Friday, July 09, 2010
Anyone who did time with Foucault will immediately think ‘panopticon’ when reading this piece about the anti-cheating technologies at the University of Central Florida. But I remember vividly the frustration as a teacher when students would cheat, and I remember the palpable sense of relief among the better students when I interrupted a cheat in progress.
At least for me, student cheating was a serious morale issue. It made me feel foolish for having poured so much energy into teaching when the students couldn’t even be bothered to try to learn. And I had good students tell me that faculty indifference to obvious cheating bugged them, because it made them feel like dupes for actually doing the work. When the ones who follow the rules feel like suckers, something is fundamentally wrong.
I served for several years on the academic dishonesty review board, which ‘tried’ cases in which students were accused of plagiarism or other cheating. (The majority of the board was faculty, but it needed a token admin.) Based on what I saw there, I have to admit a certain impatience with the idea that Gen Y doesn’t grasp the concept of plagiarism. Granted, things sometimes got murky on ‘group assignments,’ in which one member would coast on the labor of others, but the whole “copy my paper off the internet” thing wasn’t ambiguous. In those cases, when presented with the evidence, there wasn’t really much argument either way. Nobody even tried to argue that copy-and-paste was kosher.
I’ve heard arguments to the effect that in-class tests are artificial environments and not reflective of what students will encounter in the real world. There’s some truth to that, but there’s also a basic truth to the assertion that any environment will have rules of the game. Certain rules are necessary for the integrity of the game. And showing the ability to adapt to rules and work hard seems like it should carry some weight in the real world.
Policing cheating can be a real challenge with online classes, since you don’t know who’s sitting at the keyboard. (“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”) Anecdotally, the biggest threat there is usually the spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend. But that doesn’t strike me as an argument for giving up; it strikes me as an argument for cleverness.
Call it the broken windows theory of plagiarism. If it looks like nobody else cares, then following the rules can seem like selling out. But if you see people get nailed, and the flagrant cases lead to real punishments, then following the rules looks like a better deal.
This is where the “law and order” part of my “law and order liberalism” comes through. I define “law and order liberalism” as the simultaneous belief that laws should be both fair and enforced. Banning copy-and-paste papers strikes me as utterly fair, and therefore enforceable without apology. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.
So bravo, UCF! May you make “just doing the work” the easy way out.
Those pens that record audio in class and sync it to what you write in a notebook are really interesting, but I didn't think about cameras. One of the new tools is, of course, using Google on your phone during a test. "All hands on deck (desk)" is one way to monitor this, since most students have both hands on the desk when writing.
I remain surprised that testing centers (including ours) don't use a bus locker system to totally ban any phones or pagers from the room.
PS - You didn't credit The New Yorker (cartoons) for that dog on the internet line.
Really? I've had kids' parents argue that, successfully.
(OK, admin let the kids rewrite the copied bits into their own words, but that was mere paraphrasing. And any bits I couldn't prove were copied stood as their own work, even when the style and diction were totally different.)
1) Oh my God! How did that website get my paper?
2) Ok, but I'm not the one who cheated. The guy I bought the paper from must have done it!
The only methods I've been able to use to prevent cheating are to enforce an absolute cell phone/iPod ban in the classroom (turned off, out of sight, no earplugs), and to spotcheck with Google every paper I receive. I catch many, but I'm sure not all, of the lazier brand of plagiarists.
When I find a plagiarized paper, the student accepts an F for that assignment but must re-do it adequately or will fail the course too. I have used this punishment many times but have never had a student complain: they absolutely know that cut-and-paste is cheating, and they accept their punishment and/or drop the course.
Chosen Folks - I may adapt your approach for my next syllabus. Would you like a citation?
If that professor has a research contract with a federal funding agency, there is a formal process for filing the sort of cheating you have discovered.
I always assume that students have access to those sorts of tools, among others (sites that provide answers to on-line HW problems such as were mentioned in the NY Times article). That is one of the reasons (the other being that they also copy from each other) that collecting homework for a grade is pointless. The easiest solution is to write exams that they will fail if they don't know how to solve the problem on their own.
I tell everyone repeatedly not to copy and paste from websites and that I use the same Internet that they do. Yet I still get half a dozen students ignoring this advice every semester.
Once every few years, I get one who does it twice and ends up suspended for a year.
Let's face it: some of these folks just aren't very bright. It's just as well they get booted out.