Is Cheating Really A Big Deal?

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College students cheat, they always have and they always will. At least that is the thinking for some people including students who regularly cheat and professors who routinely look the other way.

college studentBut cheating offers some serious consequences, first being the obvious moral lapse that got it all started. These days, many people no longer have a code, not that being moral always stopped cheaters in their tracks anyway. Yet, if you can justify one small transgression then you’re likely the type of person who can justify larger transgressions, slippery slope thinking not held in check by any biblical or moral code.

Course Hero

In the March 28, 2010 issue of “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” Jeffrey R. Young noted that high tech cheating is rampant thanks to websites like Course Hero whose tag line “Ace Your Courses” invites members to cheat. According to Young, the site features more than 500,000 textbook solutions with some 265,000 fans following the site through Facebook. More than six million study materials have been uploaded to the site as well.

Students may be able to get away with cheating but eventually their ruse is uncovered when they take tests. Acing homework may be easy to do, but if you flunk your exams then that may be all the evidence anyone needs to show that you’re not studying and absorbing what you should be learning. Still, as Young noted many schools do not have honor codes in place or these same codes may fail to deter cheaters.

Online Cheating

Young noted that a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor has developed a way to determine if his students have cheated. By utilizing an online homework system in his courses, Mr. David E. Pritchard is able to tell who is cheating by how fast that they answer their questions.

Because his tests involves complex questions, students need to spend a certain amount of time answering them by reviewing and comparing possible answers. Pritchard’s system can tell how quickly someone responded which means that those questions that were answered under a minute were more than likely lifted from another source.

Study Groups

The practice of students gathering together in study groups to work through problems and share answers predates the age of technology and is usually considered an acceptable practice at most institutions of higher learning. But, sharing professors’ old exams is not considered acceptable, something that has increased sharply due to online sharing of that information.

In the April 9, 2009 issue of “The Wall Street Journal,” Anne Marie Chaker reported that old exams are finding their way to online sites and are easily accessible by students. Some professors recycle their tests which means that test questions and answers can be found online, giving students the chance to ace their tests without studying.

Chaker went on to note that there are a number of cyber study groups flourishing, each offering study materials, class notes and old tests to members. Besides Course Hero, four other sites are wooing students: Cramster, eNotes, Koofers and SparkNotes. Some sites charge a fee, but not every site is advancing cheating.

For example, SparkNotes has a feature where an editor reads student essays and offers advice for free. That particular dimension likely helps students hone their writing skills while leaving the research, paper development and refining up to them.

Professor’s Tools

Students know that when it comes to papers, professors have a number of tools at their disposal including various plagiarism checkers such as Dustball, Copyscape, Article Checker and Plagiarism Detect.

But what is all comes down to is having students understand that plagiarism is wrong even if “everyone else is doing it.” If all else fails other students and electronic detection technology can thwart most instances of cheating including in engineering if professors are willing to look for patterns suggesting that answers have been acquired through ill-gotten means.

See AlsoThe New York Times: Colleges Chase as Cheats Shift to Higher Tech

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