Bob Doyle, Columnist
I recently watched a web presentation on plagiarism that was an eye opener. Plagiarism is when someone claims someone else’s work as their own.
A more general term is academic cheating which includes getting exam questions in advance illicitly, copying homework answers, copying from others on a test, and submitting someone else’s paper as their own.
Why do many students cheat? The presentation answered with a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles labeled: pressured, unmotivated and unable to do the work. The presenter showed statistics indicating that cheating is widespread from middle school through college.
To make it more depressing, some students who feel that cheating is morally wrong, do it anyway! When I write a column, I always try to present some kind of corrective action to a problem.
My general approach is — Make cheating more difficult than learning the material on your own. How can that be done? There are three big areas where actions can be taken by an instructor.
Some remedies are difficult, but if one wants to change the school environment, it will take extra time and effort. What if just one teacher makes the changes and the others don’t? I still feel that even one instructor can make a difference.
Some of the better students will find out and likely be drawn to that instructor’s classes. So much for justifications.
In the area of homework, some variation must be used so that the correct answers change from student to student.
In physical science and math courses, the numbers used in the homework problems vary. In that way all the students are doing the same problems. I tell my students to work together but don’t copy each other’s work as each student’s correct answers will be different.
For example, Acceleration (speeding up or slowing down) = Force divided by Mass. Each student would have a different mass and a different amount of force so their acceleration answers would vary. As for qualitative (non-numeric) subjects, have the students answer questions from the perspective of a different person. Each student would have to pick a different well known person to answer the question.
For a political science course, a question on the Citizen’s United U.S. Supreme Court decision (removes limits on corporate contributions in political campaigns) would be addressed to a former president (Dwight Eisenhower or “Ike.” If I was a political science instructor, I could devise a better example.)
As you can see, the use of variation in homework will take more effort on the part of the instructor (more time to devise questions and more time grading), but it will increase student learning in the homework assignments.
The second area for cheating remedies are papers. Most educators know that there are “paper” producers on the Internet who will write papers for students in a way that even software services (“Turn It In”) may not detect. But the fee per paper could be considerable.
A more likely kind of cheating on papers deals with old papers written by previous students that are in a fraternity or sorority file cabinet. Such a cabinet may have folders for Dr. X, another folder for Dr. Y, and yet another for Dr. Z. If an instructor has large classes, he/she may not even recognize a plagiarized paper, turned in years ago.
What can change this bad behavior? It is up to the instructor to be creative and change his/her paper mode every year.
To use another political example, consider the “Affordable Health Care Act” passed by the Congress. A paper substitute would be writing a dialogue between two well-known figures of the past discussing the above legislation.
For example, Ayn Rand, a libertarian, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be imagined to sit down a table and have a civil but contentious discussion.
In my Science and Religion class, I have students pairs in class write dialogues between believers of very different faiths. This is done in a computer lab so I receive printed papers at the end of the 75-minute period.
The student pairs don’t know what combinations will be theirs until the class begins. So my students come to that dialogue class with their notes and texts.
Perhaps the greatest cheating problem is with tests. Here’s how I deal with this problem. I distribute well in advance a study guide for each test. I then tell my students that if they hand write or hand print both the questions and answers from this study guide, they can use it during the test.
When I make up the test itself, I look at the study guide and devise test items that are not identical but related to the study guide questions. Answering dozens of questions on a study guide will take a lot of thought and can’t be done in the last few hours before the test. In the days before the test, I am available to assist students with any of the study questions that stumps them.
Before the test, I will walk around the class and ask the students to show me their study guides done by hand. The test is then distributed. There are a number of versions of the test (questions rearranged and for some items I have hand printed different numbers).
I let students use calculators and their study guide answers. I walk around the rows of students during the test. If a student is distracted by the other students, I let them take their test in a nearby area that I can visit.
If any teachers, instructors or administrators would like to respond to me on this subject, I welcome them. Please email me at email@example.com .
SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: Early this morning the moon swung from the morning side of the sun to the evening side. Tomorrow at dusk, a very slender crescent moon may be seen very low in the west about 6:15 p.m.
As the sky darkens, you may be able to see both the planets Mercury and Mars (dimmer) below and to the left of the moon. These planets will be only a few degrees above the horizon so you need a place with a flat western horizon. Binoculars will help in seeing both planets and the moon.
On Feb. 16, the planet Mercury will be at its greatest angle to sun and setting 90 minutes after our 5:55 p.m. sunset. This coming weekend, the evening moon will be about half full and great for viewing its craters and mountain peaks with binoculars or telescope.
Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.