If you aren’t concerned about cheating in your class, you should be. Some degree of cheating is common in college classrooms. Upwards of 75% of all college students admit to cheating at least once in their college career, a number that has held steady since 1963. In fact, research indicates that most people are willing to cheat under certain circumstances. Does that make “most people” immoral? Research says no. Cheating is not an issue of morality, although less-moral students cheat more than the average.
Why do students cheat? While it is not possible to infer the motivation for a particular student’s action, we can discern certain patterns about the group:
- Students cheat if they think the professor “deserves” it. When the professor is seen as unreasonable or the class as unnecessarily difficult, students cheat at higher rates.
- Students cheat when extrinsic motivation is all they have. When the final grade is the only thing that motivates students, and not the content of the class, they are more likely to cheat. This means students are more likely to cheat in courses outside their major and at other times where they do not see the personal value of the course.
- Students are more likely to cheat when assessments are infrequent and high-stakes. When a course relies primarily on infrequent summative assessments rather than more frequent formative assessments, students are more likely to cheat out of fear for their grade.
- Students are more likely to cheat when it’s easy to do so. When professors take steps to reduce cheating, not only do they make cheating more difficult, they signal to students that cheating is being monitored and will not be tolerated.
In light of these motivations to cheat, what can professors do to reduce cheating in their courses?
- Discuss your school’s academic honesty policy. All colleges and universities have academic honesty policies. At Wichita State, links to school policy are in a mandated section in the syllabus. But what you, as the professor, do with that policy is largely up to you. To signal to your students that you value and follow your school’s policy, make time to discuss it with your class early on in the term.
- Make your expectations clear for every assignment. Not every assignment has the same goals or rules. Make sure your policies are clear on each assignment type. Are students allowed to work in groups? May they use outside resources? Are they allowed multiple submissions? While some of this information may seem obvious to you, it may not be obvious to your students. First generation students, who could make up 50% of your class or more, may not come to you with the same knowledge about college expectations. Make sure yours are clear.
- Link your assignments to course goals, and explain that link to your students. Regardless of the situation, people are more likely to expend effort when they understand the goal and value of the work. When you articulate how a particular assignment helps your students learn something they want or need to know, you encourage your students’ intrinsic motivation. This doesn’t just discourage cheating, it encourages learning and personal growth.
- Use authentic assessments. As mentioned above, infrequent, high-stakes assessments encourage cheating. While such testing is necessary in certain courses, even those courses will benefit from the addition of “authentic assessment” along the way. This method of assessment focuses on individual student learning through journaling, projects, and other applied assignments. There is a two-fold benefit to these assignments: they encourage learning and personal application and they decrease the incentive and possibility of cheating at the same time.
- Punish cheating. If your goal is to reduce cheating, then you must punish it when it happens. It is uncomfortable to call a student out, and it can be painful to hear pleas for leniency. But punishing cheating, and being known to do so, will decrease the rates of it in your classes. Over time, you will have fewer instances to deal with. The key to success is to give your students very clear policies up front and apply them immediately and uniformly.
Perhaps by now you have noticed the absence of a certain piece of advice. It is not necessary to stop teaching or testing online in order to combat cheating. In fact, there is some evidence that students in face-to-face classes are more likely to cheat than fully online students. Nevertheless, online assessments have some special considerations and additional tools to combat cheating. Here is what you need to know:
- You have tools available to you. Even in a world that includes online testing, old-fashioned copying off one’s neighbor is still a problem. This kind of behavior is much easier to control in online testing than in face-to-face testing. If you use a test bank, draw from pools of questions, and randomize answers, you can deliver an individual test experience to each student in your class, significantly decreasing the opportunity to collaborate or copy. You can further decrease cheating opportunities by timing your test, keeping test windows open for a defined period (three or four days should be enough to accommodate student scheduling), and mixing in subjective test questions (e.g.: short answer and essay) with objective questions (e.g.: multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank). In addition to these test choices, you can set up your written assignments to be submitted to plagiarism detection such as the SafeAssign tool that Wichita State uses. For training on these tools in the Blackboard environment, have a look at these links:
- Proctoring and other verification options. As a professor, you have many options for proctoring your exams. One option, of course, is not to require proctoring and instead rely on the tools described above. But some faculty feel they must use proctoring, or they are required to do so by their departments. In these instances, a model like the one at Wichita State is fairly common. At WSU, professors can offer online and hybrid students face-to-face proctoring through the Counseling and Testing Center or by setting up a time when students can come to campus to be directly proctored by the professor. In online classes, professors must offer a fully online proctoring option as well. Wichita State partners with ProctorU to provide these services. Before you choose online proctoring, be aware that students tend to find such services to be very intrusive, and students who take exams with online proctors tend to perform worse than students who receive live, face-to-face proctoring, probably because online proctoring increases students’ stress levels.
Talking about cheating is another way to talk about learning. When students cheat, they subvert their own learning. There are many reasons they may choose that path, and working to understand those reasons will help you design a class where cheating is both difficult and unnecessary. The key to your success lies in the type of professor you are, the nature of your course content, and the extent to which you are willing to go to curtail cheating.
- Academic Integrity: Online Classes Compared to Face-to-Face Classes.
- Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (book).
- The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty (book).
- Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty.
- Options for Proctored Exams at Wichita State University.
- Using ProctorU (resource for Wichita State University faculty).