school activities, and they simply ‘don’t have the time’ for homework and the like. They know that they have a safety net available. So, they think, ‘So what!’“ Another wrote, “Not only are there now more ways to cheat via technology, but more students are spending a lot of time using the technoFacebook or Aim. Maybe just listen to their iPod and put off the work they have to do. Given there are also so many kids involved with sports or clubs who don’t have time to sit around and procrastinate. So if they cheat, it is because of poor time management. But why do we have poor time management? We’re used to getting what we want when we want it.” These young people know exactly what they are doing and why. Other student comments include:
“They just want the grade for completion and turning it in on time.”
“I think the main reason students cheat is that most students are lazy. They wait to the last second to do their work and the only way to get it done is to get it from another source.”
“Cheating is seen as the easy way out in many aspects and students love to make things easier for themselves.”
“Students are more inclined to cheat when they have other academically challenging classes such as honors classes or AP classes. Other obligations such as sports or part time jobs can also create more pressure for students to cheat when they lack time to study and prepare themselves for an upcoming test or exam.”
“Using the things around us to get something done is NOT ‘cheating.’“
“Technology and other sources have provided so much information that it takes less effort to cheat than it does to actually do the assignment and learn from it.”
“Cheating doesn’t have the consequences it should.”
Are all students in this camp? Many are frustrated and angered by their peers’ behavior. One wrote, “To me cheating is like stealing, it should make you feel bad that you stole someone’s idea or paper that they worked hard on ... I work really hard to write my papers and do my school assignments.” These students understand they need to study in school and learn the information in their school’s curriculum. Their comments include: “Cheating won’t help cheaters obtain the knowledge they need for the real world."
“Cheating is dumb and pointless. If a person cheats on a constant basis then they aren’t retaining any information ... so they have to cheat again and again.”
“Cheating can become an extremely aggravating situation for students who honestly put forth effort needed to do well in their classes. When I see students cheating and receiving grades similar to mine, it really gets to me. While I’m spending hours studying terms and theories for psychology, they’re off having fun and getting the same grades as me.”
Nothing much has changed. For decades we have had morally upright students and students who have cheated on assignments. The difference is that today’s technology makes it so easy that more are sliding down the slippery slope. Cutting and pasting off the Internet is so accepted, many simply do not understand that what they find and paste together is not their work. They need to learn beginning in their elementary years that research, writing papers and creating presentations involves not simply locating information but reading, paraphrasing, summarizing, and synthesizing from multiple sources to formulate their own ideas into a new product.
|Introduction/ Topic||Student(s) properly generate questions and or problems around a topic.||Student(s) generate questions and or problems.||Student(s) require prompts to generate questions and or problems.||Questions or problems are teacher generated.|
|Conclusions Reached||Numerous detailed conclusions are reached from the evidence offered.||Several detailed conclusions are reached from the evidence offered.||Some detailed conclusions are reached from the evidence offered.||A conclusion is made from the evidence offered.|
|Information Gathering||Information is gathered from multiple electronic and non-electronic sources and cited properly.||Information is gathered from multiple electronic and non-electronic sources.||Information is gathered from limited electronic and non-electronic sources.||Information is gathered from non-electronic or electronic sources only.|
|Summary Paragraph||Well organized, demonstrates logical sequencing and sentence structure.||Well organized, but demonstrates illogical sequencing or sentence structure.||Well organized, but demonstrates illogical sequencing and sentence|
|Punctuation, Capitalization, & Spelling||Punctuation and capitalization are correct.||There is one error in punctuation and/or capitalization.||There are two or three errors in punctuation and/ or capitalization.||There are four or more errors in punctuation and/or capitalization.|
SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
What can educators do to reduce cheating and support the students making the effort to study hard and earn honest grades?
- Structure the environment to discourage cheating. There need to be clear expectations for what constitutes cheating with enforced consequences for infringements. For each assignment from overnight homework to long-term projects, teachers must explain what can be done together and what must be completed individually.
- Major assignments should engage learners. Studies show students cheat less when they like their topic (Murdoch and Beauchamp). Teach good research skills in all grades and content areas following AASL’s new Standards for the 21st Century Learner. When gathering and synthesizing information is well practiced it will not be such a formidable task put off until the last minute and impossible to complete properly. When teachers break research steps down into sections with separate assessments, students will not be able to put a major project off to the last minute.
- Detailed rubrics are needed throughout the research and writing process so students can self assess as they move through each stage of the project. Examples of rubrics for research, note cards, source cards, essays, peer editing, presentations and citations can be generated using rubric generating applications such as Rubistar
http://rubistar.4teachers.orgor Teach-nology wwwteach-nology.com/.
- Subscribe to a plagiarism checking subscription service such as Turnitin.com to allow students to check their work for originality before turning it in. This is an excellent self checking strategy to learn proper paraphrasing and summarizing as well as a deterrent to plagiarism. In our school, Turnitin is our number one defense against cheating. Turnitins reports match a student’s paper with others in the database. There will usually be some exact word matching due to direct quotes from literature texts and identical sources being used in frequently assigned topics.
To establish a proper classroom test environment to discourage cheating, the students agreed with the advice given in the studies listed in the article they read by Murdock and Beauchamp.
- Constant monitoring by the teacher is the most important factor. Students know if the teacher is paying attention, and they resent teachers who are unaware of students pulling out cell phones against school rules to search the Internet, text back and forth, or photograph questions and answers. One scenario was brought up of a teacher who said the first student to answer a bonus question at the end of a test would get extra points. Student A finishes the test, asks to be excused, pulls out a cell phone in the restroom and Googles the answer before the rest of the class finishes the test.
- Students want teachers to require cover sheets during tests. In another scenario a student describes her best friend asking if she can copy off her paper during a test. The night before the friend had a game and could not study. In this case loyalty to a friend trumps ethics in her choice. She said wistfully, if the teacher required a cover sheet, I could have said, “Sorry, I have to use a cover sheet.”
- Students resent having studied and worked hard to make A’s in a class and having another cheat to receive the same grade. One student smiled and said, “Sometimes I just give them the wrong answers.” In these last two scenarios, both students succumbed to peer pressure and shared answers. One even thinks she was not cheating because she gave wrong answers—she rationalizes that only the one receiving, not giving, the answers was cheating. Surely the one receiving the answers thinks she cheated.
TALK ABOUT IT!
Ask your colleagues and share ideas in your building. Make multiple copies of the test with multiple answer keys. Change the order of essay questions. Change some details in essays so they are not exactly the same. Organize discussions in your buildings so students have an opportunity to think about these issues and the implications of their choices on their future academic success as well as their current grades. They need to reconcile the ethical choices they are making between school, home, and friends. Have upperclassmen mentor lowerclassmen and lead the sessions. Models are available through organizations such as Integrity Works,
At first I was shocked by the comments and attitudes of the students. I decided to have a heart to heart talk with one of our top library science students. I told him about David Conley’s Habits of Mind-—those qualities of higher order thinking and reasoning which include evaluating resources, and persisting with difficult tasks that every college freshman needs to acquire during their high school years before going on to college or university level work. I asked him, “Don’t students realize they need to learn how to do research? If they take short cuts and cheat, they will not be prepared for college level work?” My student grinned and shook his head, NO. “They don’t think about that, they are just thinking about getting through the week. Finishing this paper and going out with their friends.”
We are dealing with many immature adolescents who will learn hard lessons after graduation when they struggle in college and the workplace because they did not learn their school’s core curriculum or the basics of research in middle and high school. Banning cell phones and limiting access to the Internet is not the answer. They will find a way around these rules. As educators, our task is to guide them to use this technology to become master researchers and to instill in them a determination not to be satisfied until they find the best sources. Praise and reward is always the best motivator. Yes, subscribe to plagiarism software such as Turnitin but reward students who have 25% or less originality reports with extra points. We have to catch the cheaters and enforce penalties with significant consequences to deter them. We also have to set classroom parameters to protect those students who do not want to cheat and are forced by peer pressure to choose between their friends and their conscience. Their friends will win 90% of the time.
Best practices have not changed. The technology has. Students have always procrastinated and looked to their peers to get help with their school work. Teachers have always worked to stay one step ahead of their students. As educators we need to be vigilant in the classroom and subscribe to online software that can track past submissions and monitor online sources. If we do not, our students will not be motivated to research, write original papers, and gain the critical thinking skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century.