Division of Academic Affairs
Cheating and plagiarism are important issues on college campuses. Maria talks about the reasons students may cheat and offers some steps you can take to preserve the integrity of your courses and help students learn.
I’m Maria Yon from the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Thanks for tuning in to a topic that has historically been an issue on college campuses. As faculty members, we are very concerned about cheating and plagiarism. Academic honesty is a core value of colleges and universities. But according to anonymous surveys of students, cheating is common and widespread.
So, why do students cheat? Let me give you three, sometimes overlapping, reasons. One reason that has come up recently is the definition of cheating and plagiarism. The millennial generation has collaborated and shared since kindergarten. They have continued to collaborate in college where they share with peers in class, outside of class and online—sharing papers, projects, and answers.
Also, this net generation uses intellectual property found online without giving credit to its creators. To them, if it’s on the internet why not cut and paste and call it theirs! So, part of the problem is that students don’t know when it is permissible to collaborate and when it is not because it is a part of their culture to do so and they don’t see the fine line between working independently and working with the help of others.
Stress is another reason that students cheat. This generation of students has been described as stressed out. They are very grade conscious and performance-oriented. They are not all learning oriented, but they want to get good grades. Of course, some students just don’t put the time in that is required. Then they take short cuts because they’re stressed.
Some students take several demanding courses or an overload. More than ever before students work too many hours per week and even hold full-time jobs while taking a full load of courses. Some students have families. All this impacts their study time, thus increasing stress. Some have anxiety about tests or are unclear about performance standards. Stress and anxiety affect the ability to perform. This can result in cheating in some form.
Finally, the environment of college teaching sometimes lends itself to cheating even when instructors make their best efforts to prevent it. Cheating is quite common in large classes where multiple choice tests are given. The chance of getting caught and sanctioned is quite low. Students take the chance that an instructor will not identify plagiarism and less likely to take serious action when found. Students have the attitude that “everybody does it”. Even those who operate at a higher level of moral reasoning cheat if the circumstances are to their advantage.
So, what do we need to do to preserve the integrity of our courses and see that students learn? First, don’t leave it to chance that students understand cheating and plagiarism. Share with them your college code of academic integrity and especially the consequences for violating the code. Discuss specifically what is expected for the assignments in your class in terms of collaborating and using the work of others. Emphasize when an assignment is to be done independently.
Stress is reduced when students know what is expected and how they will be evaluated. So, give clear directions and evaluation criteria for each assignment. Check in with them periodically to see if they have any questions. Encourage them to talk to you if they need help. Make students feel that they can succeed in your class without resorting to dishonesty. Learn to recognize signs of stress in students and make them aware of campus resources for dealing with stress.
Each faculty member needs to determine how to reduce academic dishonesty for their particular circumstances. Be as creative as you can with topics and assignments and change them often so that students can’t pass them down semester after semester or order completed papers on-line. Ask for a draft of their work so that you can see their progress and provide feedback. Have them turn in this draft with the final paper. As for in class tests, use alternate forms or scrambled test items. Be aware of the many different ways to use cheat notes. Have students put away all electronic devices that can be used to send answers.
Finally, take quick and decisive action when you suspect academic dishonesty. Know your institutional policies and follow through with the procedures. Dealing with infractions, rather than ignoring them, will go a long way in preventing academic dishonesty in your classes and in setting the tone of academic integrity at the institution.
Thanks for tuning in to this important podcast. And remember -- teaching and learning matters.
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