Cumberland Times-News

September 15, 2012

There are ways to cut cheating by students

Bob Doyle, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Last spring, there was wide spread cheating in a Harvard course titled “Government 1130: Introduction to Congress.” Taking this course was reputedly a way to “an easy A.”

The course grade was based entirely on four take home exams, each counting 25 percent.

The students were instructed not to collaborate (work together) in answering their questions.

There were indications that 125 students (out of 279) cheated (collaborated or copied) in this course.

Harvard University is now considering an honor code , a pledge against lying, cheating and stealing that each student will sign.

Is this problem unique to Harvard? Donald McCabe, a Rutgers University professor has been studying college students’ attitude toward cheating for several decades.

In his 2010-2011 survey of students at many different schools, 62 percent of undergraduate students admit to either cheating on tests or on submitted papers.

I want to add that surveys of college students reveal that the average student (at many different schools) spends only 11 hours of study a week outside of his/her classes.

This is quite different from the usual faculty recommendation that students spend two hours a week in studying per week for each hour spent in their classes. Without adequate preparation (outside study), many students will be tempted to cheat in their courses.

First, as a college teacher for a number of decades, I want to point out some obvious things.

It is folly for any professor to rely on take home tests for all of a student’s grade.

Most college teachers rely on papers, quizzes in class, tests in class, and student participation (a mix of assessment tools) to determine a student’s grade.

There are different kinds of skills and talents each student brings to a class and student evaluation should tap into what students can do.

It was reported that the exam questions were unrelated to the professor’s class presentations. This shows poor teaching technique.

It’s not that exams should closely follow the class presentations, but what’s done in class should connect with the course objectives, that the exam questions should reflect.   

Over the years, I have developed some teaching techniques that reduce the amount of cheating in my classes.

The in-class tests vary in the sequence of questions so a student looking at another student’s test will not see the same items. Also the questions are not numbered so I can rearrange them easily.

For multiple choice questions, I don’t use the standard A), B), C) and D) as choices. The response identifiers are usually two letters, as AT = all true, LA = lacks atmosphere, etc.

For the fill-in the blank questions, at the end I supply a BANK of possibly correct answers that a student may pick from.

I tell the students that they should use their own answers; relying on the BANK should be a last resort.

I also put into this BANK some formulae that may be relevant to answering some questions and problems.    

As a way of preparing a student for my tests, I post a sample test that they can view. I tell them these test items are not those from the actual test but utilize the same kind of thinking.

I also post a study guide for each test that encourages the students to go back through the chapters and try to answer key questions.

Once again, the study guide questions are not actual test questions; but by answering these questions, the students will be testing their understanding of topics.

SKY SIGHTS THIS WEEK: Late yesterday, the moon swung from the morning to the evening side of the sun (new moon).

By Tuesday, a very slender crescent moon should be seen low in the western dusk as it begins to get dark (about 8:15 p.m.). Nearby the moon that evening will be the planet Saturn.

On Wednesday at dusk, the moon will be close to the planet Mars. Both planets are rather dull, being on the far side of their orbits.

This Saturday, the moon will appear half full. This is the best phase or shape to see the moon’s craters and mountain ranges.

The Cumberland Astronomy Club will meet this Sept. 21 at the LaVale Public Library just off the National Highway.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.