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High-Tech Cheating:

The New York Times reports on how technology has made it easier for students to cheat, leaving universities to play catch up.

With their arsenal of electronic gadgets, students these days find it easier to cheat. And so, faced with an array of inventive techniques in recent years, college officials find themselves in a new game of cat and mouse, trying to outwit would-be cheats this exam season with a range of strategies — cutting off Internet access from laptops, demanding the surrender of cellphones before tests or simply requiring that exams be taken the old-fashioned way, with pens and paper.

Whether or not students are relying on technological gadgets, cheating appears to be quite widespread.

In a survey of nearly 62,000 undergraduates on 96 campuses over the past four years, two-thirds of the students admitted to cheating. The survey was conducted by Don McCabe, a Rutgers professor who has studied academic misconduct and helped found the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke.

Mr. Bingley (www):
My bride has had to ban all cell phones in her classes, because the little goobers (well, college goobers) text-message up a storm. Now, it's not such a big deal for an English Prof like her, but I can imagine in Math and Science classes it's quite a bit more of a pain, especially in High Schools.

She's also gotten quite good at catching plagiarists on papers; all hail the power of Google!
5.18.2006 9:04am
j (mail):
McCabe has been active in tracking academic dishonesty for years. I was the president of the undergraduate honor council at my university back in the early '90s, and McCabe's research then showed about the same percentage of "cheaters" (to the best of my recollection). At the time, though, when we looked at his numbers, I recall that his definition of academic misconduct included things like dubbing tapes (e.g. analog piracy) and what not. A smaller percentage (maybe like 1/3?) admitted to more serious actions like cheating on an exam.
5.18.2006 9:06am
AppSocRes (mail):
On the other hand -- Back in the 1970s I can remember my frustration when a student I knew to be an idiot, passed in a marvelously well-written paper. It had to have been plagiarized, but the student had been clever enough to choose an obscure text. There was no way I could nail him.

This past semester, faced with a similar problem, an internet search for certain suspect phrases, allowed me to instantly confront the offending students with the source of their plagiarized material.
5.18.2006 9:46am
Rational Actor (mail):
J:

A smaller percentage (maybe like 1/3?) admitted to more serious actions like cheating on an exam.

Phew, for a minute there I thought cheating was actually prevalent.
In 7th grade, I looked the other way when one of my classmates took it upon himself to cheat off of a math aptitude test. Later that year, he found himself in another school after getting himself expelled. Much to his dismay, he found himself placed






in an honors math class -- not what he really wanted.
5.18.2006 10:08am
Jan Koenig (mail):
It does work both ways. A couple of years ago, my high-school age daughter had to submit all of her papers via an internet site that checked the text for plagiary using a Google-ish search engine.
5.18.2006 10:35am
John McG (mail) (www):
It seems to me that universities would be better served in trying to create a culture where cheating is reprehensible, then trying to keep pace technolgically.

And if you think that's unrealistic, think about how successful they have been in creating a PC culture on campuses. If universities can create a social taboo against saying anything a minority might find offensive, why not do the same with academic honesty? Why not have mandatory sessions on ethics similar to "rape education" (i.e. PC indoctrination).
5.18.2006 11:48am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
My college uses a system that compares submissions (originally computer science programs) against others in the class and against a database of known essays/solutions/programs to produce a number which shows the likelihood that the submission was copied from another student or from another source.

The software was originally used for the computer science department, but as other departments have begun taking electronic submissions, the program was expanded to be available for them as well. The disturbing part is that even after knowledge of this software was repeatedly made public to introductory programming classes -- i.e. announced repeatedly in class -- students were still caught who had essentially directly copied programs from eachother and other sources.
5.18.2006 11:51am
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
I have vague recollections of Volokh covering this a long time ago, but it strikes me that "a matchmaking students for relatively rich American undergrads seeking pay-per-page labor among relatively poor Second/Third-World subject matter experts" would work decently well as a business. It would also foil most of the technical attempts to catch cheating, since there would be no published work which your paper had similarity to (assuming the contractor didn't cheat the student, which is a big if -- who is he going to complain to, after all, if the paper is a cut-paste from Wiki?)
5.18.2006 12:11pm
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
Yep, nothing new under the sun. The above post owes heavily to ideas developed in the post/conversation here: http://volokh.com/posts/1117122993.shtml
5.18.2006 12:14pm
John Armstrong (mail):
From the article:

officials find themselves ... simply requiring that exams be taken the old-fashioned way, with pens and paper

And why not? Throw two hundred students and six proctors into a lecture hall. Hand out a sheet of questions/problems and blue books, and prohibit any gadgets. What sort of tests are these people giving that require anything other than pen and paper anyhow?

Oh, and the guy who turned all the desks in the class around so he could see the computer screens (presumably from his own desk).. why not just get up and circulate around the room during the exam? Professors are getting to be as lazy as their students.
5.18.2006 12:19pm
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick (www):
And if you think that's unrealistic, think about how successful they have been in creating a PC culture on campuses. If universities can create a social taboo against saying anything a minority might find offensive, why not do the same with academic honesty? Why not have mandatory sessions on ethics similar to "rape education" (i.e. PC indoctrination).

John McG, the catch here is that you mistake the front that a University wants to put on things for the way things actually are. Practically every university talks about its diversity sessions, training, etc, to be sure. And when students are in the classroom, it's likely that they adhere to whatever they learned - I've never heard a student use a racial slur in class.

But that doesn't keep students from making jokes about race, religion, sexuality, or the like when they're in their dorm rooms with friends or at a party. They just (generally) know better to do things like that in an arena where they be chastized for what they've said.

Thus, all the ethics sessions in the world aren't going to change students who see massive rewards and little to no worry of punishment for cheating. I doubt there are any students who would get up in front of the class to announce their intention to cheat, just as I doubt few if any students would use racial slurs in the classroom. Cheating is private; it's something that is much more like telling racist/sexist/whatever-ist jokes in your dorm room.
5.18.2006 12:42pm
Closet Libertarian (www):
Several bar exams are now give an electronic option as well as the SAT. I assume that they have figured out a way to prevent cheating.

I still give written exams because it is just easier. Calculators are allowed and I have suspected a few students of programming in formulas or notes, but never caught anyone doing that. The cheating I did find was old fashion copying or note passing. I was amazed at the light treatment (F in my class and short suspension) that these students recieved. I think I minimize the opportunity for cheating by having the time limit binding.
5.18.2006 12:51pm
Riskable (mail) (www):
Ahh, nothing like a good old fashioned argument about cheating in school. It is so refreshing to see that the arguments haven't changed much at all since, well, the beginning of public education! Lets have a quick review of the "problem" and what most people think of as "solutions":

The Problem: Students cheat. They find new ways to do it all the time. Every time one form of cheating is stamped out, these little bastards come up with a new one. When will the madness end?!? If these students are so clever and intelligent, why don't they just spend their mental resources on actually learning things?!?

In the year 2106, people will still be complaining about this.

Proposed Solution #1: Technological warfare! Every time the students come up with a high tech way to cheat, the teachers should come up with a high tech way to beat it. Teachers should spend as much time thinking about ways to defeat cheating as the students think about new ways to cheat!

Of course, in order for this to work the teachers would have to have as much at stake as the kids.

Proposed Solution #2: Harsher punishments! The punishment for cheating should be so harsh that students would have to be insane to cheat.

A punishment so harsh that only a teenager with a penchant for risk-taking behavior and a lot at stake would dare to cheat! Hell, with stakes that high a student would have to spend more time studying ways to not get caught than studying for a test. Insane I tell you!

Proposed Solution #3: Outsource anti-cheating mitigation and discovery to a 3rd party. Teachers don't have the time or resources to bother with trying to stop cheaters. It is much better to increase tuition and taxes to pay for private enterprises that specialize in stopping and catching cheaters.

Of course, a 3rd party will *always* have the students best interests in mind. They'll work to permanently solve the cheating problem so that they won't be needed in the future.

My crazy idea: How about we stop using grades as a measure of the value of a student and start using tests, papers, and quizzes for their intended purpose: Knowledge gap remediation (i.e. find out what the student missed and fill the holes in their knowledge). If we continue to use a student's past errors as a measure of their academic achievements, what message are we sending? That the grade is more important than the knowledge.

-Riskable
http://www.riskable.com
"I have a license to kill -9"
5.18.2006 12:52pm
George VV Bush:
1. Place the National Guard in classrooms.

2. Institute a "guest cheater" program.

3. A path to a diploma for all current cheaters (but let's not call this "amnesty").

4. No Cheater Left Behind.
5.18.2006 1:00pm
MixChael222 (mail):
Someone said: "...universities would be better served in trying to create a culture where cheating is reprehensible..."

Isn't that what parents are for? To teach right from wrong? To teach work ethic? Sheesh.

Though, that person did have a good point about the power of academia to influence students' thought/speech/behavior patterns via PC-indoctrination.
Someone else mentioned that the PC-initiative is only outward- it is never internalized by the kids. I think that has some truth to it, but it is not entirely accurate. Surely PC-mania has some lasting effect on these young minds. After all, if it was all a show, with no actual effect on people, why would conservatives care so much about it?
5.18.2006 1:00pm
Jim Hu:
We could start by showing that we mean what we say and punish those who are caught instead of just giving them wrist slaps. See Eugene's posts on Ward Churchill.
5.18.2006 1:07pm
Timothy (mail) (www):
I'm a fan of pen-and-paper exams. No programable calculators. That's how I took every math class I ever had at UO and how every econ class was instructed. I also had one professor who was incredibly strict about time limits, to the point of physically yanking people's papers from their hands. Seemed to work wonders. He'd also fail people for not having taken the prereqs, in the days before the Econ department could enforce enrollment on the online class registry.
5.18.2006 1:33pm
K Bennight (mail):
When I taught paralegal students at a junior college, all my exams were open book. I didn't care what they had with them or access to during the exam. To answer my questions, they had to understand and apply principles. I gather I had a reputation for tough tests.
5.18.2006 1:37pm
therut:
Mix-----------in this society we have now most parents would probably help their child cheat. If they were kicked out or suspended they would file a law suit thanks to the conditioning by lawyers since the 1970"s that every conceived wrong should be ligitated. The only way that a student will not cheat today is they don't need to or they have been raised to know that cheating is morally wrong. Of coars emost persons are not moral as they are taught their is no such standard ie their beliefs of right and wrong are as good as anothers beliefs. Or maybe to even think there is no right or wrong. In other words the do your own thing of the cultural unmoral revolution of the 1960's is still a horrible thing. I am so glad I never knew that "revolution" was exsisted so I have not had my mind warped. And I never cheated as I would not be able to live with the wrong I had done.
5.18.2006 1:45pm
Aultimer:
Riskable -

A fine concept, but you have to solve the large problem of professors who are not hired for their ability to fill gaps (e.g. teach), but for the quality and prestige of their own work. If schools were really in the business of providing the learning that students seek, it might happen. The reality is that schools are in a variety of businesses, all closely tied to goodwill enhancement - prestige, etc.
5.18.2006 1:47pm
SB (www):
Students these days have an arsenal of electronic gadgets that allow them to cheat. College officials are increasingly finding themselves in a cat-and-mouse game due to the array of inventive techniques in recent years, trying to outwit would-be cheaters using a range of strategies. College officials are attempting tactics such as cutting off Internet access from laptops, demanding that students surrender their cell phones before a test, and even requiring that exams be taken using nothing more than a pen and paper.
5.18.2006 2:09pm
jimbino (mail):
Our educational system is so bad that we should just give everyone a PhD at birth. Then everyone can just stop taking tests and otherwise letting school get in the way of their education. And I don't think having a college degree would have interfered with the important people like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates and Michael Dell.
5.18.2006 2:43pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
And if you think that's unrealistic, think about how successful they have been in creating a PC culture on campuses. If universities can create a social taboo against saying anything a minority might find offensive, why not do the same with academic honesty?
Universities didn't create a "social taboo" against saying these things; they created a "fear of getting punished for saying these things."

To create a similar fear in students wrt cheating, you need to catch them, and then punish them. Which brings us back to square one.
5.18.2006 4:49pm
Fub:
For many technical tests there is a very simple way to squelch passing or copying answers from other test takers, no matter what the high tech means.

Simply make the quantitative portions of each test copy (or some subsets of test copies) slightly different. This assumes copies of test are returned with the answer booklets so association can be made.

Properly thought out and executed this is very easy to grade. The small variations might be in statements of dimensions, distances, locations, weights, or other "real world" quantitative attributes of the problem statements. If you require answers of N significant figures, just make sure that the variations will show up at that degree of significance.

This method is even easier to use in multiple choice or T/F questions, for obvious reasons.

I once heard firsthand reports from an instructor who used this method to test classes where peoples' lives would eventually depend on the students' actually knowing the material and knowing how to make the calculations properly. He undertook the method after he noticed some apparent copying during early tests. He wanted to make absolutely certain that no student's cheating would cost himself or others any more dearly than just being caught at it.

The students were bomber navigator trainees during WWII.
5.18.2006 4:55pm
cfw (mail):
I like the Duke undergrad application approach, which calls for a disclosure of the persons consulted in drafting essays, and what help they provided.

Making things open book with obligations to disclose written and "live body" sources does not necessarily make the work easier. It makes it more realistic.

Undisclosed live body help seems like a problem that will cure itself over time - witness the novelist at Harvard who plagiarized.

What if the cheater took my daughter's place at Harvard?

Not a big deal in the long run, since there are other great venues for education and the cream will rise.
5.18.2006 4:59pm
Sue Donym:

If universities can create a social taboo against saying anything a minority might find offensive, why not do the same with academic honesty?


Two reasons:

(1) The objectives are opposite. The culture of non-offensiveness is an outgrowth of trying to value each person exactly equally (remember phrases like "differently abled"?); the consequence is that everyone's choices and values "must" be equally valuable and valid, so offending someone is equivalent to denying their value/validity.
Declaring someone "wrong" for cheating goes in the opposite, anti-PC direction - it specifically singles people out for doing wrong.

(2) The legal/economic incentives are opposite. It's more likely that an offended person will win a large lawsuit against a university than that an offensively-speaking person will win such a lawsuit. In cheating cases, it's more likely that a punished cheater will win a large lawsuit against a university than that a professor whose crackdown on cheating was overturned will win such a lawsuit. (I have some colleagues who'd be wealthy if this wasn't true...)


How about we stop using grades as a measure of the value of a student and start using tests, papers, and quizzes for their intended purpose: Knowledge gap remediation (i.e. find out what the student missed and fill the holes in their knowledge).


Grades don't measure intrinsic value of a student; they signal to potential employers how much a student knows about a certain topic, and about whether a student has sufficient work ethic and/or ability to learn a certain topic. It's up to employers, graduate/professional schools, etc. to interpret those signals correctly, but having no such signal would be far worse.
5.18.2006 6:03pm
Greg L. (mail):
Im a student in highschool, and i gotta say most teachers arent smart enough to catch someone truely determined to cheat. I usually try to do my best on tests and quizzes, but if i forget to study or something i have no problem cheating.
(By the way thats most teachers, not all, ive gotten caught a few times nd had my test ripped up)
5.19.2006 12:09am
BGates (mail) (www):
Greg - it's 11pm on a school night. Turn off your computer.

When you go to English class tomorrow, ask for help in the use of apostrophes.


I'm a student in highschool high school, and iI gotta have to say most teachers aren't smart enough to catch someone truely determined to cheat. I usually try to do my best on tests and quizzes, but if iI forget to study or something iI have no problem cheating.
(By the way, that's most teachers, not all,. ive I've gotten caught a few times and had my test ripped up.)
5.19.2006 1:02am
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Essay tests. They have to be able to think and express themselves.
5.19.2006 2:25am
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick (www):
Greg L, what would your teachers think if they saw that comment? Your principal?

Geesh.
5.19.2006 3:03am
Mojo (mail):
One word: orals. I can imagine no better way to strike fear into the hearts of plagiarists than to grill them directly, making them explain their arguments firsthand without recourse to outside materials. That, and it would fairly easy to see if they were 'wired for sound.'

Granted, it would require a substantial investment of time. And it is likely to be criticized as an invalid assessment for students who are not good speakers come from cultures where public speaking is not as highly prized as the ability to work in a group setting.

Regarding the culture of cheating, I would ask education authorities to look to the public schools --and indirectly, to the colleges who train the teachers to teach at public schools-- to gain perspective. Group work is increasingly the norm (along with other forms of 'non-traditional' assessment). The exam is more and more seen as an anachronistic throwback to the 'bad old days' of individual achievement, and worse, exams are 'biased' against students from group-centered cultures. It is small wonder that many college students do not consider using outside aid as unethical; they've been conditioned to accept it as the norm.

(Would that I were speaking through my hat. Alas, as a former public school teacher, I speak from experience. Teachers are encouraged to assign more 'collaborative learning assignments' and are drilled in these strategies from their pedagogy classes through their ongoing in-service training. In at least one case, I can recall being told to be lenient to one student that I caught cheating because 'she was so used to working with her friend that it carried over into the test situation'.)
5.19.2006 10:01am
therut:
One of my sisters is a teacher in middle school. The last workshop she HAD to attend this is what they were being taught. Do not call on a student to answer a question verbally. Have them put up on their desk a folded card to take the place of raising their hands then go and ask them in a quite voice to give their answer. This is to prevent causing them any embaressment if the answer is wrong. You do not want to hurt their self-esteem. The educational process of teachers is useless. But I think the instructors know this as they are teaching an agenda not how to teach. No wonder she has students cuss her and and say unappropriate things. All she can do is ask them to sit in the hall as the principal does not want to bother with them. This is only one reason boys are falling behind as they have NO discipline. One more year and she is going to teach in a local University. To bad as she is a Science teacher with her masters just the type our public shcools need. It is just not worth it anymore to teach todays children. At the last parent teachers conference only 2 parents showed up for the entire middle and high schools!!!!!!!!!!!
5.19.2006 1:32pm
Greg L. (mail):
Haha sorry about all the grammar errors, wont happen again. And im not too worried about my principal hearing me say it. I've already told him straight out. That way neither he nor my teachers will take it as a personal insult and me trying to undermine their authority. Which is how they saw it before i explained.
5.19.2006 4:10pm