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Hey teachers, don’t leave them kids alone!

by The Concordian November 8, 2011
Hey teachers, don’t leave them kids alone!
“I find ways to cheat all the time,” a classmate recently told me. As a graduate student studying journalism, a field where plagiarism can and will likely destroy your reputation and career, I took the confession pretty seriously.
Catherine Bolton, associate dean of student academic services for Concordia’s faculty of arts and science, is conducting a study on academic integrity along with two other colleagues. They presented their preliminary findings at the 2011 International Conference on Academic Integrity last month in Toronto.
So far they’ve found that most students “don’t cheat because of their desire to learn, work hard and succeed,” said Bolton. Well, I have some frightening news for her: a lot of students just don’t get caught.
She is spot-on about one thing though: Concordia does ensure the highest standards of academic integrity, and punishment for cheating is the academic equivalent of Chinese waterboarding torture from the 14th century.
The problem with today’s crop of students is that technology allows them to cheat in ways thought previously impossible, and faculties, professors and universities as a whole are having a hard time keeping up.
Firstly, let’s define cheating as any act that specifically goes against the school’s academic code of conduct, and your own professor’s outline. Concordia’s own code of conduct, available on their website, was only updated in the summer of 2008. Out of the document’s 14 pages, only two pages are devoted to explaining what academic offences are. Article 16 states that any “unauthorized collaboration between students” is deemed an offence.
Remember when 18-year-old Chris Avenir was almost expelled from Ryerson University in Toronto a few years ago because he started a study group on Facebook? I would expect our own code of conduct to be a little more specific about those situations, as to prevent any arbitrariness that may arise.
Another form of student collaboration is note-sharing, and notesolution.com allows students from universities across Canada to upload and share class notes with each other. Concordia’s Provost David Graham was interviewed about the website this summer by Maclean’s: “Some (professors) will have rules whereby students can’t collaborate on homework—other professors will promote that kind of co-operative work because they believe it promotes learning.” This remains entirely too vague and leaves the door wide open for students to find news ways to cheat.
Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University Business School and an academic integrity czar, has been researching academic cheating, dishonesty and plagiarism for years. A survey of 14,000 undergraduates he conducted over the past four years yielded some unsurprising results: about two-thirds of students admitted to cheating on tests, homework and assignments.
In a 2007 issue of The Canadian Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 36, No. 2), a study by Julia Christensen Hughes and Donald McCabe reports “that 53 per cent of nearly 15,000 Canadian undergraduates admitted to cheating on written work at least once in the 12 months before the survey.”
While Bolton may claim that “the vast majority of students earn their degrees without ever being accused of cheating,” it’s because they’re simply the byproduct of a technologically-driven generation that has many tools at their disposal to facilitate cheating.
A computer science teacher at NYU made headlines last year for writing a blog post entitled “Why I will never pursue cheating again.” He had accused 20 per cent of his students of cheating and ended up with low student-teacher evaluation scores (even though the students confessed when confronted). The moral of the story is that professors cannot let potential consequences such as those prevent them from reporting cheating offences.
The bottom line is that professors and faculties need to do more. Where writing and research is required, more fact-checking needs to be carried out. Although it’s time consuming, finding and exposing a single student guilty of plagiarism would undoubtedly send a stark message to the rest of the class and department for the rest of the semester. I know it did for me, during the second year of my undergraduate degree, when an English professor of mine thoroughly embarrassed a fellow classmate just to make a point.
Taking the time to check for cheating on all assignments early in a course shows students that you care about academic value, right from the beginning. Making sure guidelines and boundaries are established from day one will ensure that students cannot claim ignorance down the line if they get caught. It involves more time and dedication initially, but it pays off in the long run.

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