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Why I will never pursue cheating again
July 17, 2011 5:59 PM   Subscribe

A computer scientist teaching at a business school decides to go after students who cheat in his class. He’s come to the conclusion that it’s simply not worth his time. [via]
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (241 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
Frankly I don't think anyone should be surprised any more that students would cheat in an undergraduate course at any large university. There's frankly no incentive NOT to cheat (in fact, if everyone is cheating and you're not, there's a huge disincentive), and a huge external motivation to cheat.

If there is an honor council, why was he bothering to talk with these students? He has a class of 108 students - any student caught cheating (and I include straight copy-paste from primary or secondary sources) should get a zero on that assignment, end of story.
posted by muddgirl at 6:09 PM on July 17, 2011 [15 favorites]


No good deed goes unpunished, it would seem.

That school is clearly more interested in being a qualification provider than an educational institution. Students are cheating and they just don't care; what they do is smack the guy that is making the students unhappy (and sullying the rep of the school) by calling them out on the cheating.

Why even bother having the software?

On a lighter note, that software is pretty cool.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:10 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why does he have to spend so damn much time with them? There's no sob story that justifies that level of cheatery. Give them zeroes, do not discuss their "work" with them.
posted by graventy at 6:12 PM on July 17, 2011 [21 favorites]


This student created a report by using three buttons in his keyboard: Find site on Internet, copy, paste; Find site on Internet, copy, paste; Find site on Internet, copy, paste.

If you're asking students to dig holes and fill them up again, it can't really be much of a surprise when they point you to a patch of raked dirt and say, here you are, done.
posted by mhoye at 6:13 PM on July 17, 2011 [60 favorites]


In other words, my theory is: Cheating (on a systematic level) happens because students try to get an edge over their peers/competitors

I don't buy this. Systematic cheating occurs because there's much much more social and economic value in the qualification students are aiming to obtain than in the actual skills and knowledge in the course. You cheat because you want to get 50%+1 and get the fuck out of uni, not because you want to be the HD student and draw attention to yourself.

I tutored undergraduate history courses for a couple of years, to students who were largely in Bachelors of Arts (a degree course which, unlike economics/business, has relatively marginal career benefits). Out of the dozen hundred or so students I had contact with, I remember catching *one* blatant cheat, and she was a woman who had much worse personal issues than plagiarism. If you're going to spend a semester on nineteenth century Australian history, why on earth would you cheat as well?

Students would come to my office and deny everything. Then I would present them the evidence. They would soften but continue to deny it. Only when I was saying "enough, I will just give the case to the honorary council who will decide" most students were admitting wrongdoing. But every case was at least 2 hours of wasted time.

Not the public good, it's not wasted.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:14 PM on July 17, 2011 [14 favorites]


Frankly I don't think anyone should be surprised any more that students would cheat in an undergraduate course at any large university. There's frankly no incentive NOT to cheat (in fact, if everyone is cheating and you're not, there's a huge disincentive), and a huge external motivation to cheat.

Give them zeroes, do not discuss their "work" with them.

On a lighter note, that software is pretty cool.

Seriously, have some original thoughts! Plagiarism is uncool.
posted by bengalsfan1 at 6:14 PM on July 17, 2011 [37 favorites]


I've seen the same problem with teaching medical students - but the administration seems more interested in protecting the student's fragile egos than, you know, teaching them anything.
posted by fermezporte at 6:14 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that I'm condoning cheating in any way, but if your essay prompts and assignments are so bland that they can be plagiarized that easily, maybe you need to be a more creative professor.
posted by phunniemee at 6:17 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why does he have to spend so damn much time with them? There's no sob story that justifies that level of cheatery. Give them zeroes, do not discuss their "work" with them.

I wonder how low his course evaluations would go then? And how that would affect future salary increases?
posted by not that girl at 6:19 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Give them zeroes, do not discuss their "work" with them

Our approach was to require a rewritten, resubmitted piece of work with a new deadline. If you just give someone a zero and turf them out of the unit they'll (in the Australian system) just write off that semester as so many wasted credit points and try again in another course---it doesn't require anything from the student.

Having to resubmit the essay again knowing that a grumpy tutor is going to read it with extra attention paid to your referencing really, really clarifies the problem for anyone who doesn't understand ctrl+c ctrl+v.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:20 PM on July 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


Fiasco - that was my thought when he mentioned that a serial cheater was "dismissed" from the course - won't he just take it again next semester with a different prof? And perhaps one who cares even less?
posted by muddgirl at 6:22 PM on July 17, 2011


There are two things going on here:

a) Finding the cheaters and failing them is part of the job. The institution should have clear policies on the issue, and you should follow them. This is not "wasted time," it is what you are paid to do. Who cares if the student denies it -- you look at the evidence, and you make the call. If the student wants to grieve, you take your evidence along and do what the regulations require.

b) If, on the other hand, the school or the department penalize you for following the regulations, you need to find a new job. Which sucks in this economy, but that shit'll eat up more than just your time. If you think it was an unpleasant experience teaching them now, imagine when you've been doing it for 10 years, assuming that the majority of your students are cheating -- you will view them with contempt, and they will sense that and return it in spades. This is one way to go crazy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:24 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


The guy set near-identical questions, changing them just enough to catch cheaters. If he'd actually set substantively different questions, the results would have been different.
posted by unSane at 6:25 PM on July 17, 2011


There's no sob story that justifies that level of cheatery.

There's a lot of hate on MeFi for plagiarism and I used to be a big part of that. But the older I get and the more I see what undergraduate education has become, the more I've started thinking differently about it. Bachelors degrees are basically worthless now. Outside of a few elite institutions they're an extraordinarily expensive, time consuming rubber stamp.

You know what would justify that "level of cheatery", a phrase I note is hardly original work? If somebody was taking what could be the best, most productive years of your young life, and having you spend hours working on obvious bullshit. With a little bit of imagination, this prof could have his kids doing work that really matters, that really lasts in the world. But he's not.

Let's get a show of hands here; all those of you who'd like four months of your youth back, say aye.
posted by mhoye at 6:27 PM on July 17, 2011 [37 favorites]


That school is clearly more interested in being a qualification provider than an educational institution.

What school isn't, these days?

(Not a rhetorical question. I would seriously like to know.)
posted by madcaptenor at 6:29 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


If somebody was taking what could be the best, most productive years of your young life, and having you spend hours working on obvious bullshit. With a little bit of imagination, this prof could have his kids doing work that really matters, that really lasts in the world.

goodness knows the students can't take any interest in their field of study without a teacher holding their hands.
posted by nomisxid at 6:29 PM on July 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


muddgirl: "Fiasco - that was my thought when he mentioned that a serial cheater was "dismissed" from the course - won't he just take it again next semester with a different prof? And perhaps one who cares even less?"

It would seem that the author is now that prof that cares even less. Or not at all.
posted by Splunge at 6:31 PM on July 17, 2011


goodness knows the students can't take any interest in their field of study without a teacher holding their hands.

It's hard to take interest in a subject when your time is filled up with poke-and-puke drudgery assignments that might as well be lifted straight from your textbook.
posted by phunniemee at 6:33 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


goodness knows the students can't take any interest in their field of study without a teacher holding their hands.

Time is a scarce resource. Think of what kids could do with a prof's help, direction and encouragement, instead of having the person who could be the best mentor they've ever had just be a time sink they need to work around.
posted by mhoye at 6:34 PM on July 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


If somebody was taking what could be the best, most productive years of your young life, and having you spend hours working on obvious bullshit.

Yes, because it's well known once you hit 23, your productivity takes a huge dive and everything begins to go...
posted by FJT at 6:34 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


His conclusion is disgusting. If this is indicative of even a small proportion of academia, no wonder bachelor's degrees are worthless.
posted by gjc at 6:38 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course the other issue aside from the tedium and the perverse economic incentives is the nature of plagiarism/cheating as an unethical act in itself. It's looking depressingly like this lecturer's students simply don't understand that what they're engaging in is wrong.

It's in my economic interest to knock down the next person I see on the street and take his wallet or her purse, and let's face it, I am pretty bored today. But I'm still not going to do it.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:39 PM on July 17, 2011 [17 favorites]


Splunge wrote: It would seem that the author is now that prof that cares even less. Or not at all

Did you read the entire article? All the way to the end? His solution is to assign work were cheating is much more difficult to do without being detected or even entirely impossible.
posted by wierdo at 6:39 PM on July 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


That school is clearly more interested in being a qualification provider than an educational institution.

What school isn't, these days?


Two examples, madcaptenor, would be the school where you work and the school where I work.

I teach at a big, well-thought-of public university. What I teach is not bullshit and my students don't treat it as bullshit. In my experience, they have a strong desire to learn the material and I have a strong desire that they learn it. I've caught a few kids cheating and no doubt there are some cheaters I didn't catch. But the exams and papers I read really come off as the students' own work.
posted by escabeche at 6:41 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most interesting part of this story is that he went to all of this trouble and got dinged for it financially. I had a somewhat similar experience at my own college (though it did not involve cheating.) The bottom line is this- if you do not get support for having high standards, why have them?
posted by wittgenstein at 6:43 PM on July 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Give them zeroes, do not discuss their "work" with them.

Honestly, I think a discussion of why this is not feasible for the modern educator would be much more fruitful than just complaining, although I think he's on the right path - new types assessments that deal with new types of information technologies.
posted by absalom at 6:43 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The important data point here is that the professor was financially punished for catching cheaters. That's a clear message, that's corruption, and that's something that has to be acted upon.
posted by effugas at 6:44 PM on July 17, 2011 [35 favorites]


I am working through my bachelors now, doing my first two years at the local community college with intentions to transfer to one of the local state colleges near to where I live. I am a full-time student. (As a note - this is pretty affordable for me, but I live in CA where there's deep discounts for residents and I qualify for a ton of financial aid)

I'm also in my early 30's, so bear that in mind.

Good Christ a lot of the classes I have to take are mind-numbing in the assignments and time-consuming crap. And I like school! I'm enjoying myself, for the most part. But if I was trying to do this and work, or do this and raise a kid, or anything else substantially time-consuming and energy-consuming I'd be even more tempted to cheat and I've faced temptation a fair amount.

When the professor has you write a one-page essay every class and you have six five-page essays due and an essay exam that ended up being close to seven pages (handwritten) - at a certain point you stare at the keyboard and go 'fuck it, all I'm doing here is re-writing my sources" because you're not just doing this for this class, you're also doing endless homework for your language course (10-15 sentences per class increasing in difficulty as we learned more of the language), a couple of essays for your psych class, and eight speeches of varying lengths for your Public Speaking class.

Four classes - Spanish, English, Speech, Psych, plus going to the dojo twice a week meant that there was not a single day I didn't pump out at least a couple hundred words either in class or out of it, and while I was -very- heavy on the classes that required writing this semester, that's not unusual for Liberal Arts degrees. Or Psych or History or anything that's not Sciences.

I asked around - this is a pretty normal amount of work for college. It's meant to be a 40 hour a week job.

I didn't cheat - because I'm thirty-four and I'm exceptionally good at school and I'm riding on the high end of the intelligence scale and I had someone at home to help me focus and do some editing for me and because I can churn out bullshit like breathing and mostly because I was scared to get caught because I'm a big chicken.

But I was sorely tempted. And not because I didn't have time, but because I was NOT LEARNING ANYTHING. It wasn't the assignments, it was the repetition and the total lack of ability to be creative and the fact that any coloring outside the lines wasn't well accepted, and the fact that I had far better things to do with my time than write Another Essay that was the same out of the box Essay I'd written the week before just with different specific elements plugged in.

I learned things, but I doubt I learned what any of my professors intended. I learned that there's entire departments who freak out if you use a laptop to take notes, I learned that I haven't gotten past the teenage rebellion type urge to color outside the lines just because I CAN and I learned that I could've made about 500 dollars writing essays for my classmates who were trying to go to school while they had jobs and families and did not have time to do all the bullshit busywork that they were assigned.

In theory I also learned how not to abuse the comma but I'm pretty sure that only lasted about a week.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:46 PM on July 17, 2011 [30 favorites]


The important part was at the end where he saw cheating as a symptom of a larger problem, rather than the problem iteslf, and offered several solutions that worked.
posted by hellojed at 6:46 PM on July 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's a business school. I think cheating is part of the curriculum.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:46 PM on July 17, 2011 [20 favorites]


From about 7th grade until I graduated college I was a real lazy, shitty student. I worked just hard enough to get into AP classes then I coasted like a motherfucker. I spent my entire first semester in AP Physics attempting to write a TI-82 program where you could enter whatever variables you knew and it would crunch every single formula we learned and spit out the solutions, cause I was too lazy to memorize them. I'd flunk the first three quarters then pull it together in the 11th hour and pass with like a 62. In college it was no different. I was kicked out of classes for not showing up. I cajoled for second chances and then fucked those up too. I actually was handed an empty diploma case at graduation because I had an incomplete in a class I should have flunked but sweet talked the prof into letting me write a paper over the summer. I was a fucking mess as a student. Just a half-assed, lazy piece of shit. Any corner I could cut, I cut. That being said, you know how many times I cheated? Zero. Fuck cheaters. That's all.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:46 PM on July 17, 2011 [60 favorites]


Not that I'm condoning cheating in any way, but if your essay prompts and assignments are so bland that they can be plagiarized that easily, maybe you need to be a more creative professor.

Yeah, it's totally the professor's fault for making it just too easy for his students to cheat.

The important data point here is that the professor was financially punished for catching cheaters. That's a clear message, that's corruption, and that's something that has to be acted upon.

One the one hand, this shows the idiocy of making compensation in part a function of student evaluations. (And, in general, the mistaken nature of the consumer model of higher education.) On the other hand, if he had dismissed from his class all the students who were plagiarizing, they wouldn't have been able to turn in punitive evaluations.
posted by kenko at 6:48 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Social systems like colleges are subject to entropy, just like everything else. Of course they're going to degenerate into slow degree mills over time. The only thing you can do about this is change the system--even if the change is not an improvement, changing something arbitrary will cause different strategies to become effective, and the system will work better for at least as long as it takes people to figure out the newer better ways to cheat.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:49 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I generally agree with his conclusions, but I disagree with his assumption that his poor evaluations (and poor class environment) had anything to do with catching cheaters.
posted by muddgirl at 6:50 PM on July 17, 2011


Am I the only one who noticed that David Alan Grier submitted a long paper for HCOMP 2011?
posted by reenum at 6:56 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cheating refers to the breaking of rules to gain advantage in a competitive situation. The rules infringed may be explicit, or they may be from an unwritten code of conduct based on morality, ethics or custom, making the identification of cheating a subjective process. Cheating can refer specifically to marital infidelity. Someone who is known for cheating is referred to as a cheat in British English, and a cheater in American English.

This post, however, is about a particular kind of cheating called plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work,[1][2] but the notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries.[3][4][5][6] note - move to conclusion The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement, while in the previous centuries authors and artists were encouraged to "copy the masters as closely as possible" and avoid "unnecessary invention."[7][8][9][10][11][12] note - delete numbers

In conclusion, plagiarism is almost, but not entirely, like cheating. Plagiarism as a notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries.[3][4][5][6]. While plagiarism in scholarship and journalism has a centuries-old history, the development of the Internet, where articles appear as electronic text, has made the physical act of copying the work of others much easier.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:03 PM on July 17, 2011 [16 favorites]


Yeah, it's totally the professor's fault for making it just too easy for his students to cheat.

With the exception of my science and math courses (where there's only one answer), I don't think it would have been possible for me to cheat in college, even if I wanted to. Believe me, there were tons of kids cheating in the other courses (and fuck them) because they could, but our liberal arts professors challenged us. Most writing assignments required creative, critical, original thought. Not exactly the kind of thing you can look up on wikipedia.

There is absolutely no reason in the world to have an essay topic like explain how wireless technologies affect carrier's strategies. No one learns anything from that. If you want to make sure the students know that bit of information, ask it as a short answer on an in-class exam. Don't waste people's time by making them write a paper on that. Essays are for exploring new ideas, not rehashing something anyone can go google.
posted by phunniemee at 7:03 PM on July 17, 2011 [7 favorites]



I was surprised by how much cheating there was and how over-the-top it was. The TurnItIn software looks incredibly useful. It’s interesting to see empirical evidence like this.

When I read the article, I totally sympathized with what the professor was saying. Having to babysit adults sucks.

The Excel example was crazy:
When the results came back, it was a big mess. First of all, there were students submitting Excel spreadsheets with author names of their classmates. Or author names of past PhD students, who prepared solution keys in 2006. (And which have the incorrect solution as well.) It was also obvious to detect students who used layouts used in past solutions as some of them did not even remove the border formatting for the Excel cells. (Yes, if you double underline cells E5 to E9, and use a Garamond font just for that part of the assignment, there is a strong suspicion that you copied and pasted the solution from 2008, which had exactly these characteristics.)
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 7:10 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was once a lab instructor for introductory level computer science, first in Ada and then in Java. There were two of us for the course (the other instructor is now an awesome professor) and we split grading right down the middle. Occasionally, we would swap homework assignments in order to keep groups of friends together under one grader; we figured would have a better chance of catching students who shared code. However, despite finding little similarities here and there (sometimes followed by a personal word to the offenders, and rarely a repeat) I only found a few cases egregious enough to escalate to the professor and the academic judiciary.

Now, cheating is a big deal in Computer Science because it is freakin' easy to break the rules and it's so tempting for first-year students to panic when they don't understand an assignment or get a bug that they can't figure out how to kill. Even more important than that, if you keep up the bad habits after graduation it can get you fired or your company sued, and at the very least release another coder in name only who has no idea what they are doing on the world, one who carries a diploma with the same school as mine on it.

It's not like we didn't try to make what does and does not constitute cheating clear. The first two weeks of the first semester of the course were dedicated to ethics and cheating. We made it clear that it was always better to come to any instructor in the course (there were 30 hours of office hours between us, and unlimited email access), no question would be considered dumb; we had all been there*. Or, if you were stuck it was okay to turn an assignment in late, minus a letter grade. Just we wanted students to do anything but copy and paste someone else's work. So, it was usually a combination of procrastination, plus not understanding the code, plus being too greedy to lose points that did students in.

To be fair, I'm actually okay with sharing ideas with friends or getting help from a fellow student to kill a bug; the student in question probably learned something, and that's how coding is done in the real world. But c+p means that it's more likely you didn't learn anything this time around and will be even quicker to take the easy way out on the next, slightly more difficult assignment.

So, those were the cheats that I cared about. The worst offenders I can recall were a pair of twins in the last Ada course we taught before switching to Java. Of course, the other instructor and I always switched so that both would be graded by the same person. This time it was me, and it was the first real programming assignment. I looked at both projects and they were identical to the character except that one compiled and the other didn't. In Ada the Package name must match the file name. One twin matched the two correctly, and the other didn't. She must have panicked and copied her sister's code line by line until they were exactly the same and then threw up her hands and turned in the assignment anyway. This was after two weeks of lectures about what not to do, and they went and did exactly the one thing we said would get them into major trouble.

The non-compiling sister could have turned her assignment in a day late and talked to one of us, or they could have sent an email at any time up until the lecture began that day. But I guess they decided to roll the dice and got caught.

The professor was a kind-hearted gentleman and decided to just give them a zero for the assignment despite the blatancy of the cheating; the rules specified a mark on their school record in addition. In the end, the twins dropped the course early enough in the semester not to get an incomplete, and switched majors. I was galled that they got off with seemingly no punishment, but it's for the best that they left my department permanently.

* I had office hours regulars every year, kids who usually took a little longer to get into the kind of thinking that goes with computer science or were a little unsure of themselves. At least 75% were female. Some were terrified to ask me simple questions, but without exception something would click in each of them and by the second or third semester they would be fine on their own. There were usually organized people who didn't leave assignments to the last minute, asked good questions and benefitted from the one-on-one time. They made feel like a real teacher.
posted by Alison at 7:12 PM on July 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


This may be presented as a story about how a frustrated academic learned that trying to catch cheating is pointless, but really it seems more like a story about how a mediocre teacher who set pointless assignments so mechanical that they invited plagiarism learned to give his students projects that demand original thought and independent effort and in the process became a much better teacher. Everyone wins!
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:15 PM on July 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


If you're asking students to dig holes and fill them up again, it can't really be much of a surprise when they point you to a patch of raked dirt and say, here you are, done.
In between finishing my military school and waiting for orders to my next duty station, I, along with the rest of those who completed their courses, was given the task of sweeping dirt from the sidewalks in single oblong courtyard, which measured nearly 50 sq ft. There were about 35 of us and while they did try to divide up tasking with some of us being instructed to pick up trash today and then being told to sweep the next, it was still painfully obvious that it could be done by maybe 10 people over the course of a few hours. We would go back over previously swept areas again and again......and again.....and again over the course of 4 or 5 hours with a break for lunch and continuing for about another 4 hours. We would do this 5 days a week, except in heavy weather.

I have been told that the school was merely another facet of boot camp, which is true; however, I think of those few weeks where we could have been doing something more important or at least more helpful, and I am greatly pained. So, of course, I must connect this with the 12 years of repetitive, menial and often brainless educational tasking which many call homework. Not all homework is pointless, of course, but I do think the public education system is pretty much a boot camp to bludgeon the creativity out of children's heads until they become supposedly happy little taskers.

On an up note, I at least had a relatively lenient job and LPO. I know others were told to rake dirt (they created the most fantastic patterns, wrote messages, sometimes poems, and drew pictures - I remember at one point there was a sand and leaf arrangement of a galleon), paint door frames and doors until they ran out of paint, etc.

*And on a side note, whether this is merely the happy little tasker talking, I'm not sure, but I note I -am- relatively enjoying military life.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:18 PM on July 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


not that girl: "I wonder how low his course evaluations would go then? And how that would affect future salary increases?"

I don't think tenured CS professors are paid for course evaluations, judging by my experience.
posted by pwnguin at 7:19 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if among the cheaters are those who don't understand why they are doing what they are being asked to do? I'm referring expecially to what appers to be aimless rote learning, or mindless task repetitions (note:not every repetition is necessarily useless) and thus discourage investing time.
posted by elpapacito at 7:19 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I work as a tutor I see students doing copypasta all. the. time. And so much of it is that the writing process (for this select group of students) is: copy all the relevant information from a source (and if they don't really know their subject, it's hard to know what is relevant and what is not) and THEN once all the information is in there, work on putting it in their own words, adding citations, etc.

I feel like a puppy-trainer: bad bad bad don't poop in the house. And it's not fun that in higher ed, part of your job is telling adults not to poop in the house. But I swear to fucking god, the kids I see are highly motivated and are trying hard, but they are either under too much pressure or don't have the skills that they should get in high school or are too new to the country or whatever, to really process the fact that in academia, plagiarism is pooping in the house.

And then there are the students who are pooping in the house with no excuse but something lame *shakes fist*
posted by angrycat at 7:20 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I were a non-cheating student in his class, I would corner this professor and threaten to report him to administration for aiding and abetting plagiarism if he didn't start dishing out punishments with extreme prejudice. The presence of cheating devalues my own degree.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:21 PM on July 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Hint: if you are going to use plagarism detection software tell the students in advance.being get upset if you do it afterwards to catch them.
posted by humanfont at 7:21 PM on July 17, 2011


I got my bachelor's in computer science, and I never cheated in college... which did no favors for my grades. I'm currently managing a number of new graduates, and the single most common gap in their knowledge is how to find someone else who solved the problem, and use their work instead of writing it all yourself.

In a post open-source world, failing to teach students that it's okay to stand on the shoulders of giants is a startling failure of academia.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:24 PM on July 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


Yea, what humanfont said. It's not a deterrent if you don't tell anyone about it beforehand.
posted by octothorpe at 7:24 PM on July 17, 2011


In a post open-source world, failing to teach students that it's okay to stand on the shoulders of giants is a startling failure of academia.

We're teaching them to be giants, not to stand on the shoulders of giants. How will we know if they're actually giants or if they're just a bunch of dwarfs standing on each other's shoulders and wearing a trenchcoat?

(I'm half-serious; what little anecdata I have suggests that the "real world" values teamwork more than academia does.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:28 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


The TurnItIn software looks incredibly useful.
From what I've heard, it has a high rate of false positives, which sometimes leads un-savvy professors to falsely accuse honest students of plagiarism. I think it typically gets sorted out, but it has to be pretty awful for the students.
posted by craichead at 7:28 PM on July 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


I cheated my little brown freckle off at uni. Fark that shit.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:29 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who noticed that David Alan Grier submitted a long paper for HCOMP 2011?

I know this was brought up because Dr. Grier has the same name as someone from In Living Color, but I have to say that he is one of the finest professors I have ever had the privilege of learning from. He is a very warm, engaging, and encouraging teacher. I would twist arms at my company to send me to HCOMP 2011 just to sit through his talk if I was not currently caring for a tiny baby.

(Also, Gita Sukthankar will be there! She is awesome.)
posted by Alison at 7:31 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I did engineering a decade ago, and I cheated on one exam. (Exams were typically a midterm worth 35% and a final worth 50% of your grade.) Cheating on exams was very uncommon; if you were going to fail, you'd take your lumps. I only remember this one exam, where I cheated along with the rest of the class.

You see, the same semester, there were two courses with mostly the same students, and they both had take-home finals within a couple of days of each other. (These were the only two take-home finals I took in engineering.) The first was a fairly standard exam, simple even, just a bunch of standard written questions covering material from the lectures. The other was just totally ridiculous and unreasonable; we had 24 hours to do it, and it had at least 8 hours of work; complex calculations, a full design project in basically one night. To cover all of the material, people would have had to do 15, 20 or even 25 pages of work. In a single night.

But, reader, this second exam was done as scrupulously honestly as the night was long. (I myself spent around 16 hours working on the fucker.) At 3 AM, the lab was full of students, producing their own calculations, doing their own work. When people took breaks and chatted, they were circumspect about the exam, to avoid passing information around. Sure, the prof had asked us to do way too much work, but he had done a great job all semester teaching us the material, and we were happy to demonstrate our own level of mastery. Hell, I my exam bound before I handed it in, I was that proud of it.

The first exam, on the other hand, was done in a big group session attended by the vast majority of the class. Not because we needed to; it was totally straightforward, but because the prof had phoned it in, just like he had done the most minimal job of teaching us all semester. His lectures were simplistic, poorly organized and badly delivered, and he barely covered the material we wanted to learn. So we worked together on the final because fuck him; if he wasn't going to put in any effort, neither were we.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:33 PM on July 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm currently managing a number of new graduates, and the single most common gap in their knowledge is how to find someone else who solved the problem, and use their work instead of writing it all yourself.

Except you have to learn how they solved the problem for this strategy to work. You can't copypasta IRL.
posted by NoraReed at 7:35 PM on July 17, 2011


Things I've learned from Metafilter: Cheats are apparently the real victims, and you can't expect adults who are old enough to drink, vote, and kill to put in a little work, because that's unfair.
posted by rodgerd at 7:36 PM on July 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


and you can't expect adults who are old enough to drink, vote, and kill to put in a little work, because that's unfair.

So does that mean that I can expect my seniors to put in a little work, but not my freshmen?
posted by madcaptenor at 7:38 PM on July 17, 2011


What's interesting to me is how the prof replicated the same sort of amoral cost/benefit analysis that the cheaters did. There's some criticism to be dealt to the prof (as well as the cheating students, for that matter), but a lot of the criticism should also be aimed at the system itself, which asks for “good” behavior and then creates conditions where actually enacting that “good” behavior puts you at a disadvantage. It's not right, but it's also not surprising that people will adapt to the system they're in, regardless of how perverse.
posted by LMGM at 7:40 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


humanfont: "Hint: if you are going to use plagarism detection software tell the students in advance.being get upset if you do it afterwards to catch them."

Did you RTA? They know. From one student's excuse:
The only way i realized is when i looked at the Turnitin receipt and saw it was not mine.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:44 PM on July 17, 2011


This is why I got out of academia. With a teaching load of 5 classes a semester, 12 pages of required writing per student in each class, with students who were barely literate enough to write a complete sentence, plagiarism was rampant. I filed reports on every last one of the ones I caught, and they saw the dean, who gave them a slap on the wrist despite the school's academic integrity policy that specified that this was an expulsion-worthy offense. I had one student who was caught cheating on a test and plagiarized two papers and was still allowed to contest his failing grade (when he should have been kicked out, no question). I didn't feel good about having to submit to the whims of this borderline diploma mill (a state community college), who seemed to keep students in for the express purpose of milking them of every last drop of tuition money they had when they were clearly not ready for this level of education.

I once believed that everyone should go to college. Now I am firmly on the other side of that fence.
posted by Fuego at 7:51 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd liked to see professors penalized for the plagiarism they commit when they recycle assignments from other teachers.

In college, I took a psychology class with a prof who assigned us the exact same assignment (same wording and everything) as I'd already been assigned in a previous psych class with another prof. I turned in the paper that I'd turned in for the previous class, and she tried to fail me on it. After an immense fight on my part, I received a B for no particular reason other than she still felt like being a bitch about it. I resented being asked to pay thousands of dollars for a class where the prof did such things, but hey, I *did* learn! I learned all about how the world works, double standards, and the privileges of those in power. She also graded tests inconsistently, stated baldly incorrect facts in class, often taught by simply having students read passages from the book out loud in turn, and was absent without any warning or explanation twice.

She was the worst prof I had, but not by much. I had profs who simply marked "A" on all papers, made no comments, and did not notice when students tried putting silly phrases in the middle of their papers to see if the prof was paying attention. I had profs who graded on how much you agreed with them, rather than on your absorption of the material or your original thinking about it. I never saw any penalty befall any prof for wrongdoing. In one case, several of my classmates and I went to the psych dept chair and complained about the assignment-plagiarizing prof. The chair did nothing but circle the wagons, and I lost all respect for him. And the plagiarizer? She ended up in administration, probably making twice the salary.

My point is, the penalizing of plagiarism or other wrong-doing should not be unilateral. Profs get away with a lot of shoddy work, and it's rarely penalized.
posted by parrot_person at 7:52 PM on July 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


They're not getting much attention here in-thread, but I found his list of cheat-proof projects fascinating.
  • Public projects: The database projects that use the NYC Data Mine data (see the projects from 2009 and 2010) is one type of an approach: the projects are public and it would be meaningless to copy a project from a past semester. The risk of public embarrassment is a significant deterrent.
  • Peer reviewing: The other successful project is one in which students research a new technology, and present their findings in class; the only grade they receive is from their peers in the class. The social pressure is so high that most of the presentations are of excellent quality. This year, the student presentation on augmented reality was so amazing that for an MBA class we decided to simply show to the MBA students the recorded presentation.
  • Competitions: In order to teach students how the web works, I ask them to create a web site and get at least 100 unique visitors. The student with the most visitors at the end of the semester gets an award (most often an iPod). I had some great results with this project (e.g., one student created a web site on "How to Kill Nefarian" and got 150,000 visitors over 8 weeks) and some highly entertaining incidents.
Interestingly, all three get around another common student complaint: that "this is just busy work" or "we're just doing it to impress the professor, so what's the point?"

Most people who hate course work, in my experience, aren't lazy. They just hate toy problems — they hate doing work that nobody but their professor will see, using fake data and working towards a foreordained outcome. Real Work is public, unpredictable and highly dependent on the world outside the classroom — and people want to do Real Work, even if it's a tiny little sliver of Real Work with no earth-shaking consequences.

The students who really dig the toy problems are generally the ones who have already found a bit of Real Work to devote themselves to. (For instance, if you're already contributing to a software project, you're more likely to enjoy doing programming exercises, because you can tell yourself "my real code will be so much better after this semester.") But for people who haven't found Real Work on a subject, the most helpful thing a professor can do is hand them a bite-sized bit of it — even if it's just "teach your classmates something cool" or "try to figure out what gets real unpredictable human beings to visit a website."
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:54 PM on July 17, 2011 [23 favorites]


12 pages of required writing per student

Is that it? No wonder kids today can't write for shit.
posted by rtha at 8:00 PM on July 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oy. I don't even know where to begin with this.

If, on the other hand, the school or the department penalize you for following the regulations, you need to find a new job. Which sucks in this economy, but that shit'll eat up more than just your time.

One thing this article made me think, surprisingly, was that I guess I am lucky, in at least one respect, that I don't teach at a fancy private university. Any salary increases I, or my fellow faculty, might get rest entirely on the state budget. There are SO MANY problems with student evaluations--using them as a basis for salary increases in totally insane.

Also, I catch plenty of plagiarists, as do several of my colleagues. I almost never have to have conversations with them. Most of them just take their zeros, and I've even had one or two apologize to me when they got caught. I do think that our student body has overall fewer of the special snowflakes that you see in private schools, so that might be part of it, but also, I don't teach classes with over 100 people. With smaller classes (mine are typically 25 & under), you actually get to know the students, and they get to know you,and you can actually discuss plagiarism.

But as several people have pointed out, this person's assignments were not that great. It is my job to make sure that my assessments are actually, you know, assessing what I want students to learn, and I think it's helpful to explain to students exactly *how* they are designed to do that. Which of course means that I had to have thought it through before hand. And I have a reputation as a "hard grader," and I don't tend to have a lot of As in my classes, because I do have high standards. But I still manage to get pretty decent student evaluations (for what they're worth), and I I do think it's because I have learned not to just assign stuff, but to really *design* assignments with very specific goals in mind.

It seems this prof learned that lesson, but I think the message he got from the cheating was the wrong one.

Also, when I talk to my students about plagiarism, they mostly say or imply its laziness, rather than competition. As one student said last semester, "keeping track of all those sources is hard."

Yes, it is. Do it anyway.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:01 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


no wonder bachelor's degrees are worthless

Think of them more as 'unlocking a level'.
posted by Ardiril at 8:06 PM on July 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


The professor is right: the system is entirely rigged to encourage cheating.

But he's drawing the wrong conclusion. You can either roll over and play dead, or you can do your part in dealing with it and fixing the system. The problem is, that's a lot of work; well, suck it up.

I have reported every single student of mine who I could prove cheated on an assignment or exam. No exceptions, no sob stories, no excuses. If you cheat in my class, I will probably catch you eventually and I will deal with it. It sucks. It takes up lots of my time that I should be using for other things. It's also the only way I can look in the mirror and claim to be an educator, and not a babysitter.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 8:06 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm half-serious; what little anecdata I have suggests that the "real world" values teamwork more than academia does.)

Dude, I could go on a huge long derail about the problems getting students to do teamwork in college. I've tried, so many times. All I get are students complaining about how much they hate group work. They seldom, if ever, really *collaborate*. One year I had a group almost get into a fistfight over a project. Whenever I point out that in many, many working situations they will have to work in groups or teams they say, "But that's the real world. College is different." Oy.

posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:06 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've tried, so many times. All I get are students complaining about how much they hate group work.

I'm still new to this teaching thing, and I haven't tried, because I've heard the horror stories and I really don't want to cause fistfights.

posted by madcaptenor at 8:11 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another thought: what if you did writing assignments as follows?
  1. Run everyone's first draft through turnitin.com and show them the results.
  2. The next day, say "Okay, now add a citation to every turnitin.com hit in the paper — even if it's just (Knobworth 2010) where Knobworth is the name of the frat brother you swiped it from."
  3. The day after, say "Now take those quotations you cited and rephrase them until the whole paper makes it through turnitin.com with less than XX% of it highlighted. You can make as many attempts as you need."
At that point, you've basically held their hands through the actual process of writing a lit review — take your sources, cite them properly, explain and summarize what they said. Maybe they'll have done a good job, maybe they'll have done a bad job, but at least they'll have done it rather than giving up. On the theory that people cheat when the task at hand seems impossible, this ought to help things.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:12 PM on July 17, 2011 [20 favorites]


In a post open-source world, failing to teach students that it's okay to stand on the shoulders of giants is a startling failure of academia.

That's true to a degree but at least in CS you need to know if a student is bright enough to re-invent a few of the wheels her/himself. It's true that as a professional programmer, I've relied on programming cookbooks and googling things like "python traverse directory tree" rather than figure them out myself since I'm not paid re-invent computer science but I'm glad that I was forced to think hard about computing problems in school. There are times when I have to stop and figure out an algorithm or pattern that doesn't really have a canned solution and if I hadn't been forced to do that in school, I might not be able to.
posted by octothorpe at 8:16 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't read that these students hate teamwork.

One interesting observation: Almost all cheating happened within groups with cultural ties. Koreans copy from Koreans. Indians from Indians. Greeks from Greeks. Jews from Jews. Chinese from Chinese. Not just in international students (we do not have that many in the undergrad program), but within US-born students. A result of socializing in similar student groups? Same fraternities and sororities?

These students are demonstrating precisely the benefits and the virtues of teamwork and collective organising. Working together builds corporate knowledge, trust, and skills in negotiation and compromise. They're learning valuable lessons but it's like an Opposites Day of Sesame Street's co-operation song. They're doing it through sharing their methods of cheating. I find that part the most alarming---that plagiarists aren't shunned.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:21 PM on July 17, 2011


For me, that this happened in Stern is a bigger story than anything else; to put it in biz-school-speak, surely, it cant be good for their "brand" when one of their professors openly says he can't do his job properly because he's concerned that there'll be a direct impact on his career progress for reporting on plagiarism.

Also, and admittedly this wasn't really clear in the blog post, but I have a feeling this was for an MBA class, not an undergraduate class. If students at a masters level do this, then it opens a whole new can of worms, wouldn't it; you'd have to ask how they got there in the first place.

It's true that as a professional programmer, I've relied on programming cookbooks and googling things like "python traverse directory tree" rather than figure them out myself since I'm not paid re-invent computer science

On postmodern programming
posted by the cydonian at 8:21 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I totally agree with nebulawindphone. The post about about giving up on rooting out cheating because it was worth it...and giving ...gasp...meaningful assignments instead. Hmm, what if he had done that in a first place? As a former economics student, I got pretty sick of assignments like "Calculate the herp de derp of this sample spreadsheet of made-up widgets." Oh, and I also didn't remember any of what I learned and had to retake a lot of stats classes when I got to graduate schools.

When I was on exchange in Sweden I was in a GIS class where we had to use original data to make glaciers that had never ever been mapped before and presented it to scientists working in the region. That was awesome. There is tons of data crunching work that hasn't been done yet, you might as well make students do it.
posted by melissam at 8:25 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fuego: "This is why I got out of academia. With a teaching load of 5 classes a semester, 12 pages of required writing per student in each class, with students who were barely literate enough to write a complete sentence, plagiarism was rampant. I filed reports on every last one of the ones I caught, and they saw the dean, who gave them a slap on the wrist despite the school's academic integrity policy that specified that this was an expulsion-worthy offense. I had one student who was caught cheating on a test and plagiarized two papers and was still allowed to contest his failing grade (when he should have been kicked out, no question). I didn't feel good about having to submit to the whims of this borderline diploma mill (a state community college), who seemed to keep students in for the express purpose of milking them of every last drop of tuition money they had when they were clearly not ready for this level of education."

Where do you work? I can tell you that if you try to cheat at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, you will likely have a very similar experience. At The Ohio State University there is a written policy that is wimpier than I think is appropriate to the institution The Ohio State University wants to be but would be adequate if it was ever actually followed. You see, The Ohio State University's focus is on keeping high scoring and paying students enrolled, keeping their graduation rates up, and never ever having to deal with the lawyers or parents of rich brats.

"Another thought: what if you did writing assignments as follows?
1. Run everyone's first draft through turnitin.com and show them the results.
2. The next day, say "Okay, now add a citation to every turnitin.com hit in the paper — even if it's just (Knobworth 2010) where Knobworth is the name of the frat brother you swiped it from."
3. The day after, say "Now take those quotations you cited and rephrase them until the whole paper makes it through turnitin.com with less than XX% of it highlighted. You can make as many attempts as you need."


The Turnitin is already trivially easy to defeat with enough practice.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:27 PM on July 17, 2011


I have a feeling this was for an MBA class - Hey, I'm not the only one who thought this was about a graduate course! Thank goodness!
posted by Ardiril at 8:28 PM on July 17, 2011


I generally agree with his conclusions, but I disagree with his assumption that his poor evaluations (and poor class environment) had anything to do with catching cheaters.

Why?
posted by bq at 8:28 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


parrot_person: "I turned in the paper that I'd turned in for the previous class, and she tried to fail me on it."

I'm surprised your student manual didn't have an explicit policy on this. Because something like "by submitting an assessment piece, the student certifies that the work was undertaken for the current course during the current teaching period, and has not been previously submitted for assessment in any other course or teaching period" is pretty common, in my experience.

Where I am, it would probably fall under the catch-all sentence "Any action or practice on a student's part which would defeat the purposes of assessment is regarded as academic dishonesty".
posted by Pinback at 8:30 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


With the exception of my science and math courses (where there's only one answer)

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. No, really. Hahahahahahahahahahaha.

Any idiot can use Mathematica these days. No science/math professor worthy of tenure gives a shit about the answer on the bottom of the page of a written exam.

I give my field a lot of flack for being very old fashioned at times, but people at least seem to realize that being able to flawlessly do a series of simple calculations in a time-constrained environment is not a useful or necessary skill in today's world.

I once submitted an exam with a derivation that eventually included a series expansion....which got bigger.....and bigger......and bigger with each "simplification" step I took adding 2 terms for every 1 term it dropped out. I kept going until the end of the page, and finally wrote "Clearly, I've done something wrong here" for the answer.

I got 8 out of 10 points, and the line that should have been simplified (via approximation. I hate using approximation in Physics derivations. It's dirty.) was circled, which was indeed a well-known approximation that would have yielded the correct answer after an additional step.

Science is not about the answers. It's about the steps you take to get there. I've always been mildly irked that Chemistry and CS do not respect this when evaluating their undergraduates.
posted by schmod at 8:34 PM on July 17, 2011 [24 favorites]


Why?

Because there's a diplomatic and professional way to deal with cheaters, and then there's the way he describes.

"Catching cheaters" has no relationship with, say, sending a mass email to all students asking any cheaters to show up at office hours for an interrogation.
posted by muddgirl at 8:36 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have not complained about the zillions I have seen cheating since I was in fifth grade. I can remember it like it was yesterday. The teacher was Mrs. Goddard. The cheaters were Ricky (I can remember his last name but I am not writing it here. It rhymes with Balmer.) and Emery (I can remember his last name--it rhymes with Bellows.)

Mrs. Goddard took my complaint very seriously and we talked for about fifteen minutes. Her message to me:

1. She knew they cheated.

2. They were both pretty stupid and it was like the blind leading the blind so who cares.

3. If you do not do the work yourself you do not learn the material and the worst victim of the cheating activity is yourself.

So for example Tiger Woods cheated himself out of having a nice cozy family and we all might pity him, or something like that. The last time I was in a university exam there were people trading answers in there, which I have never understood, even after Mrs. Goddard explained it to me so sensibly so long ago.
posted by bukvich at 8:37 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised your student manual didn't have an explicit policy on this. Because something like "by submitting an assessment piece, the student certifies that the work was undertaken for the current course during the current teaching period, and has not been previously submitted for assessment in any other course or teaching period" is pretty common, in my experience.

Where I am, it would probably fall under the catch-all sentence "Any action or practice on a student's part which would defeat the purposes of assessment is regarded as academic dishonesty".


Yeah, the student manual probably does state such a policy but it's ridiculous to expect the student to try to do the same assignment in a different way because the professors are copying each other's assignments. It's just wrong.

Something similar happened with me except I wasn't caught. In my second year of college I was given an assignment that was exactly the same as a previous assignment for a different class in my major. I did not think it was cheating to look up what I did before and turn it in again. There wasn't anything new to learn and there was nowhere to go on the topic. What I had done before was pretty good. I did not see this as cheating at all and only figured it out much later when I read my student manual and saw that this is cheating. I have never done it again and never would but I am still really irked by the professor's laziness and the black cloud of "academic dishonesty" I have hanging over my head (even if I'm the only one who knows). As far as I am concerned they are the ones who are cheating when they copy each other's assignments like that.
posted by Danila at 8:39 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other words, my theory is: Cheating (on a systematic level) happens because students try to get an edge over their peers/competitors

This has been 100% counter to my experience. Every single one who I've ever caught and who admitted it said that it was because they didn't know what to do, were panicking, and decided to cheat just to get by. They make that decision because they know that they're likely to get away with it, because too many educators won't put in the effort to actually go after it.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 8:40 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


rtha: That was 12 pages per student, per class, at a community college with no admissions standards (not even a GED). I went to a small liberal arts school with pretty rigorous admissions standards, and the only time I had more than 5 to 7 pages to write for a class was for my senior thesis.

Most of these people hadn't even taken college composition yet, and they were at various stages of English proficiency. It was an utterly ridiculous requirement for a school that was willing to have students so unprepared for these courses.
posted by Fuego at 8:42 PM on July 17, 2011


    The TurnItIn software looks incredibly useful.
From what I've heard, it has a high rate of false positives, which sometimes leads un-savvy professors to falsely accuse honest students of plagiarism. I think it typically gets sorted out, but it has to be pretty awful for the students.


I once gave a paper to another professor to evaluate/proofread before submitting. I forget the exact circumstances, but this was considered a perfectly acceptable practice at my university. During that process, he apparently uploaded my paper to TurnItIn. His feedback was that the paper was a solid 'A,' and could basically go unchanged (Yay!)

I submit the paper, and get a very puzzled email from my actual professor a few days later. Apparently, TurnItIn had flagged my paper as 100% 'PLAGARISM. DESTROY STUDENT NOW.' --- including the bit of the paper with my name and the date. He found that most curious...

Oh, and the rule about copying your own old work needs to die. It might not be great, but it's in an entirely different league as claiming the work of another as your own, and is a perfectly acceptable practice in virtually any profession, and even in the [tenured] academic world.
posted by schmod at 8:44 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


The next day, say "Okay, now add a citation to every turnitin.com hit in the paper — even if it's just (Knobworth 2010) where Knobworth is the name of the frat brother you swiped it from."

I've actually had a maths course where this was acceptable. The rule was, if you couldn't prove some lemma, you could cite someone else's proof and then use the result. The grader would mark you off a bit, depending on how much easier the problem became, but he wouldn't put you up for plagiarism. I wonder how well this would translate into the humanities?
posted by d. z. wang at 8:45 PM on July 17, 2011


Blasdelb: As I said, I'm out of academia now. I was not getting paid nearly enough for such a courseload and especially not for all the extra work the cheating and plagiarism brought along with it. I have never felt more helpless in a job and more at odds with the administration anywhere. I'd rather not name the school here because my Metafilter account is tied to some real-world accounts I have and I don't want search results to link the school to my username here.
posted by Fuego at 8:47 PM on July 17, 2011


I'm pretty sure I had no classes in college that required me to write as little as twelve pages over the course of the semester.

It's hard to convert, though, because most of the classes I took were technical classes, and I'm not sure what the conversion factor is from problem-set-writing to essay-writing. So when I got to grad school I still kind of felt like I couldn't write for shit.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:47 PM on July 17, 2011


As far as I am concerned they are the ones who are cheating when they copy each other's assignments like that.

That's... not how it works, actually.
posted by bq at 8:47 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, thinking about it more, trying to incorporate Turnitin into the assignment in an explicit way is probably a non-starter of an idea.

Still — I'm digging all the talk about "showing your work" in math and physics, and I'm wondering what the humanities equivalent is. In English and History too, the point is to teach a process and build skills rather than just to get a nice finished product. So what can teachers in those fields do emphasize the process and open it up for explicit discussion? What's the English equivalent of circling a line in a derivation and saying "Here's where you went wrong in my opinion"?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:48 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]



Why?

Because there's a diplomatic and professional way to deal with cheaters, and then there's the way he describes.


It sounds like you do agree that his evaluations sank as a result of the way he handled the cheating, but you think he could have handled it in a different way.
posted by bq at 8:50 PM on July 17, 2011


Most of these people hadn't even taken college composition yet, and they were at various stages of English proficiency.

Then that does sound like an unhelpful amount of writing, honestly. That's bad policy. Getting good at writing takes practice practice practice, but that practice should be frequent, short, and tailored to the level appropriate for the students.

You had to write so little, except for your thesis? I also went to a small liberal arts school; I was a history major and the rest of my course load was also pretty reading/writing heavy. I usually had a minimum of three papers per class per term, none shorter than 10-15 pages, except for a couple of classes where we had to turn in a 5-pager every other week, and the final paper was 20+ pages.
posted by rtha at 8:52 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So for example Tiger Woods cheated himself out of having a nice cozy family and we all might pity him, or something like that.

What a bizarre analogy. Let's forget about the good old "I found out you put your penis in non-approved-by-me vaginas so I'm gonna violently assault you with a gold club oh and I'm female so that makes it OK"?

Way too axe grindy. 1,000 better analogies you could have chosen.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:54 PM on July 17, 2011


Good Christ a lot of the classes I have to take are mind-numbing in the assignments and time-consuming crap.

Boo hoo. Welcome to life.
posted by Ratio at 8:55 PM on July 17, 2011


I don't see what the problem is. There is an easy solution. You grade on written tests only. Students come into a room, they're given blank paper and pencils. You hand out the question, students write out their answers in longhand. If they don't know the material, it will be obvious. I have a part time job scoring high school written exams in everything from math and chemistry to essay writing. If they cheat, we notice. In 4 years of scoring, I have only ever detected one instance of cheating, someone wrote a full essay answering a question from the test given in a different state, a month earlier. Obviously someone tipped them off to the question, the student prepared an essay, memorized it, and then just dumped it out without ever looking to see what the actual question was. Questions are never ever reused. If a school has a closure due to weather and can't run the test the same day as all the other schools, there is already an alternate question prepared for that eventuality..
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:09 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


(from way upthread)
Dude, I could go on a huge long derail about the problems getting students to do teamwork in college. I've tried, so many times. All I get are students complaining about how much they hate group work. They seldom, if ever, really *collaborate*.

I'm one of those students who hates group work...because I'm almost always the one who ends up doing 75% of the work and constantly struggling to get other to do their part.

Because there are two crucial differences between college group work and "real world" group work: motivation and time. In a real job, workers are getting paid to do a job, it's typically a long-term situation, and they could potentially lose their job if they aren't working in a team. In school, one of the other kids in the group will probably step up and do it, and if not, who cares? It's one grade.

I feel that time is the main factor, though. In a real job, your time working in a team is going to be spent during working hours, when you have to be there anyway. However, most professors force students to meet outside of class, and that can be difficult to work around when people have varying schedules. I prioritize homework and spend as much time as I need to on it, but that doesn't keep me from getting frustrated at having to cancel a social engagement because a group project is due in a week and the only time everyone can meet is Thursday night or whatever.

So the takeaway point: if you want your students to get something out of group work, give them time in class to collaborate, and give them a solid motivation to contribute.
posted by DMan at 9:18 PM on July 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


a lot of the classes I have to take are mind-numbing in the assignments and time-consuming crap.

See also, grinding.
posted by Ardiril at 9:18 PM on July 17, 2011


So, charlie don't surf, how are these students going to learn to do anything that takes longer than a reasonable amount of time between bathroom breaks?
posted by madcaptenor at 9:18 PM on July 17, 2011


DMan, I've been the one who did the majority of the work too.

The one positive experience I had with group work in college was in a lab class where I was working with friends of mine who I'd taken many classes with before. We'd generally tended to work in groups on homework together, so I knew they wouldn't let me down, and they knew the same of me. So there is a bit of an element of the "long-term situation" there.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:25 PM on July 17, 2011


nebulawindphone, what you wrote above -- Real Work is public, unpredictable and highly dependent on the world outside the classroom -- is exactly the process that can be used in a humanities class. I have written about this in other posts in the past.

Essentially, students should be writing/researching/presenting in order to learn about learning -- they should be shown explicit habits and skills that will be necessary for work beyond graduation - and for lifelong learning. All graded work should be linked to demonstration of knowledge that is based on 'real work' - on their synthesis of information from the class and their research into something that is truly their own.

My English classes would have 'writer workshop' components. Each person had to learn how to give and get useful feedback from their peers. They had to hone their own editing skills. They were not "tested" on the skills, because they had to demonstrate they knew them. They were learners during class; 'publishing' their final portfolio with edited, polished material was for grade and it was presented for community viewing.

Research classes had to interview people (in their community) who had lived through historic events. They were not tested on the history; they had to know it well before they did the interview. They had to present their work-in-progress to peers for feedback. Presentations were essential for almost all classes as demonstration of learning. They involved Q & A and were done in a business team format. Anyone could (and should) ask anything.

An audience is a powerful motivation.

Also, teamwork is an essential 'real world' skill. And it is not a natural, nor easy skill. Again, the class should include explcite training in team work - in skills and theory -- for group process, consensus building, intercultural communication skills, appreciation of diversity in teams, etc. Any instructor who doesn't have the background to teach effective team work should get it! This is a world of instant information access - there is no need for a teacher who simply 'gives information from the pulpit and tests for regurgitation.'

A teacher's main role is to model, motivate and inspire, the students will do the rest -- If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
posted by Surfurrus at 9:26 PM on July 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is stupid.

First of all, this blog post is remarkably poorly written. Whomever wrote it shouldn't be a tenured professor.

Second of all, it's quite easy to stop cheating. Just quit assigning pointless busywork and make grades contingent upon participation in expanded classroom discussion. You can't fake participation in discussions.

Really, it's not hard to see why students do this. On the one hand, students lack scruples; but that's always been true. The second and more important factor is that teachers assign them worthless tasks that teach them nothing.
posted by koeselitz at 9:27 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Second of all, it's quite easy to stop cheating. Just quit assigning pointless busywork and make grades contingent upon participation in expanded classroom discussion. You can't fake participation in discussions.

I suppose you'd like to pay the extra money that would be needed to make the classes small enough that this would be feasible?
posted by madcaptenor at 9:29 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm one of those students who hates group work...because I'm almost always the one who ends up doing 75% of the work and constantly struggling to get other to do their part.

100% agreed. And it's like this in real life too, but the stakes are higher. It's a chore to work with other people in any situation because it's almost guaranteed that 75% aren't going to pull their weight. In a job I have a real incentive to make sure that things get done and possibly some way to hold people accountable who don't. In school I have an assignment that I really don't care about, a professor who really doesn't have the time to sort through who works and who doesn't, and a boatload of other coursework to handle that semester.

In school grades are meant to be individual so we should grade the individual. Group assignments are just a lazy way for the professor to not want to bother with really grading. In a perfect world everyone would pull their weight, but in practice dividing the class into groups of 4 means that 1/4 of the students are working overtime and the rest are coasting.

This is always something I wish professors understood. My big capstone project in school was dealing with complex circuit design. We were divided in groups of two for the purpose. I cranked through several 18 hours sessions in the lab, my partner occasionally made a run to Carl's Jr. and bought cokes from the vending machine. Occasionally I'd get to drink one of them. We both got an A in the class and graduated. How exactly did that help me?
posted by mikesch at 9:32 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Science Learning is not about the answers. It's about the steps you take to get there.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:34 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I cheated once...as a freshman in a Quaker college, and got caught. It was a simple catch. It was a late Sunday night panic attack, and the graphs were obviously wrong. We were lucky to have not been kicked out, but no one really is, their first time?

Now I teach high school English. Ten years ago, I used to get a lot of plagiarized papers. Now, not so much, now that they know that their teachers can Google in a suspect phrase and catch them out. They are given a stern lecture, and a zero...the first time, and usually the only time.

That said, there has to be more instruction about how to document sources, and what you need to acknowledge. There is a fine line. But for students used to finding Internet sources and highlighting quotable passages in their printed documents...well, it's difficult for them.

TAKING NOTES is a lost art (hyperbole).

But for those of us who are used to taking notes from primary sources and referencing those sources, well, that is a skillset that youngsters need to be taught, and it is hard to do with 160 students at a time. I can understand the frustration that college instructors feel...but, we HS teachers are doing all we can do. 60 hours a week.
posted by kozad at 9:34 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, charlie don't surf, how are these students going to learn to do anything that takes longer than a reasonable amount of time between bathroom breaks?

I took plenty of essay exams in college, the only scored assignments in the class, that had to demonstrate intricate knowledge of having read whole books. I recall one test, a student saw the question, got up, and walked out of the room. If he had merely signed the exam booklet, he would have passed the course with a gentleman's D+. And this was one of the easier essay exams I took, the professor even said students could make a 1 paragraph argument at the end to argue why they deserved a 1 gradepoint increase. I argued that I was the only student that attended every class and had read every single assignment in advance. AFAIK I was the only one who got the extra gradepoint.

I've taken tougher tests. Writing an essay exam in a foreign language like Japanese is a hell of a lot tougher than spitting out a quick essay about WiMax, like this professor's example papers. Of course that assumes you've actually learned the material. And that is the point.

There are other essay exam techniques, you can't assess the entirety of what a student has learned, but you can sample enough to know they've learned it. I can't really discuss these techniques in detail because I'm under an NDA.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:38 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Team work is not about shared grades -- it is about learning to share ideas, tips, feedback resources, sources... Teams can be a place to give feedback that actually is useful for the person giving the feedback! Team work is one way to really experience the synergy of minds working together. This is not alien to young people -- they love to learn music, online games, new technologies, social skills ... etc. with a group of peers . Why shouldn't the class harness that kind of energy? ... and give them new ways to focus it. It is inevitably a good life skill.

Once again ... the instructors need to be formally educated about team work. Very few are, and very few have any respect or understanding of it. One only has to sit in a faculty meeting to understand that academia is not exactly the model of a cooperative and consensus building system.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:42 PM on July 17, 2011


Going back to the original topic... it flabbergasts me that this guy's pay is based on the stupid student evaluations. Why the hell are cheating students even allowed to stay in class and fill those out, given how biased they are? Why the hell is his stupid college making it more financially viable to have a professor let his students cheat in the first place? For fuck's sake. Might as well just give everyone A's by default while you're at it.

Though I don't think he needed to sit every cheater down for a long discussion in which he tried to get them to admit to cheating either. For fuck's sake, say the student is nailed and give them a zero/turn them in to judicial affairs and be done with it. Don't drag that crap out because liars are gonna lie.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2011


Once again ... the instructors need to be formally educated about team work. Very few are, and very few have any respect or understanding of it.

If assigned teamwork actually consisted of teaching students to work together I'd be all for it. There's nothing like bouncing ideas off of each other to come up with a whole that's better than the sum of its parts. The best group assignment would be to create an assignment that encouraged this, but still held the rest of the team accountable. Grades would be based on individual contributions to the group effort, not just a grade handed out to the group based on the total assignment, which is almost always done by one student while the others play beer pong.

This would also most accurately mirror the way things really work since while there's not an explicit grade in the workforce, on average better people get promoted while the others who don't pull their weight tend to stay at the same level (disclaimer: This would be true in a non-pathological company. YMMV depending on how internal politics play out)
posted by mikesch at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2011


a lot of the classes I have to take are mind-numbing in the assignments and time-consuming crap.

See also, grinding.


Yes, ironically I do happen to play some World of Warcraft when I'm not writing a ridiculous number of papers.

The difference is that grinding has a visible and clear reward. The endless series of pointless and repetitive assignments do not.

My Spanish homework, sure I understand that frequency increases language proficiency, I was fine with that. It was annoying but it made sense. I understand why I had to write speeches for the Speech class, that's kind of a gimmie.

But what purpose did writing an ungraded one-page essay every class serve? Or 'outlines' for philosophy the previous semester that were graded on whether or not you did the assignment and had the required number of papers and were not actually read? (We had substantial proof of this).

Assignments should have a purpose. They should not be busywork, and I'm finding more and more that professors loooooove assigning busywork because they're convinced classes just MUST have homework of some kind.

I'm not adverse to homework (I'm the product of three generations of teachers, I understand teacher-logic) - but I am adverse to busywork, and more so for adults.

The assignments the professor in this blogpost assigned are the kinds I'd probably have rolled my eyes at - at least the paper he assigned. If I thought about it really hard I might be able to come up with a reason for some of them but for the most part they sound like busywork. Homework for the sake of homework as opposed to homework for the sake of teaching or reinforcing something.
posted by FritoKAL at 9:53 PM on July 17, 2011


Hmm, nobody here has mentioned some of his solutions. Maybe because most people here didn't read the article and are now copy-pasting arguments from previous MeFi discussions on cheating?

The solutions are some of the most interesting and novel aspects of the article:

He proposes three techniques: public projects, peer reviewing and competitions.

I notice a common factor in these techniques is that you're leveraging the social dynamics of peer or outside groups to enforce the anti-cheating norm. First, you're distributing the work among the students peers, so that you the professor doesn't have to do all of the checking/followup. Second, by making the students rely on each other for work it's also incentivizing good work.

It's kind of related to the earlier talk about gamification in education, especially the competition bit. People might scoff at gamification techniques applied to education, but I think this shows that some of the game-theory based ideas may actually help solve problems that traditional educational models are failing at with the amazing access to new technology that is available to students.
posted by formless at 9:55 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a CS undergrad we lived in perpetual fear of MOSS, which was the plagiarism detection service that all of our assignments were run through. The professors were so harsh about it and trusted it so completely that just about anything that was flagged by it resulted in at least a "Come see me" from the professor.

One time everyone from a lab section got nailed and turned over to the dean because a TA wrote some code on the board and said it was free for everyone to use in the assignment. It took forever for them to sort out exactly what happened.

People constantly tried to outsmart MOSS, changing variable names, looping structures, case structures and anything else they could thing of to make their Hello World different than everyone else's. Let's face it, there's only so many ways to do a depth first traversal of a binary tree.

All that time we spent dealing with outsmarting that one application could have been better spent actually learning something in the class.

In the end all the students knew who the cheaters were, too many people got falsely accused and the cheaters still cheated. For the rest of us it was a chore to deal with the horror of a false positive looming over our head.

Given the choice between cheating being pursued relentlessly with extreme prejudice and letting a few get away I'd opt for the latter.
posted by mikesch at 10:01 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


First of all, this blog post is remarkably poorly written. Whomever wrote it shouldn't be a tenured professor.

Koeselitz, what.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:09 PM on July 17, 2011


I'm surprised your student manual didn't have an explicit policy on this. Because something like "by submitting an assessment piece, the student certifies that the work was undertaken for the current course during the current teaching period, and has not been previously submitted for assessment in any other course or teaching period" is pretty common, in my experience.

I don't know whether we had any such policy or not. This was probably 15 years ago or thereabouts, and I don't remember, nor do I still have any student manuals.

It's probably worth mentioning that I *told* the teacher that I had done the assignment previously and was turning in my paper from that class. I was *not* trying to cheat in any way shape or form, and I don't consider it cheating, and furthermore this wasn't the type of assignment I could have done markedly differently the second time and learned a bunch more. I wanted her to know that I was on to her, that I knew she'd swiped the assignment wholesale from another prof. I seriously doubt she ever would have known had I not told her, because she put into reading and grading papers about what she put into everything else, which was very little; but I *wanted* her to know this was not something she should be doing.

Instead of having learned anything from the experience, like maybe "oh, since some of these students will have already taken that other class, maybe I shouldn't re-assigned them work they've already completed" instead she chose to learn exactly nothing and hypocritically blame me for not wanting to re-do an assignment when she couldn't be bothered to get off her lazy duff and spend a few freaking minutes doing her job and actually encouraging her students to learn something new.

In short, I didn't cheat, she did. And she had the gall to throw some stones at me from inside her glass classroom.
posted by parrot_person at 10:13 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


You can't fake participation in discussions.

Yes you can.
posted by jeffen at 10:14 PM on July 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


Dude, I could go on a huge long derail about the problems getting students to do teamwork in college. I've tried, so many times. All I get are students complaining about how much they hate group work. They seldom, if ever, really *collaborate*

Funny- at the Special Snowflake Private Liberal Arts College I attend, all CS projects are assigned to pairs. Students can usually opt out if they want, and do it by themselves, but only a few people do. People work together, one person typing and the other thinking and correcting silly mistakes.

Working in pairs can be a pain in the ass, as it's really unlikely that a pair is complementary or at least evenly matched in speed or insight. If I see the solution to a problem, and all the steps to get there, without writing any code or discussing anything, what am I supposed to do? I can a) pretend I haven't, and try to Socratic method it out of my partner or b) Leap ahead and type it all out myself.

On the other hand, sometimes it works great. Sometimes I'm paired with someone faster off the mark than I am, which is informative. Sometimes we work on pretty much the same level.

Also, as a CS grader for a couple of terms, I've never caught copy-paste cheating. Though I might just have been bad at looking, I suppose.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:16 PM on July 17, 2011


formless: Hmm, nobody here has mentioned some of his solutions. Maybe because most people here didn't read the article and are now copy-pasting arguments from previous MeFi discussions on cheating?

Public projects might be a way to go. If cheating can't be hidden and there's the potential to shame cheaters it might not be so common. The problem with peer review and competition is grade inflation. With peer review you either end up with everything being cutthroat so low scores abound or everyone scratches everyone's back and they all get A's. With the competition once you hit the minimum bar everyone gets As and someone gets an iPod.

What might work too is assigning individual worthwhile assignments. Instead of a generic, easy to cheat on paper about WiMax, why not challenge the students a little bit more with a question like:

"If you were designing a 4g network for rural India, taking into account cost, ease of deployment, range and maintenance, which technologies would you choose and why?"

That's something you can't Google and students have to wrap their heads around it. It's also easily mutable from year to year. I'd have rocked that assignment and had fun doing it. And I'd have learned something beyond what Wikipedia would babble at me.
posted by mikesch at 10:18 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Science is not about the answers. It's about the steps you take to get there. I've always been mildly irked that Chemistry and CS do not respect this when evaluating their undergraduates.

And Business is not about the answers either, or even the steps taken to get there. Business is all about convincing people you have the right answer - it doesn't really matter whether you really DO have the right answer or not. (1)

You could have the "right" answer, taken all the "right" steps, but if you can't convince your peers and superiors of that, it's no better than a wrong answer. Hard truth for many otherwise intelligent graduates.

Business is more politics than science. In that sense, you can think of graduates as people who've managed to convince their school that they deserved that degree. If they cheated to get there... well, it's good preparation for the real world.


(1) ie... it's not about Apple making the best phone... it's about Apple convincing people they have made the best phone. The Truth? Irrelevant.
posted by xdvesper at 10:22 PM on July 17, 2011


As a faculty member teaching at a large university, I completely agree with the main points raised by this article. Faculty performance is almost entirely ranked by student evaluations, rather than peer based evaluations; going after cheaters in classrooms is more likely than not bound to lower your evaluation scores, as well as sucking up a tremendous amount of you personal time with crying students.

A number of people have argued here (and I see this elsewhere) that the reason students cheat is because of the "worthless assignments" or "pointless busywork" assignments of the profs. I don't think it is really due to the assigments, but rather becaise many students engage in rampant levels of cheating with absolute ease. A variety of technologies, including the internet and cell phones, has lowered the cost of capturing and distributing exams across a vast network, allowing students to engage in simple acts of plagiarism at almost no personal cost.

As far as being a "lazy professor," I don't think this is a cause either. I think it is because most students are not punished when they engage in plagarism; the benefits seem to far outweight the deficits to most students. As an example, I have taught several classes where I have done nothing but to teach PhD level students how to apply knowledge that they learn in the classroom to experimental designs; this is valuable stuff that they can use in their own research (and indeed many students do), and we still get rampant cheating.. For my last take home exam, four out of 10 graduate students plagiarized their take home essays with between 25-70% material deliberately copied off Internet sources. When I accused them, well lots of tears from the students, and claims of ignorance of plagarism. And endless apologies. All in all, I probably spent around 10 hours dealing with crying students this semester. And at the end of the day, our graduate school education committee decided to not do much to these students because they were "foreigners," despite being given several lectures on ethics, and dealt with the whole mess by requiring the students to do a make up exam.

So there you have the two main reasons, I think, that students cheating is so rampant on campuses these days. First, it's incredible cheap and easy for the students to engage in cheating. Second, I think students recognize that there is actually a very low chance that something bad will actually happen them, even if they get caught, simply because most departments don't take cheating as a serious academic offense these days. It's a simple matter of economics, really.
And if students are caught, what happens?
posted by Schadenfreude at 10:28 PM on July 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


My department offers a variety of introductory statistics courses for undergrads with minimal mathematics preparation. One of these is called "introductory statistics for business". This course has the reputation, among faculty who have been around for a while, of being something of a drag to teach -- the students in it are for the most part trying to get into our undergraduate business program, which thinks student GPA is quite important, so the students will fight over every last point.

Now, when I taught the class, I didn't notice much difference in the amount of grade-grubbing. I wish I had kept actual data -- I'd taught a very similar class to a more general audience the semester before, so most of the difference in the amount of complaining about grades would probably be due to the different audience.

But I did notice that I got a larger number of students who let me know they wanted higher grades after the grades were already turned in. My working theory was that (pre-)business students are more likely to see grades as something that can be negotiated -- perhaps like their compensation in their future jobs -- whereas students who are more scientifically oriented are more likely to see a grade as a measurement, so if they get a bad grade they're not happy with it but they move on.

I'm sure this wouldn't hold up to any sort of rigorous testing, which is why I'm not doing rigorous testing, because it's a nice story. The real truth is that I'd have to be a giant asshole to lower a student's grade after they came to me and asked me to raise it (not to mention that this would be Against The Rules), so they have very little to lose by trying.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:32 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I came to absolutely hate peer review in classes I took and group projects. Peer review can be a way for someone with a grudge against you to negatively impact your grade.
Group projects: what everyone else said!
Cheating: I took a pretty rigorous course load in the Health Care field.
Groups would get together to di exams. I never did this. I stayed home and did my open book exams on my own. After the instructors found out about the group test taking, on by the way what already were open book tests, in Medical Billing and Coding they have to be open book. We ended up having to take our huge heavy Billing and Coding books to the lab for proctored exams. It was miserable, those books must weigh like 50 pounds. My whole body hurt the next day. God I hate cheaters. None of this was pointless busywork in Medical Billing and Coding. There was no excuse for cheating.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:35 PM on July 17, 2011


I know I have a rather jaded view of our educational system, but I think your conclusion is spot on. The sad truth is that a lot of students see homework essays (and grades in general) as just a hoop they have to jump through to get their diploma and get on with their lives. And as a former student, I can't honestly say I disagree. The projects you suggest as an alternative are great! They offer opportunities to be creative, expressive, and original in front of more than just their prof.

Have you read any of Don Tapscott's writing?
posted by rainperimeter at 10:52 PM on July 17, 2011


RE groupwork: I hate group assignments. I think most people at my school learned to work as a team at their job. That they have. During school. Because most of them have those.
posted by NoraReed at 10:55 PM on July 17, 2011


Whatever misgivings I have about Harvard, I have always respected their policy regarding plagiarism. It was well known among us (class of '83) that that and that alone was grounds for expulsion. Criminal conviction? See you when you get out of prison! Shoplifting at the Coop? Take a year off! Plagiarism, nice knowing you-- even our admissions committee makes mistakes now and then, and you were one of them.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:55 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


parrot_person: "I wanted her to know that I was on to her, that I knew she'd swiped the assignment wholesale from another prof.

In short, I didn't cheat, she did."


You've probably learned by now, 15 years later, that this is not a scenario where you're ever going to win ;-)

-----

Totally unrelated aside: I think the people here who are asking that educators produce new, not cribbed from the textbook sample questions, totally different from every other course, totally different from previous years, assignment questions and scenarios (a) seriously underestimate the time available to educators (especially academics whose livelihoods depend more on research output than opinion survey results), (b) seriously overestimate the number of core concepts per subject that can get taught in a 3 month semester (I've seen 6 mentioned as a maximum before student's brains start exploding), (c) overestimate the number of ways those core concepts can be tested in many subjects, and (d) have rocks in their heads.

I had a 3rd-year GIS subject with a cumulative assessment piece worth 70% that I put a hell of a lot of work into over the semester. A fairly generic scenario, consisting of several generic map layers (topo, land use, roads, easements, rivers, etc) that we had to (a) digitise, and (b) do a given hazard assessment on, with hazard maps. The night before I handed it in, I idly Google'd a few key points from it, and found a completed assignment on the web as part of someone's on-line résumé. It wasn't quite the same - essentially the same map layers but swapped around (roads were rivers, trees were houses, etc) and rotated randomly, and a different hazard scenario - and was pretty crap to boot (~1500 shallow words for what was supposed to be a 7500~10000 word in-depth assessment). So, when I was submitting mine, I dropped the lecturer an email about it. Never heard back, but he was that sort of guy…

The year after I graduated, I was walking past his office when he called me in. He handed me the current year's project outline, which was similarly different again - and 5 assignments. 5 assignments that, while not word-for-word copies, used exactly the same maps and addressed exactly the same scenario as I'd found online. Maps and scenarios that were totally different to to that year's project outline.

"There's over 10,000 possible combinations of map layers, hazards, and scenarios. Those 5 assignments there are why I keep a fake profile on www.generic-resume-site.com", he said.
posted by Pinback at 11:02 PM on July 17, 2011 [20 favorites]


... btw, the irony of discussing plagiarism in an MBA course is not lost on me (a former white paper hack) ...
posted by Ardiril at 11:15 PM on July 17, 2011


My favorite is when my students turn in my own official homework solutions from past semesters, complete with my typos, my off-by-one errors, and a few telltale Unicode copy-paste transcription errors.

I've never understood what these people are thinking. Did they miss my mini-rant on the first day, where I say I honestly don't care if anyone uses my old solutions, as long as they rewrite them in their own words and cite them properly? Did they miss the part where homework is only 30% of the grade?

Most importantly, whose solutions do they think the TAs are using to grade their homeworks?
posted by erniepan at 11:27 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do we grade students at all? Just let them take classes and forget about it. The piece of paper at the end is near worthless, anyway.
posted by empath at 11:33 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


erniepan: I was once a grader for an introductory calculus course, where for some reason the students were required to hand in solutions to certain problems even though solutions to those problems were in the course notes that the students were required to buy as a supplement to the textbook.

There was one problem -- I think decomposing something into partial fractions -- where the solutions in the notes referred to the "numerator" and the "nominator" of a fraction.

Determining what a large number of students handed in is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:35 PM on July 17, 2011


can I just state for the record that Blackboard is the biggest piece of shit ever developed. well no, HP/Mercury Quality Center is the biggest piece of shit ever developed, but I don't have to use that.
posted by the noob at 11:37 PM on July 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Students would come to my office and deny everything. Then I would present them the evidence. They would soften but continue to deny it. Only when I was saying "enough, I will just give the case to the honorary council who will decide" most students were admitting wrongdoing. But every case was at least 2 hours of wasted time

Why waste time? I mean any plagiarism at my school is instant suspension, why not just refer all cases to the council. it's not fair on people who put in the effort and want to learn.
posted by the noob at 11:46 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, how to deal with cheating in the future?

No, first class you establish the ground rules. Then everyone knows and you will gain respect.

"If you are detected cheating, and you will be if you do- we have this software that ..., then you will be suspended and ..."

When you discuss the assignment

"If you are detected cheating, and you will be if you do- we have this software that ..., then you will be suspended and ..."

Don't get passive aggressive about it.
posted by the noob at 11:50 PM on July 17, 2011


a lot of the classes I have to take are mind-numbing in the assignments and time-consuming crap.

Gosh I'm SO sorry that college isn't up to your standards for interesting and fulfilling ways to fill your time. May I suggest an alternative? How about spending 12 hours a day, six days a week, picking strawberries in 100° heat? You'll get exercise, fresh air, and the occasional bathroom break!

Frankly, we should send the entire lot of overpriviledged whiners to the central California fields for four years before letting them in college. Then if they want to whine about tedium and hard work, they'll at least have a clue as to what those terms really mean.
posted by happyroach at 12:09 AM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you're asking students to dig holes and fill them up again, it can't really be much of a surprise when they point you to a patch of raked dirt and say, here you are, done.
If you go to a gym with the stated intention of improving your physical capabilities, and the attitude you give to your trainer is "What the hell? You want me to put that weight right back where it was in the first place! Why not just leave it there to begin with?", you don't end up with a refund and your trainer doesn't end up doing any soul-searching reexaminations of his life.

If you're of the (increasingly popular...) opinion that universities are worth less as mental training than as credentialism and signaling, that doesn't really change much. If you want someone to certify you as a 90th-percentile hole-digger, you shouldn't be too surprised if they ask to watch you dig a few holes yourself first. And if they're such expert hole-diggers that they do such certification for a living, odds are they don't actually have any holes they personally need you to dig and so they're going to ask you to do something useless instead.

Even if they *do* have holes they personally need dug, don't expect them to hand you a shovel and say "follow my lead". When I've done so it's often taken longer to fix and explain the resulting mistakes than it would have taken to do things from scratch myself. That's worth it when you can spend that effort on a few grad students or undergrad lab assistants who will return the investment months or years down the line, but it's impossible to spend that amount of time on dozens of people at once.

Finally, I'm coming from a perspective in numerical mathematics where "fixing student mistakes" involves reading and rewriting proofs and codes. More engineering-heavy fields have it tougher. One of my colleagues just discovered that the people previously in charge of some of his equipment had let students alter it in underdesigned and potentially lethal ways. It's a good idea to make kids reinvent the wheel under close supervision before you turn them loose on modifying real wheels.
posted by roystgnr at 12:16 AM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


God DAMN did you miss the point, happyroach.

College is supposed to be about teaching, not mindless boring makework that doesn't instruct. Pointing out that other jobs are worse is a gigantic non-sequitur. No, being a student doesn't suck as badly as picking strawberries. There isn't a whole lot that does.

But that is utterly orthogonal to the fact that college is failing to serve its stated purpose. Wasted time is still wasted time. The farm work, at least, produces strawberries.
posted by Malor at 12:26 AM on July 18, 2011


Whenever I point out that in many, many working situations they will have to work in groups or teams they say, "But that's the real world. College is different." Oy.

It is different. Working in a group in your 9-5 where you see each other every day, have the same end goal, and are getting paid, is not comparable to what happens in classes. Students have different goals for the project: some want to do a really good job and get high grades, some want to do the least work possible, some want to do something in between. There's limited class time to meet, and schedules outside of class are hard to coordinate. Invariably there is a student who barely shows up to class and is grudgingly supported by everyone else in the group that wants a decent grade. There are students that have never held jobs, never had to compromise, never learned how to not take disagreement personally. School group work sucks. I say that as someone who has had to work very closely with various teams of people in my (former) job. I'm the student who ends up having to carry some other sorry-ass bum along, or save my sanity by not getting deeply involved in dumb drama at the risk of having my grade suffer. I know very well how to work in a group, and having to do it at university is a tremendous waste of my time.

I went to a small liberal arts school with pretty rigorous admissions standards, and the only time I had more than 5 to 7 pages to write for a class was for my senior thesis.


Wow, I can't think of a class where I've had a major paper due that was less than 10 pages. This is for a landscape architecture degree. There's at least one class per quarter that I have to write a paper that is 30-50 percent of my grade.

At any rate, reading this thread has given me greater appreciation for my school's academic standards. I've had very few professors who were just calling it in, and generally my classes have been very rigorous. I'm not in a major where people can really cheat, though, so perhaps I'm in a somewhat self-selecting group of students.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:27 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, students lack scruples; but that's always been true.

Americans have developed increasingly negative attitudes towards basically every institution in society. It makes sense to me that a lessening of respect for universities would lead to a greater willingness to cheat, and a tendency to view education as a piece of paper.

But still, I have a hard time getting excited about cheating. I read a study that showed the economic benefits of a college degree relative to a high school diploma came from high school diplomas becoming worth less, not from college degrees being worth more. The main difference is that now college graduates are forced to take out loans and pay for their own training where that was once provided by employers. That way, the labor force is much more expendable. If the employer pays for training, they have to forecast which skills they're going to need and invest in them. But when the economy changes, they've got a bunch of useless employees that have to be retrained. They can be more flexible if they don't have that sunk cost and can just fire them and hire new people, and that means the labor force has to take on the costs and risks of forecasting which skills the economy will need.

To reduce the risk, they go for safe majors that seem like guarantees to a decent job, so society ends up with a whole lot of business majors and a skills shortage. And half of them cheated to get there, but to get upset about it is to defend the integrity of a system that continues to pass risk to those who are least able to bear it.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:36 AM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


College is supposed to be about teaching, not mindless boring makework that doesn't instruct.

Au contraire, I'd argue that college is about exploring fields of study, whether they're boring or not. It is not the responsibility of the instructors to make their material "interesting"; it is your responsibility to take in what is in your career's interests. In any field, there are things that are cutting-edge and stimulating, while there will be other things that are mundane; the onus is on the learner to digest both.

In either case, assignments being "boring" doesn't really excuse plagiarism, does it. When you submit someone else's work as yours, you're in effect lying that this is your own personal thought; none of the proposed "alternatives", group-work, gamification etc address this salient fact.

Plagiarists are liars. Lying is clearly Bad, because it implicitly raises questions on trust. I don't see how much more simpler the moral case against plagiarism can get.
posted by the cydonian at 12:39 AM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Gosh I'm SO sorry that college isn't up to your standards for interesting and fulfilling ways to fill your time. May I suggest an alternative? How about spending 12 hours a day, six days a week, picking strawberries in 100° heat? You'll get exercise, fresh air, and the occasional bathroom break!

I would like to point out that you have little to no idea what I did in for a living between the ages of 18 and 34.

Mostly though, college - and school in general - should be about learning, not about busywork. Yes, picking veg in a hot field is awful but it's false comparison.

Busywork is bad because it's directly going against the point of school.
Picking veg in a field is bad because it's hot awful underpaid work where the people in it get abused by the system, their employers and sometimes for an added bonus, immigration.
posted by FritoKAL at 12:41 AM on July 18, 2011


Since when has anything been as it should be? Most everything complicated in life, school, programming, friendships, life in general has a whole lot of things that should be happening. They only really happen on a few good days, most of the rest of it is muddling along. So what is reasonable to expect from a college system that is affordable enough to educate a large portion of the population?

Having the best teachers making new, novel, and exciting assignments everyday would be nice, but that's going to be a real elite place - there aren't enough people who absolutely excel at teaching to go around. You want a system that can teach more than the best of the best or the richest of the rich, a lot of stuff has to be simpler, less creative, but repeatable.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:13 AM on July 18, 2011


Seriously, have some original thoughts! Plagiarism is uncool.

I agree; have some original thoughts. Plagiarism is uncool.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:21 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Faculty performance is almost entirely ranked by student evaluations,
> rather than peer based evaluations; going after cheaters in classrooms
> is more likely than not bound to lower your evaluation scores

They don't give less weight to evaluations received from plagiarists?
Likely they've plagiarized the evaluations too -- why make the extra effort?
posted by hank at 2:22 AM on July 18, 2011


They don't give less weight to evaluations received from plagiarists?

...How would they know? The evaluations are anonymous.

Turnitin does throw a lot of false positives--ironically enough, if the students are providing sufficient evidence from a literary work to support their argument, they'll often come up with a high % ranking on Turnitin. The originality marking doesn't necessarily tell you anything, at least in my field.

I'm more than a little surprised that NYU would tie salary increases to course evaluations, especially for a tenured faculty member. My SUNY is considered a "teaching" school, and even we don't do that! (We look at evals when assessing merit pay increases, tenure, and promotion, but they aren't the basis for a raise unless we're explicitly requesting merit pay for teaching.)
posted by thomas j wise at 2:34 AM on July 18, 2011


My experiences with plagiarism mirror many of those above. Most of the time when I've seen it (lab reports, mostly), it occurs when students have absolutely no idea how to begin thinking about the topic at hand and just copy it verbatim from somewhere else. That they are doing it to get ahead of others doesn't strike me as accurate — almost always, papers that result from plagiarism are truly awful anyway, either by not being remotely coherent or just not actually answering the topic at hand. Most of the time, even without the intellectual dishonesty, it just wouldn't get a very good grade.

Even in the case in the FPP, in what sounds like an insipid class taught without much originality, only something like 20% of the students cheated. I'm all for making the educational system better, trying new teaching techniques and incentive structures, and I dearly wish that there was more support for doing those things in academia, but there will always always be outliers who just don't engage. Good teaching reduces that number, but can't eliminate it. That those students feel like lying about their work is natural option is a separate, genuine problem, and one that can't solely be addressed by better teaching habits.
posted by Schismatic at 2:39 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the people here who are asking that educators produce new, not cribbed from the textbook sample questions, totally different from every other course, totally different from previous years, assignment questions and scenarios (a) seriously underestimate the time available to educators (especially academics whose livelihoods depend more on research output than opinion survey results), (b) seriously overestimate the number of core concepts per subject that can get taught in a 3 month semester (I've seen 6 mentioned as a maximum before student's brains start exploding), (c) overestimate the number of ways those core concepts can be tested in many subjects, and (d) have rocks in their heads.

I went to a small liberal arts college. The teacher in question did no research whatsoever during her time as a prof there. In most disciplines, research was not even expected. In those where it was expected (like hard sciences) teaching was *still* supposed to be the number one priority. And in reality, the best prof I ever had there has published one co-authored book since he's been teaching there. He's a full prof, he was not penalized for not publishing a lot. That's one reason tuition was high, because we were supposed to be receiving excellent tutelage. Profs were supposed to have the time to teach well.

The idea that my poor, poor wittle prof just HAD to plagiarize assignments from another teacher, because she was so overburdened with responsibilities, is horseshit. If you're honestly suggesting that teachers shouldn't be expected to come up with their own damn assignments for students, or that it's perfectly fine for them to phone it in with the same assignments semester after semester after year after decade, then you are the one with a box of rocks in your head.
posted by parrot_person at 2:40 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


FritoKAL: But what purpose did writing an ungraded one-page essay every class serve?

In your case maybe these essays really were just pointless busywork, but I'd like to briefly defend (in principle, at least) the usefulness of ungraded one-page essays being due every class period.

These sorts of assignments can serve all sorts of legitimate pedagogical purposes, especially if the essays are "reading responses." Regular short writing assignments can help students get in the habit of writing well and help build a habit of regular engagement with material (rather than leaving them stuck in huge-assignment-crisis-mode). They can serve as a basis for class discussion, especially if you circulate the essays. They help ensure that students actually did the reading. They can help focus students' reading time, since they know they have to extract a few points for discussion.

So I hope that's what your prof was aiming for. If not--well, at least you got some practice in rapid essay extrusion. It's a skill that has its uses.
posted by col_pogo at 3:07 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]




What bothers me about this episode is that it highlights what is wrong with education in America and confirms what many think about academia as being too insular. What is the “cheating” that Professor Panos complains of? In many of the cases the cheating was not the mindless copying of math problems from someone seated nearby. Instead, the professor asked questions which the students were to research and submit an answer in the form of an essay. The class was a class in real-world business, not an exercise in rhetoric. Presumably, essay writing skills, to the extent that they are needed at all, are taught elsewhere. The job of the students is to perform research and find the answer or answers to the question. Professor Panos complains that the “cheating” students’ methodology was, “research, copy, paste.” There is no comment as to whether the cheating students submitted correct answers. The failure to document sources is considered plagiarism in academia, journalism and other fields. Not so much in business. In business, what is important is the answer. If McKinsey has done a study for company X on an issue and company Y has now commissioned McKinsey for the same study, does Professor Panos believe that McKinsey won’t use the earlier study–or any other study done by someone else which they can get their hands on–to answer the question? I’m not picking on McKinsey–all consultants work this way. There is nothing wrong with it, and not having to reinvent the wheel is a clear benefit to the client. If I have a question to answer and a colleague has already comprehensively answered it, whether he be Korean, a fraternity brother or a sorority sister–where is the harm in saying, “I am indebted to my colleague who has answered this.” The fact that I serendipitously found an answer is not a negative in the business world. Not giving credit to a colleague is a whole other issue. The Internet is a research tool and there is nothing wrong with using it wisely. What’s more–and since this is not about writing essays–is the goal here to have twenty-something business students give their personal opinions, opinions that the business world tends to discount greatly; or is the goal to have them find useful answers and compile the same appropriately? Having been asked numerous times in real life, “where did you get this from?” being able to say, “someone has already looked at this and this is the conclusion they came up with” has always been helpful. On more than one occasion, it saved the day.

These were not math or language tests. The Spanish word for test is “examen” but if all I have done is copied the answer from my neighbor during a test I will not have made any progress in learning the language. Cheating is penalized because the student is cheating himself out of the opportunity to learn. I do not see how students who do research on the Internet and compile that research in answering a question have cheated. If you want to demand more rigorous citations from your students, demand them. If a fraternity brother has answered the question, give him credit. Improve on his work if you can. These are real world skills, and to the extent that business school insists on archaic essay writing the students are being done a disservice.
posted by tesseract420 at 4:37 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I busted a cheater once. It was horrible. I had to prepare a roughly 15 page document covering the evidence (screenshots of the online forums[!] that had been copied, mostly), turn in an adjustment of grade form, have a mandatory mediated 1-hour face to face meeting with the student, and in the end she was just too stupid to understand what was wrong.

"You told us to do research!"

"You can't fail me, I will lose my financial aid!"

"Your class is the only one I was doing well in!"

Yeah.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:38 AM on July 18, 2011


You know what else C&P and wsiwig word processors and online journals and RefWorks and the internet make incredibly crazy easier? A well-cited, well constructed, original paper.
posted by klarck at 4:54 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


also easybib.com. man do I love that thing.
posted by angrycat at 4:57 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't fully understand why all these university classes seem to assess based primarily on assignments--my own experience was rather different. I had to do loads of assignments in undergrad (engineering) but the bulk of my mark was pretty much always based on exams (usually something like 20% midterm, 60% final, with the other 20% being labs and assignments). I certainly did a bit of cheating on the assignments, but it really wasn't the best way to get a good mark in the course, as the assignments were meant mainly to prepare you for the exams. My transcript would be obvious proof that cheating gave me a negligible academic advantage. Even in my history courses there was always a final exam worth at least 30-40% (but in history courses you're writing essays anyway so plagiarism is easier to detect and really not justifiable on any level when your essay topic is supposed to be somewhat original).

Maybe we need to start thinking about academics as more of a performance. The assignments represent the hours of practise needed for mastery of skills, and the exams (where you get your marks) are where you demonstrate said mastery. In person, with no internet to help you out.
posted by Go Banana at 5:00 AM on July 18, 2011


Vice President Biden is famous for his plagiarism. As long as my students aren't tweeting their junk, they should be OK.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:39 AM on July 18, 2011


Am I the only one who noticed that David Alan Grier submitted a long paper for HCOMP 2011?

Dr. David Alan Grier's June 2010 column in IEEE Computer tells the amusing tale of his relationship with the other David Alan Grier.

I enjoy reading Dr. Grier's columns, and they come with the added bonus that whenever I come across some crazy tech nonsense in the rest of the magazine, I hear DAG's voice in my head say "Have you lost yo' damn mind?!"
posted by kgander at 6:11 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This student created a report by using three buttons in his keyboard: Find site on Internet, copy, paste
I don't know how I lived before the 'Find site on Internet' button.
posted by CarlRossi at 6:23 AM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh yeah, when I was teaching in the mid-90's, a student turned in a paper that was WAY too advanced for him. He was a freshman with an undeclared major, and spoke English as a second language. His paper's writing level floated somewhere between a masters and a PhD.

When the next class came, I asked to see him and told him that I know he plagiarized out of a book and that we needed to discuss what to do next. He started to protest, so I pulled out the book.

"This book." I opened it. "This page right here."

He had returned the book to the library and I found it and the page he copied.

Now I had the whole machine of the university behind me, but you know what? ESL + freshman + my class was a general education requirement. I let him have a verbal lashing, and chalked it up to a general education experience about being an honest student and that the school was aware he did it (they were, but I argued for him), and won't tolerate it a second time. He may have done it again, I don't know. But he didn't do it in my class.
posted by CarlRossi at 6:34 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


the cydonian: "For me, that this happened in Stern is a bigger story than anything else; to put it in biz-school-speak, surely, it cant be good for their "brand" when one of their professors openly says he can't do his job properly because he's concerned that there'll be a direct impact on his career progress for reporting on plagiarism."

I assume that you mean "surprising" in a "Surprising that things like this didn't come out sooner" kind of way.

Because, knowing what I do about Stern, this doesn't surprise me one iota. Stern is, after all, the school that built Goldman and Lehman.

I know a handful of Stern graduates, and although I get the impression that it's a (very) good school, they each flat-out told me that one doesn't attend Stern for the education or classes -- you attend it so that you can network, and eventually be fast-tracked into a 6-figure-starting-salary career at Goldman Sachs.
posted by schmod at 7:28 AM on July 18, 2011


But what purpose did writing an ungraded one-page essay every class serve?

I can't speak to that particular class, but the most obvious purpose a one-page essay every class can serve is to encourage students to actually do the reading.

Another possible purpose is to see what students are thinking about in relation to the readings. Are there common misconceptions? Does someone make a connection you'd never noticed? How should you modify your plans for discussion?

Or 'outlines' for philosophy the previous semester that were graded on whether or not you did the assignment and had the required number of papers and were not actually read?

The most obvious reason, if these were outlines for a future paper, is that requiring students to turn in outlines short-circuits many possible failure paths. The times that I've just asked students to turn in a paper, full stop, there are inevitably several that are irredeemably terrible. Some whose topic is simply irrelevant to any reasonable understanding of what the course is about (ie, in a class about Congress, a paper about who really killed JFK). Others whose execution was just very bad, or who relied on two wikipedia articles and Ben's Guide To Government For Kids.

Requiring the outline ahead of time means that I can tell people that their paper, as outlined, could not possibly earn better than a D or an F. Either because their topic is inappropriate, or because the structure of their paper as outlined is just terrible, or whatever. It even means that I can award someone an A on their outline specifically because they've given me enough information about their plans to know tell them, in no uncertain terms, that they need to change those plans.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:32 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I assume that you mean "surprising" in a "Surprising that things like this didn't come out sooner" kind of way.

Not surprised that there was plagiarism in Stern (or any other school), no. Was commenting that a lecturer from Stern flat-out saying the system there wont "incentivize" (hate the term, just speaking the patois there) him catching plagiarists can't be good for their stern reputation (See what I did there!)
posted by the cydonian at 7:45 AM on July 18, 2011


I do not see how students who do research on the Internet and compile that research in answering a question have cheated. If you want to demand more rigorous citations from your students, demand them.

Ok, but you're missing the point--his students who were plagiarizing did not cite their sources. That's why it's plagiarism. They weren't copying stuff from the internet or their frat buddy and saying, "here's were I got this," they were passing that material off as their own original work. We do demand rigorous citations from our students, and when they fail to provide them, we call them out as plagiarists. Maybe it's the word "cheating" that is confusing this issue; at some universities, they solve this by using an umbrella term like "academic dishonesty," under which activities like cheating by copying an answer on an exam and plagiarism both fall.

Also, while I can't speak to the quality of the plagiarized assignments in this article, in my experience, students who do this almost always turn in otherwise awful assignments. Not only do they plagiarize, but they don't even do it well. So even if they had cited their sources (i.e. Wikipedia), they still would probably only earn a D or an F, because they didn't actually answer the question.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:54 AM on July 18, 2011


The author writes:

"This, of course, had a direct effect to my teaching evaluations. Instead of the usual evaluations that were in the region of 6.0 to 6.5 out of seven, this time my ratings went down by almost a point: 5.3 out of 7.0. Instead of being a teacher in the upper percentiles, I was now below average."

Well, yeah. Because the cheating sting made his classroom into a police state. Cheating should have been handled discreetly on an individual basis. And without hidden traps like the subtle Excel spreadsheet changes. If he had announced all of these traps on the first day, they would have worked as a deterrent to prevent cheating --- the gold standard is to make sure that students recognize that cheating has become more difficult than simply doing the assignment.

"More than 45 hours in completely unproductive discussions, when the total lecture time for the course was just 32 hours."

Yes, it was a waste of time. There's no need to extract a confession for the most blatant cases of cheating. The evidence is there, a smoking gun. Flag it and move on. (which in this case means pass it on to the disciplinarians).
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:04 AM on July 18, 2011


I don't know about other people and their schools, but it wasn't like it was hard to cheat in final exams, either when I was in undergrad. I wore pants, which had pockets in them, and I could easily have gone to the bathroom -- the invigilators waited outside, if they even followed me, often they just waved me out -- and read up on any answers while I was there. Or I could have stashed stuff in the bathroom in advance. (I may have done one of these for a language class, but nothing else.)

I do think that the "do homework sets all alone without anyone else" idea is weird. We'd often do homework sets in groups of 6-10, where you would do what you could, then get help from other people on the ones you couldn't and help those who couldn't solve the ones you could. In the end, you have everyone comparing their solutions, so we all had the same answers (almost always all the right answers). This was wonderful, and everyone learned a lot. But in some classes, there was a "do the homework all by yourself and don't discuss or compare" rule, and it was a lot moer difficult to learn that way.
posted by jeather at 8:11 AM on July 18, 2011


Plagiarism is just part of the natural evolution of a society under deep technological changes.

Anyone old enough to remember Napster knows that "the internet treats censorship like a virus and just finds ways around it." Students are finding ways AROUND obstacles (harsh punishment, rotating exams, stern warnings, better policing, Turnitin ...) because that is what they are programmed to do. Throw a new barrier in front of them and they will create a new route. It is very creative, actually.

Years ago futurists said that institutions are ten years behind society ... I think it is far more than ten years now.

Education (especially university education) as it has been known ... is dead.
posted by Surfurrus at 8:14 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


THE truly sad thing about cheating in school is that it leaves you unprepared for life outside of school where there is no cheating taking place, and thus you are adrift in a world you can not adjust to.
posted by Postroad at 8:22 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Plagiarism is just part of the natural evolution of a society under deep technological changes.

Um, what? Plagiarism is an old, old phenomenon. It was not invented by the internet. It might be easier to find sources to copy now, but it's also easier to find what people have copied. But copying someone's work and failing to give attribution is not at all a new concept.

What on earth does this have to do with censorship?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:39 AM on July 18, 2011


Whether or not plagiarists are expelled, maybe universities should keep a record of who cheated and let that information be released to prospective employers. If I was hiring someone who claimed to have a degree in some major from a certain university with an average of such and such, I would want to be able to contact that university to verify the claim and to find out whether there was anything such as plagiarism on that student's record that might make me think twice about hiring him or her.
posted by pracowity at 8:45 AM on July 18, 2011


ROU_Xenophobe: “I can't speak to that particular class, but the most obvious purpose a one-page essay every class can serve is to encourage students to actually do the reading.”

I've never taught, so maybe I'm just missing something here, but: how does this make sense? Doesn't assigning a small essay encourage students to stop reading and, uh, write a small essay? Maybe it's because I'm ADD (though I don't think I'm alone in that among students today) but this whole one-page-essay thing was always incredibly distracting to me. I would much rather have just actually, um, done the reading.
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 AM on July 18, 2011


@DiscourseMaker: Fair enough, but the focus is still on writing papers and citing sources. The class wasn't a class in rhetoric. We can lament the fact that people no longer write letters and that writing skills are not what they were fifty years ago, but the paradigm of writing papers as a principal proof of mastery of a subject has to change. Some people just aren't good writers. The Internet in many ways allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants in ways that we could not before. The availability of knowledge on the Internet is a good thing. It may well be that the students' acts constituted academic dishonesty, but I don't know what the ground rules were. If the goal was to have them answer questions that needed to be researched, what principled reason exists to preclude them from considering someone else's work? That work could be updated, modified, or critiqued. It could be used as a template. Were students permitted to cite such examples? I do not think I would trust a document that had ignored the work of colleagues or examined precedents. Why is that seen as harmful here? Set the ground rules for citations at the beginning of the class, and follow them.
posted by tesseract420 at 9:00 AM on July 18, 2011


In the end, you have everyone comparing their solutions, so we all had the same answers (almost always all the right answers).

I was a math grader for like 3 years of college, and I assure you that a competent grader can tell the difference between "these people worked together and helped each other get the right answer" and "these 3 people all copied off THIS person."

I have to admit that I did cheat on one freshman Chemistry assignment when I was in college, because I had planned to do it the night before class but got ridiculously, terrifyingly drunk instead. I should have just taken a zero on it (it wouldn't have mattered in the long run) but I was pretty hung over and thought that I could just use my friend's assignment as a "guide" the next morning.

So yeah, I have a hard time condemning all students to a life of unemployment if they happen to be caught cheating.
posted by muddgirl at 9:01 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: I think the theory is that the average student won't do the reading unless you force them to produce something that certifies that they did it. Similarly, in math classes we assign and collect and grade homework at least partially to force the students to practice. A lot of us seem to act as if students won't do anything unless you put a grade on it.

That might be true, but it's also kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy; if almost every class you've ever taken has been structured that way, of course you're going to treat things that way. And no one instructor can change this, I fear; if I decide "screw this, I'm just going to give everyone an A and then we can focus on actually learning"1, a good number of the students would just not pay as much attention to my class because they are good at triage and playing the GPA-maximization game.

1. this is something I think about trying every so often.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


muddgirl: I was a math grader for like 3 years of college, and I assure you that a competent grader can tell the difference between "these people worked together and helped each other get the right answer" and "these 3 people all copied off THIS person."

A summer class I taught once had seventeen students. I got pretty good at telling who was working together; not surprisingly, they were the people who tended to sit next to each other. I felt bad for those people who didn't know anyone else in the class and had to do the homework alone.

Also, some of them are bad at copying. My favorite was the student who mistook the number "13" for the letter "B". (But it somehow magically turned back to 13 later.)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:09 AM on July 18, 2011


It may well be that the students' acts constituted academic dishonesty, but I don't know what the ground rules were. If the goal was to have them answer questions that needed to be researched, what principled reason exists to preclude them from considering someone else's work? That work could be updated, modified, or critiqued. It could be used as a template. Were students permitted to cite such examples? I do not think I would trust a document that had ignored the work of colleagues or examined precedents. Why is that seen as harmful here? Set the ground rules for citations at the beginning of the class, and follow them.

That is sailing past the point in a barque of majesty. They did not update, modify, use as a template or critique those sources, they copy-pasted without bothering to do anything else to the material. I've not been in a class in the last ten years that didn't go over, in great detail, how to cite sources and why not citing sources is considered academic dishonesty.
posted by winna at 9:12 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why does he have to spend so damn much time with them? There's no sob story that justifies that level of cheatery. Give them zeroes, do not discuss their "work" with them.

Where I teach, the instructor is now required not just to discuss the issue with the student, but to extract a confession from the plagiarizing student. Insane.

And to those complaining that plagiarism is the fault of professors who assign boring and pointless exercises, I've had students plagiarize senior theses, the capstone project in their major, where they choose the topics themselves!
posted by agent99 at 9:14 AM on July 18, 2011


I would want to be able to contact that university to verify the claim and to find out whether there was anything such as plagiarism on that student's record that might make me think twice about hiring him or her.

My guess would be that this could very well be a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

tesseract420: Were students permitted to cite such examples? I do not think I would trust a document that had ignored the work of colleagues or examined precedents. Why is that seen as harmful here? Set the ground rules for citations at the beginning of the class, and follow them.

I don't know what kind of examples the students in this person's class were or were not allowed to cite, but that's immaterial, because they weren't citing them. Plagiarism arises when students don't follow the ground rules.

Citation doesn't just mean using previous work, it means using the work, and explicitly giving credit to the original author.

I feel like we're talking at cross-purposes here.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:15 AM on July 18, 2011


I was a math grader for like 3 years of college, and I assure you that a competent grader can tell the difference between "these people worked together and helped each other get the right answer" and "these 3 people all copied off THIS person."

No doubt. But a number of classes I have had ban the first as well as the second.
posted by jeather at 9:16 AM on July 18, 2011


I've had students plagiarize senior theses, the capstone project in their major, where they choose the topics themselves!

Apparently you can even buy PhD theses from people online, and I found this often enough when googling for dissertation-writing advice that I suspect some people do it. (I suppose buying a paper from a paper mill isn't exactly the same thing as what we're talking about, but it's certainly related.) I always wondered how someone could actually pass that off as their own work; I know if I'd walked into my advisor's office saying "here's my thesis!" when I hadn't been working on it before he'd have been more than a bit suspicious...

(Googling for dissertation-writing advice was one of my favorite forms of procrastination while writing the damn thing.)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:17 AM on July 18, 2011


I was a Teaching Assistant for a Com Sci Programming in Assembly class, and in my pile of hand-ins for one assignment, I found three incidents of blatant copying. I brought this up with the professor and he told me not to worry about it, and to give the students the mark they would have earned if they hadn't copied or colluded.

My opinion of Computer Science at the undergrad level changed that day, and I thought of how much a schmuck I had been for actually trying to complete my assignments on my own (I was still an undergrad). I don't think I ever recovered from that, and ironically had to drop out due to poor grades (I never was very good at school). I ended up graduating with a Commerce degree, which is par for the course as far as these things go. Cue the derision at another person transfering into an easy program.

Meanwhile scores of students graduated because they copied all of the busy-work programming assignments (they all are) and were able to spend the time mastering difficult concepts in the many mandatory and invaluable math classes that make up the meat of a real Computer Science program.
posted by Yowser at 9:18 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah I know, jeather. I think some profs (just like lots of students) don't know whether homework should be a learning opportunity or a test.
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 AM on July 18, 2011


I think the theory is that the average student won't do the reading unless you force them to produce something that certifies that they did it.

Oh, it's not a theory--my students will flat-out admit that they won't do the reading unless we give them assignments that force them to. I am being completely literal here; students have said this to me in class when I ask them why nobody is prepared to discuss the reading. And if you're trying to run a discussion-based class, it's a lot more challenging when nobody knows what you're talking about.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2011


When 1 out of 5 students in the class being involved in a cheating case,

Not only I paid a significant financial penalty

Suggestions to change completely the assignments from year to year are appealing on the first sight

(+ dozens more-- Like him; I don't have time to cite them all)

I find the tenured professor's sloppy, barely-coherent-English writing just as disheartening as the account that 20+% of his students are cheating. He hasn't even a command of tense.

Nice to know that a post-5th-grade grasp on communicating teh accZuratelies gets you a permanent parking spot and a pension.

My role is to educate and teach, not to enforce honest behavior.

Hmm. Given his aptitude (not to mention his obliviousness to it, and/or his failure to drum up any resources or assistance to make up for it), perhaps his professors had the same policy?

world, hell, handbasket. grar.
posted by herbplarfegan at 9:22 AM on July 18, 2011


One could see a policy of not punishing cheaters in business school to be the Invisible Hand of the Free Market in action. The marks they may have lost for not knowing the material they get back for showing initiative and competitive instinct, proving by example that they're fit to succeed in the world of business.
posted by acb at 9:25 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


And if you're trying to run a discussion-based class, it's a lot more challenging when nobody knows what you're talking about.

I would think "not looking stupid in front of your peers" might be motivating. But I suppose if nobody's doing the reading then the one who did looks stupid.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:25 AM on July 18, 2011


I've never taught, so maybe I'm just missing something here, but: how does this make sense? Doesn't assigning a small essay encourage students to stop reading and, uh, write a small essay?

The idea is that if there is a small assignment that cannot be satisfactorily completed without at least skimming the reading, fewer students will not do any of the reading at all. You could do the same thing with frequent quizzes over the reading, but these eat up class time, and there's little enough of that to start with.

Since you've never taught, students who don't do any of the reading is indeed a serious problem. It can be a problem even in relatively elite schools, but the problems get worse in non-elite schools, required and introductory courses, and with students majoring in other fields. At its worst, I've commonly had students in a required introductory course ask me "I've failed the first two midterms... do you think I should buy the book?"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would think "not looking stupid in front of your peers" might be motivating. But I suppose if nobody's doing the reading then the one who did looks stupid.

Nah, more like a swot, the kid everyone hated in middle school.

As to those who blow off the issue of cheating - you okay with this when you're stepping onto an airplane or into a doctor's office? Or salting away some retirement funds?

Maybe I just scare easy.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:34 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't intend to "blow off" the issue of cheating, but I think it's silly to pretend that people don't cheat in all walks of life - cheating at university is not a unique phenomenon.

I absolutely think that students should be punished for cheating, commensurate with the offense. I also think that at some schools professors need more leeway in dealing with cheaters, or they need a separate honor board system for investigating and punishing cheaters. But I don't think there's any perfect system that will completely eliminate cheating, I think that the majority of students have cheated at least once in their school career, and yet we manage to graduate perfectly competent doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, and businessmen.
posted by muddgirl at 9:40 AM on July 18, 2011


I would think "not looking stupid in front of your peers" might be motivating.

Nope. They often seem more than happy to just sit there mute. The only thing that works, other than writing assignments or quizzes, is to tell them (and follow through) that you will cold-call on random people in the next class. Otherwise they are more than happy to let that one person who did read handle the bulk of the discussion.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2011


Um, what? Plagiarism is an old, old phenomenon. It was not invented by the internet. It might be easier to find sources to copy now, but it's also easier to find what people have copied. But copying someone's work and failing to give attribution is not at all a new concept.

This thread is about how much, much more pervasive plagiarism has become -- and a testament to how fast new plagiarism schemes develop. The rapid rate of technology changes are completely unique to the computer chip age. All use of 'force' will be met with resistance. We can't look backwards for answers.

And re: 'giving attribution' -- look to the internet again; conversations/debates/discussions routinely have 'attribution' in the form of copy-and-paste arguments. So most students understand giving attribution -- what they don't understand is the absurd extraction of the skill when it has no relevancy to real life.


What on earth does this have to do with censorship?

"Censorship" is the deliberate interruption of flow of information. People who were against Wikileaks thought there should be some 'censorship' of such activities. The majority of students (and general population?) see flow of information absolutely essential to life at this time. Teachers who would interrupt what students believe is a 'sane reaction to insane demands' are considered just another form of censorship -- so the students devise work-arounds. We still call it plagiarism.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:06 AM on July 18, 2011


I would think "not looking stupid in front of your peers" might be motivating. But I suppose if nobody's doing the reading then the one who did looks stupid.

When I studied politics as part of my BA in the late '90s it was standard for nobody in a tutorial to have done the readings. Sometimes there was a mature-age student around to fill in the gaps with obtuse, time-wasting questions and ramblings about how much better activism was in the 1970s but if not then we spent most of the time staring into space while the tutor took the opportunity to give us a mini-lecture about his or her pet interpretation of Lenin or whatever.

What can I say? I was a 17-year-old slacker who should have spent a couple of years working or something before I went to uni. At least I never cheated.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:10 AM on July 18, 2011


As a college instructor, I knew there would always be people in my classes who wanted to cheat. I chalked it up to their 12 years of conditioning in a dysfunctional educational system. (I was an early convert to 'unschooling' via Ivan Illich and John Holt.)

I began my classes teaching to the students who were still open to inspiration - the ones who still had a spark in them. I did not punish those on the edges, but gave them time to watch, listen and tentatively venture into a new kind of learning experience. As the class went on, most all would join in with great focus. They had to be sure it was not a 'trick.' The learning centered on them -- their innate wisdom, their curiosity, and their needs. There were no comparisons between students. There were no false 'tests'. There were real world examples (very HIGH standards); there was always access to resources/sources; there were challenges; there was a rigorous framework (given with good reasoning = real life application). I taught students, not data/subjects.

In the end, there were always some who surpassed all expectations; the majority simply surprised themselves; a few held onto their prejudice about learning in general. And a very few were caught cheating. That was usually a pretty sad situation and they learned more from that than anything else in the class. There is no reason to cheat one's self out of a chance to live and think more deeply.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:26 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow I can't believe so many people are defending these cheaters. Plagarism is dishonest; its theft. It's passing someone else's work off as your own. It's not fair to those who do the work. So what if the assignment is stupid? is that an excuse? Life is full of petty, pointless tasks. Would you want a doctor or lawyer who cheated his way through school? (ok maybe a lawyer) Dont know how to write a paper? Maybe you should get help at the writing center. Incentives? What about personal integrity and pride? Turning a blind eye toward cheating sends a message that those things dont matter. Someone who cheats in school has demonstrated that he lacks honor and integrity so how do you think he will behave when he is out of school?
posted by Acromion at 10:42 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Plagiarism is soooooooo wrong! We should END it!

Beverly Connelly: Everybody wants that, dear. It doesn't exist.

--- "As Good As it Gets"
posted by Surfurrus at 10:46 AM on July 18, 2011


There's a difference between defending (or really, explaining) cheaters, and people defending cheating.

To me, the people who are getting upset about cheating seem to live in a fantasy world where living a pefectly moral and ethical life is possible.
posted by muddgirl at 11:16 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pinback: the number of core concepts per subject that can get taught in a 3 month semester (I've seen 6 mentioned as a maximum before student's brains start exploding)

Do you remember where?

(Not making a joke about proper citation; just interested in learning more.)
posted by stebulus at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


DiscourseMarker: “Oh, it's not a theory--my students will flat-out admit that they won't do the reading unless we give them assignments that force them to. I am being completely literal here; students have said this to me in class when I ask them why nobody is prepared to discuss the reading. And if you're trying to run a discussion-based class, it's a lot more challenging when nobody knows what you're talking about.”

Well, like I said, I haven't taught; so I imagine you know better than me. But (you may realize this) I'm almost certain this is a distortion on your students' part. They don't mean "we won't do the reading unless you grade us on an assignment." They mean "we won't feel comfortable faking it unless you give us an assignment we can easily cheat on."

It seems like the only recourse is to grade on discussion participation. If nobody wants to "discuss," an oral exam seems like an idea that would work.
posted by koeselitz at 11:20 AM on July 18, 2011


To me, the people who are getting upset about cheating seem to live in a fantasy world where living a pefectly moral and ethical life is possible.

Because not cheating is so hard, man! If I can't be perfect in all areas of my life forever then what's the point of any of it? I might as well cheat on my chem exam!
posted by rtha at 11:21 AM on July 18, 2011


ROU_Xenophobe: “Since you've never taught, students who don't do any of the reading is indeed a serious problem. It can be a problem even in relatively elite schools, but the problems get worse in non-elite schools, required and introductory courses, and with students majoring in other fields. At its worst, I've commonly had students in a required introductory course ask me 'I've failed the first two midterms... do you think I should buy the book?'”

Heh. Yeah, anybody who's been at any college in the last ten years ought to know that, whether they've taught or not.

I just – it seems circular to me. You assign an essay that is easy to cheat on in order to make sure that people do the reading? I mean, aren't there more certain ways to find out if they've done the reading? At this point a short essay for every class doesn't really indicate anything at all, does it?
posted by koeselitz at 11:25 AM on July 18, 2011


rtha - you are honestly claiming that you have never, ever broken a moral or ethical precept. Ever. In your entire life?

Again, I'm not defending cheating. Cheating is clearly harmful both to people and to society. However, I am defending the fact that a perfectly nice, rational, smart person can be in a situation where it is more rational to cheat that to not cheat.

The way to fix this isn't to throw our hands up and label all people who cheat as evil and lazy idiots (and continue rewarding them for cheating) - it's to set up situations where people are rewarded for doing good work and actually punished for cheating.
posted by muddgirl at 11:25 AM on July 18, 2011


Ah, I guess what you mean, RUO_Xenophobe, is that statistically it seems to encourage people at least to do the reading. Is that what you've found?
posted by koeselitz at 11:27 AM on July 18, 2011


I don't get the punish, crack down, law and order posts. When did these tactics ever improve any situation?

Think 'war on drugs'. Solved?
posted by Surfurrus at 11:32 AM on July 18, 2011


If I can't be perfect in all areas of my life forever then what's the point of any of it? I might as well cheat on my chem exam!

Questions I ask students:

1.) You are paying for this education; you are paying this instructor. Are you getting what you pay for?

2.) If you are not interested in chemistry (or whatever) or are not ever going to use knowledge of chemistry, why are you studying it?**

3.) If your degree requires a chemistry (or whatever) course and you want the degree, what do you not understand about 'price of admission'?

4.) Do you imagine choices other than cheat or not cheat? i.e., ... can you get a better teacher? ... can you get credit for it online/self-study? ... can you learn something in spite of yourself? ... can you talk to the teacher about alternative ways to do the work? ... or ...?

OWN your education, damn it. You are paying for it (in time and money). Cheating is just affirmation of victim-hood.


** This is a trick question, since we don't know what we don't know - which can be one of the wonders of college education ... learning something interesting that we never imagined we would want to learn ... let alone use.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:42 AM on July 18, 2011


rtha - you are honestly claiming that you have never, ever broken a moral or ethical precept. Ever. In your entire life?

Of course not. But I haven't used those times as an excuse to go "Well, since I did it then, and failed to be perfect, I guess I don't have to worry about doing the right thing any more in any other context." Which is what you seemed to be saying specifically when you said people who are getting upset about cheating seem to live in a fantasy world where living a pefectly moral and ethical life is possible, which reads to me more like "Anyone who expects people to act ethically is an idiot, because acting ethically is impossible and pointless unless you're going to do it all the time."

I also have tried to not use the times I've acted unethically (which, for the record, I never did in an academic context - skived off? put in the bare minimum effort? Sure. Cheated? No.) as a way to tell my friends/family/mentors/teachers that they're stupid for being disappointed in me when I've been unethical.
posted by rtha at 11:45 AM on July 18, 2011


They don't mean "we won't do the reading unless you grade us on an assignment." They mean "we won't feel comfortable faking it unless you give us an assignment we can easily cheat on."

I'm not sure I understand what you mean here, actually. And I don't give assignments that are easy to cheat on. Which is why, when they do plagiarize, they are almost always *also* doing the assignment completely wrong.

Example: An assignment, from the first few weeks of an intro course on mass communication that I taught several years ago: Write a short essay discussing what you think the future of media will look like in 5, 10, and 50 years.

So basically, you could *make stuff up* as long as you did a plausible job of defending it.

Result: A student cheated by copying and pasting text wholesale from a cell phone manufacturer's website. Didn't even bother to couch the stuff in terms of an opinion, either, just literally dumped a bunch of text on the page and turned it in. So even if it wasn't plagiarized, it still would've been a failing essay, because the student didn't do the actual assignment correctly.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:47 AM on July 18, 2011


rtha - either I'm not making myself clear or you are misinterpreting me.

There is a huge scale of cheating, from my one incident in 4 years of college to a sociopath who habitually cheats and does not recognize that it's wrong.

This thread (starting with the author of the original piece) seems to conflate the entire scale of cheating as one single behavior. I have been trying to point out that there is a scale, and that a lot of the low-level cheating can be all-but eliminated with some thoughtfulness (and yes, effort) on the part of educators and administrators, and I have been labeled some kind of... I don't know... like a cheating colluder or something.

Is it so offensive to observe that some schools (and indeed, some classrooms) have cheating epidemics while others don't? And to observe that the difference is not in the caliber of students but in the culture of the school? And that professors and administrators contribute to that culture?
posted by muddgirl at 11:56 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Four classes - Spanish, English, Speech, Psych, plus going to the dojo twice a week meant that there was not a single day I didn't pump out at least a couple hundred words either in class or out of it, and while I was -very- heavy on the classes that required writing this semester, that's not unusual for Liberal Arts degrees. Or Psych or History or anything that's not Sciences.

What? My word. I just finished law at Cambridge. About 1-1.5k words a day of essay, maybe.
posted by jaduncan at 12:03 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Probably some of both, muddgirl (you unclear, me misinterpreting). I was struck by your assertion that people who are upset by cheating must live in a fantasty world. That still strikes me as "huh?", but I agree that there is a range and scale of cheating, and there should be a range and scale of punishment/correction/incentives to not cheat.

I mean, yeah, if one kid in a class of 50 is cheating, that's a completely different problem from one in which half the class or more is cheating. One problem is more about the kid; the other is systemic, and needs a different response.
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on July 18, 2011


Is it so offensive to observe that some schools (and indeed, some classrooms) have cheating epidemics while others don't? And to observe that the difference is not in the caliber of students but in the culture of the school? And that professors and administrators contribute to that culture?

Yeah, I've never even heard of it being an issue in the Law department here (and it really would be commented on). I think having an entirely exam based final mark helps, though.
posted by jaduncan at 12:14 PM on July 18, 2011


Incentives? What about personal integrity and pride?

You're joking, right? The first is a social construct that must be learned and the second only applies to concerns with which the individual feels a strong connection--that connection also being a social construct as often as not.
posted by Ardiril at 12:18 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha - I didn't intend to say that all people who are "upset" by cheating in the concrete - situations where they or friends or their institutional connections are being harmed by cheating. I DO mean to say that I am confused by people who are getting upset about the abstract concept of students cheating, as if there is no situation in which cheating is understandable or even justifiable.
posted by muddgirl at 12:29 PM on July 18, 2011


...I botched up the beginning of that sentence quite badly and I hope it's still understandable in context.
posted by muddgirl at 12:30 PM on July 18, 2011


Questions I ask students:

Let me answer this via my 18-year-old, soon-to-drop-out self (albeit I thought way too highly of my abilities to cheat, whether I had them or not):

1) My parents/the government/a loan agency is paying for this and being 18 I don't quite grasp the concept of "money" too well yet, outside of when it is in my pocket or a low 3-digit sum in my bank account. The idea that I am paying to sit here doesn't really click considering I've spent the last god-knows-how-many years sitting in high school wthout paying for it and this doesn't feel any different.

2) They're forcing me. I don't want to be here any more than you probably don't want me to be here.

3) Because, again, I have little experience with the concept of "paying dues." I coasted through high school and apparently college is harder but that didn't sink in yet.
posted by griphus at 12:49 PM on July 18, 2011


It's looking depressingly like this lecturer's students simply don't understand that what they're engaging in is wrong.

You damn well know it's wrong when you lie to cover it up.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:07 PM on July 18, 2011


griphus, I would say your 18-yr-old self probably grew up in a time when parents and government loans covered education and when we still clung to the idea that college was just an extension of high school (and valuable for the degree alone). AND I would guess you ended up in a class with an instructor still teaching according to those 1950's assumptions as well. A pity.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:10 PM on July 18, 2011


You damn well know it's wrong when you lie to cover it up.

You know what, I'd actually like to see some anthropological research on cheating.

Public universities (where tuition is like $3,000 per year and a lot of kids work all year round)

Vs.

Private universities (certain ones, where tuition is like $45k/year and most kids don't have to work to make ends meet)


Different socioeconomic backgrounds...is one less likely to cheat because its just not acceptable in the culture they were raised in, or is it just as acceptable as any other rule breaking (that happens privately) in that culture?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:32 PM on July 18, 2011


winna: "That is sailing past the point in a barque of majesty."

Flagged as magnificent.
posted by Rockear at 1:32 PM on July 18, 2011


The TurnItIn software looks incredibly useful.

Ugh. I realize that Turnitin helps weed out cheating, but as a pretty recent graduate, when my professors used Turnitin, it drove me crazy. How is it at all legal for anyone to do what they do?

When you submit a paper to Turnitin, it doesn't just check the paper against websites and other content in its databases, it keeps the paper forever, adding it to those databases in order to compare it to future papers submitted to the service. It sells its comparison service, in which it uses the contents of student work, and makes a profit. The people whose written work allows for the functionality of the comparison service, and thus provides the value of the service, receive absolutely no financial benefit, and arguably no other benefit.

In addition, professors submit papers to Turnitin often without the knowledge or permission of their students. When I submit a paper in a class, I don't sign some kind of waiver that says "Hey, even though this is my personal work to which I own the copyright, feel totally free to use it in any way you like! Actually, you know what? Go ahead and give it to a company, that will use it to make money, of which I will never see a cent!" So, how can doing so be legally justified? I do not get it.
posted by audacity at 1:32 PM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


muddgirl - thanks, I understand your point much better now. Not sure I agree, but I understand. Thanks.
posted by rtha at 1:35 PM on July 18, 2011


In addition, professors submit papers to Turnitin often without the knowledge or permission of their students. When I submit a paper in a class, I don't sign some kind of waiver that says "Hey, even though this is my personal work to which I own the copyright, feel totally free to use it in any way you like! Actually, you know what? Go ahead and give it to a company, that will use it to make money, of which I will never see a cent!" So, how can doing so be legally justified? I do not get it.

This is just a guess: read the student agreement.
posted by jaduncan at 1:39 PM on July 18, 2011


jaduncan, this was a few years ago, but in every class we had a whole session where we went over the course syllabus very thoroughly, and nothing of this nature was ever included. Just your general "Cheating and plagiarism are wrong; you agree not to do these things, and if you do, there will be consequences as decreed in the student honor thingamajig." There was nothing of this nature in our general university agreements. If you submit a paper to Turnitin, you check off a little "Agree to Terms" checkbox, but if your professor is the one submitting it, should it still count?

I realize that not everyone understands or shares my concerns, and that many see them as unimportant compared to the issue of student plagiarism, but personally I find the use of a program that copies and uses work without the owner's permission as a way to combat plagiarism to be problematic (to say the least).

I am not the only person who has this problem with Turnitin.
posted by audacity at 1:51 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


You damn well know it's wrong when you lie to cover it up.

You know what, I'd actually like to see some anthropological research on cheating.


As interesting as such research might be, it does not address the fact that -- at least in this story -- everyone confronted with being caught basically pulled the same routine:

- I got...help from friends (possibly because their friend's mother's dog's veterinarian's mailman's half-brother from Azerbaijan just had a stroke -- "I was all busy and stuff")
- By friends I mean a former student.
- By former student, I mean the Internet.
- By help, I mean all my content.

Unlike most things in life, this seems cut and dry; you knowingly submitted someone else's work and got caught. If that concept does not register with you, then the entire educational system has failed you; I see no reason you should continue on to complete the very tail end of it; clearly some of the more basic lessons did not register.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:55 PM on July 18, 2011


Faculty performance is almost entirely ranked by student evaluations, rather than peer based evaluations; going after cheaters in classrooms is more likely than not bound to lower your evaluation scores.

Schools could reverse this perverse incentive instantly and effortlessly by telling professors that if they caught n cheaters, n+1 of their lowest evaluations would be thrown out before calculating the final score.
posted by jamjam at 2:00 PM on July 18, 2011


Schools could reverse this perverse incentive instantly and effortlessly by telling professors that if they caught n cheaters, n+1 of their lowest evaluations would be thrown out before calculating the final score.

But let's say that a professor accuses 20 students of cheating over the course of the semester, and asks them to somehow prove that they're not cheating. 10 of them actually turn out to have been cheated, 10 were accused wrongly. Don't you think that the 10 who were accused wrongly might give the professor poor evaluations for being dragged through an unpleasant process?

Also, it seems that if an unusually large number of your students cheat -- compared to, say, when the same class is taught by other people, or to other classes taught by the same students -- that's a symptom of something that's wrong with your teaching. (Fortunately I haven't had cheating rates high enough in my classes to actually have had to think about this. Or maybe I have and I'm just oblivious, because trying to catch students cheating makes me really fucking depressed. Yes, it's part of my job, but it's a very unpleasant part and I try to avoid it. I prefer to focus on the students who actually make an honest effort.)
posted by madcaptenor at 2:09 PM on July 18, 2011


As a university professor[1] who cares a great deal about teaching (but also about research, and having a life outside of work) I find these discussions really frustrating. What you have is a situation with many causes, in which many of the people involved see only one or a few of them and thus place all of the blame there.

Consider the following (not too abnormal) situation:

- Typical big state university. Huge range of student interests and abilities, but the majority are 18-20-year-olds with only a vague sense of what they want out of their life, for whom the main reason they are at university is that it is what is expected out of them and they aren't sure what else they would do.

- Increasingly dire funding situation means that many if not most of the classes available have hundreds of students in them. There are just a few TAs, mostly overworked and underpaid. Often they don't have the necessary background to teach in that subject, but they are all that is available (because the ones who do either don't exist in the department or have fellowships and don't need to teach).

- Because of this class size, assessment has to be easy to grade on a massive scale (and easy to codify so that it is clear that it was graded fairly). The difficulty of implementation scales exponentially with the size of the class. This means that student presentations, or "real-world" projects like editing Wikipedia are not just slightly more difficult to implement with a large class, they are orders of magnitude more difficult -- and that trying to do something like that with a class of 200, much less 400, has a non-trivial probability of turning into a fiasco.

- Most students who come to the tutorials and small-group situations are completely unprepared. They haven't been following lectures and they haven't done the reading. This makes tutorials even more worthless for the few who have kept up with things. They also make it very very hard to do anything challenging or interesting with them in a tutorial.

- As someone said above, for many subjects it's actually surprisingly difficult to come up with an assessment that is (a) very different each year; (b) accurately measures understanding of the core topics; (c) easy to implement on a massive scale; and (d) it not game-able by a motivated cheater.

- Professors pay a huge cost to doing more than the minimum when it comes to teaching. The actual financial cost reported in the blog post came as a shock to me, but I know I'm not the only one who has had entire semesters where I've done essentially no research because of teaching duties. I like teaching, but given that my job is nominally to spend only 40% of my time teaching and I'm getting evaluated on my other responsibilities as well, that is not as it should be. Work-life balance for professors is completely fucked up, and while I've seen some lazy profs, the far more common reason for being a crap lecturer is that there is simply no time to do better -- not and also be there for your family, be a mentor to your PhD students, and do some research yourself.

So, yeah. Many assignments suck. Many students are lazy. Many professors reuse course content. But it's not nearly as simple as saying "students should be less lazy!" or "assignments should be better!" Students come to university unmotivated and alienated, and because of the funding and staffing situation, grow even more unmotivated and alienated. Professors who want to change things face the situation of spending massive amounts of time and mainly getting increased stress, reduced time with their families and their other responsibilities, and (potentially) having to deal with the fallout of hordes of angry students who resent being put into situations where they are pushed more.

In practice, most people do the best they can with what they have, and most people do better than this dire situation would predict. I see some cheating, but less than I would expect given this not-so-rosy picture. I see some lazy professors, but most seem to care far more about their students than the university administration wants them to, and they do so at a fair amount of personal cost.

But until we as a society decide that we value university education for itself, until we fund it appropriately, until a degree is useful as more than just a hoop to jump through, and until we don't mindlessly push students to go to university "just because" -- well, I don't see the underlying situation changing.

[1] Called lecturers in Australia, but whatever, it's a professor.
posted by forza at 2:16 PM on July 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


[Comments removed, cut it the fuck out.]
posted by cortex at 6:30 PM on July 18, 2011


I'd agree with the fpp that professor aren't the best placed for dealing with plagiarism. IDeally, we should adopt a more institutionalize approach that let the professor focus upon merely teaching her course.

You might try tallying an automatically generated plagiarism percentage and/or percentile alongside the student's grades, ala GPA. All students are informed of their plagiarism scores after each academic year closes out completely.

All students are welcome to contest their plagiarism cases, but this gets handled by a faculty member assigned to that specific duty, not their original professor. I'd imagine the original professor has the power to tweak the plagiarism detector's parameters during her course, but not after the course ends.

All students are entitled to wipe out a couple high plagiarism scores by retaking that class, but after that they'd need to transfer to a school that takes plagiarism less seriously.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:47 PM on July 18, 2011




stebulus: "Do you remember where?"

Unfortunately, no; I probably would have citied it if I had ;-). It could have been anything from an actual study (unlikely; education's not my field, though I may have stumbled across something) to a throwaway line in a lunchroom bull-session.

"(Not making a joke about proper citation; just interested in learning more.)"

Geez, if it'd been me I would've been making the joke!

DiscourseMarker - yeah, I've seen that sort of thing in first-year undergrad essays/assignments I've marked, and it's bloody depressing. Not only have they cheated - it's sad enough that they think they can fool someone as mildly proficient in both the subject and Googling as I am - but they've totally missed the bloody point of the exercise, which is to do at least a minimal amount of thinking.

(Maybe that's why I think parrot_person was wrong to expect to be able to get away with resubmitting an essay for a different subject - it showed absolutely no additional thinking at all. I don't get why they seem so bitter about it still, 15 years later, though maybe that's just me…)

BTW, I can beat your example - I marked an assignment a few weeks ago where a couple of students did nothing more than copypasta the materials supplied as part of the assignment. Kids, if a "<scenario> Investigation Handbook" is given to you as part of the assignment kit, its not meant to be your discussion.

Quite literally, if they'd written 3 pages blaming Space Lemmings, argued that the data didn't disprove their Space Lemming theory, and referenced it even half-decently, they would've passed…
posted by Pinback at 7:14 PM on July 18, 2011


Metafilter: comments removed, cut it the fuck out
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:17 PM on July 18, 2011


You might try tallying an automatically generated plagiarism percentage and/or percentile alongside the student's grades, ala GPA

Jeffburdges, I'm not sure you quite get it either. This is like offering restaurants the opportunity, when the food inspectors visit, to wipe out the punishment for having a kitchen full of rats and garbage by cooking really tasty food.

I strongly believe in the educational approach to plagiarism---"this is where you did wrong, you need to do it again, and I'll be reading closely to make sure it's yours"---but that said, once students know what it is and why you can't do it, you can't have any tolerance in an education system for plagiaristic activity. It's the opposite of education.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:33 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is like offering restaurants the opportunity, when the food inspectors visit, to wipe out the punishment for having a kitchen full of rats and garbage by cooking really tasty food.

In honor of my home city's food trucks and their non-hand-washing operators, let's call this the "Philadelphia soft pretzel" approach to education.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:37 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Quite literally, if they'd written 3 pages blaming Space Lemmings, argued that the data didn't disprove their Space Lemming theory, and referenced it even half-decently, they would've passed…

Once I had a essay test that threw a total left curve of a question about the theology of Hildegard von Bingen. I had no answer, because the only thing I knew about Hildegard is that I had a cd of her music with some psychedelic bees on the cover and it was pretty rocking stuff, but other than that she could have been from the freaking moon.

So I wrote my essay comparing her (I knew that much) theology to a conception of the perfect unity of a hive and the love and trust of all the bees that dwelt therein and how this was challenging for her because the early church slotted women into specific roles and how this crazed bee metaphor intersected with the realities of early church politics. It was a total mess.

Man, it was a good job that question wasn't worth more points.
posted by winna at 8:54 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Copy/paste is not an answer, it's a method; a tool. I've worked a lot with consultants. I'm not picking on McKinsey, and when I hire them I want them to check precedents. I want them to look at their (and others) past projects and see if there's anything relevant to my problem. If they find an answer that someone else has come up with that solves my problem, and it's not a trade secret, copyrighted or otherwise off-limits, I'm thrilled. There is all too much reinvention of the wheel. I still see this as a failure to document sources, not "cheating." One of my points is that the exercise of writing papers should not be the only way to learn. Take a macro view of things: some have written that with respect to Turnitin that they are horrified at 40% of the papers are plagiarized. Really? These papers for the most part are not word-for-word copied (though I admit that some are). Do you really think that hundreds of thousands of high school students have original insights about Salinger's Catcher in the Rye? Or that there is similar originality in readings of Aristotle's On the Parts of Animals? In a way it's reassuring that statistically these papers tend to converge. Of course, whether it is worthwhile to include Salinger in a curriculum is another story. As far as original insights, my guess is that Jerry's troubles at summer camp (bed wetting) might have contributed in some way to his oeuvre. Haven't seen a college paper about it, though. Perhaps there's one in the Turnitin archives. Come to think of it, Turnitin would be a pretty interesting research tool.
posted by tesseract420 at 1:15 AM on July 19, 2011


Do you really think that hundreds of thousands of high school students have original insights about Salinger's Catcher in the Rye?

Of course not. But the hope is that they come to the well worn ideas on their own. As a mental exercise. So that later on they don't default to going to a source. Because original ideas, I'm going to guess, come from people who are accustomed to think for themselves.

>I didn't intend to "blow off" the issue of cheating, but I think it's silly to pretend that people don't cheat in all walks of life - cheating at university is not a unique phenomenon.

I think that the majority of students have cheated at least once in their school career, and yet we manage to graduate perfectly competent doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, and businessmen.


No doubt they do, cheat in all walks of life that is, but this speaks to a larger cultural issue. Back in the 1950's Mark van Doren resigned a good position at Columbia because he was outed for "cheating" on a television game show. Honor demanded it. Fast forward a few decades and Bill Clinton is caught out lying under oath while president - and apparently doesn't even consider stepping down. Like he was somehow indispensable for the country to survive. Honor? What's that?

It's not just the plagiarism, either. It's the grade inflation and the bare knuckle competitiveness, the thought that others must lose. I well remember in college the books vital for a given class that mysteriously went missing without trace before most of the class could get to them. Maybe not so much a problem now, I don't know, but I never heard similar stories from my parents and grandparents generations.

So, yeah, it does go on and always will, but it is still a part of the teachers' job to point out that it is wrong, and to back words with actions. Hand out Cs where Cs are deserved and Fs were cheating is detected. People will rise to high standards if they are evenly enforced.

(I was thinking less the pilots than the people who design and build the planes.)

I will now voluntarily muddy the waters with a counter example- I know a highly respected nationally recognized doctor who only got into Med school because a classmate wrote an A worthy final paper in an unrelated but required liberal arts class that kept the GPA over the cut off line. The world is a better place for this person's practicing medicine, and had the mischief been detected, no medical career. Would I have squealed? Probably not. But then again, unusual among premeds I knew at the time, this one was not going on endlessly about the good money to be made.

But perhaps all that says is that the distribution requirement was rubbish. (Me, I think four years undergraduate followed by med school is a pretty silly system - but then, I'm no doctor.))
posted by IndigoJones at 6:25 AM on July 19, 2011


There isn't really any requirement that high school students come up with original ideas, merely that they arrange established ideas and cite them correctly. Very clever students invent their own ideas instead because that's easier than reading other people's, usually resulting in clever but random and wrong analysis. Mildly clever gain some experience recognizing & connecting good ideas. etc. You know, plagiarism isn't only about fairness to the original author. It's also about verifiability and correctness.

Umm, I proposed that students transcripts should document their plagiarism, which potentially makes the punishment permanent, Fiasco da Gama. Yeah, you should ideally require a zero credit course on plagiarism before wiping out their plagiarism score. You shouldn't really waste the good students time repeatedly explaining plagiarism repeatedly though.

Any student who plagiarized in several concurrent courses would see a permanent black mark, and maybe fail out, under my proposal, perhaps that's excessive. <shrug>
posted by jeffburdges at 7:57 AM on July 19, 2011


IndigoJones - this is exactly what I mean. We are generally OK with minor cheating that we engage in, or that our friends engage in, but then we have the audacity to get judgemental about non-contextual stories of 1-out-of-5 undergraduate students cheating in a seemingly-worthless class.

It seems a much better system, to me, to police our own acts of bad behavior, to NOT condone the sorts of cheating our friends engage in, and give the kids in the original story a metaphorical pass - they should be punished for their behavior, there's no need to dwell on how terrible and lazy and awful they may or may not be.
posted by muddgirl at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2011


(meant to say that we are OK with our own cheating incidents or those of our friends, because we know the full circumstances and can understand the logic).
posted by muddgirl at 8:01 AM on July 19, 2011


d. z. wang: "I've actually had a maths course where this was acceptable. The rule was, if you couldn't prove some lemma, you could cite someone else's proof and then use the result. The grader would mark you off a bit, depending on how much easier the problem became, but he wouldn't put you up for plagiarism. I wonder how well this would translate into the humanities?"

<rimshot>Isn't this inherently how the humanities have always worked?</rimshot>

As a coldhearted math/science nerd, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was exceptionally good at a certain kind of humanities/history course.

Of course, this happened far too late in my academic career, but I do think that I discovered the key to getting ridiculously good marks on humanities papers.

1) Pick a famous work to write about. Often this part is assigned to you, so you already get to skip a step!

2) Get really really good at using jstor. Find about a dozen papers pertaining to the topic you want to write about. Of those dozen, pick the ones in the most prominent journals, and then from those, select the three papers that you most vehemently disagree with (and perhaps one that you do agree with).

3) Take those three papers, the original work, and then proceed to tear them to shreds in your paper, but ultimately find one or two redeeming things by the end.

You see. Finding fault with other people's arguments is much easier than coming up with your own original thoughts. It's also a fantastic way to get the gears in motion to actually formulate some ideas of your own.

Obviously, it's a bad idea to call Shakespeare a contrived hack unless you have a really good argument for it. However, it's also pretty easy to formulate a refutation of commonly-accepted memes about lesser famous works.

Basically, what I'm saying is....Everything is a Remix.
posted by schmod at 8:09 AM on July 19, 2011


The article has been pulled from the blog. Here is the cached version to replace the link in the post.
posted by rollick at 8:31 AM on July 19, 2011


Interesting, Panos Ipeirotis said "When there are lawyers involved, I do not have the necessary resources to keep the blog post up."

It appears the google cache has now been nuked too, but presumably the reddit thread will Streisand it once they notice it's gone missing.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:51 AM on July 20, 2011


There is a copy still up at bspcn.com
posted by jeffburdges at 7:14 AM on July 20, 2011


I'm sure everyone is over this (or maybe not, because I'm not), but I wanted to share my own teaching experience with attempting to design something creative and useful and doesn't allow cheating.

For my first upper-div, totally me-designed course, I taught something cross-disciplinary--so, something that was largely very new to the students in my home department (which was all of the class, due to small size and enrollment priority). I had no tests, only blogs and a mock academic conference (entire lifecycle of the conference--CFP, proposals, peer reviews, presentation/posters and full papers). This meant that, although the material was unfamiliar and at some times difficult/technical, they could choose which aspects of the course most interested them and delve deeper into those. Moreover, I emphasized from day 1 that this course was NOT about the material--I would be thrilled if they picked up a deep passion for the material and ended up being inspired to do something awesome in that NICHE field, but I assumed it was unlikely. Instead, the course was about the real-world skills of taking "technical" or expert information and translating it for a non-expert audience. So writing the blogs was about taking some course-related concept, finding, whatever and writing about it to an audience of "peers who are not in this course." The academic conference was about translating info from the outside discipline into our home discipline.

Nonetheless, I caught several cheaters, both on blogs and on the conference materials. Some cheaters turned in the same paper for the conference proposal as they did for a lower-div course that required them to propose a research study. I couldn't prove this--especially because the offenders transferred in from the local CC--but the topic was inappropriate to the assignment, perfectly fit the lower-div assignment, and even a couple peer reviewers said "This seems like it's for [course], especially because they cite [textbook that CC used]." These people I gave a 20%, and told them that their topic was inappropriate and that they would have to discuss another topic with me for the actual conference paper.

I had other proposal cheaters of the copypasta variety. Unfortunately, we don't do Turnitin here, so I had to do the "google suspicious phrases" method. (Side note: Do I just have an uncommonly good ear for style? Colleagues are continually surprised that I catch cheaters this way, but it is SO OBVIOUS to me when there is a sudden shift in style.) For these folks, I would highlight the verbiage that is not theirs on a few pages and give them 0s on the assignment, saying it's plagiarized.

For every one of these folks, it elicited an "OMG I DIDN'T KNOW I WAS CHEATING!" response. And while I've always thought that was BS in the past, one girl came in nearly in tears, thinking I was going to report her to the Honor Council and keep her from graduating (yay, Spring course full of graduating seniors). Maybe she was just a really good actress, but I think she REALLY didn't know that what she was doing (knitting together copypasta from several sources) was cheating. I tutored her on notetaking and outlining, and she came back to my office hours several times for help with her final paper (and to make sure she was doing everything "right"). She showed me a draft, saying "I did what you said about the taking notes and then writing from notes...". It really sounded like to me that SHE HAD NEVER LEARNED HOW TO WRITE ORIGINAL WORK PROPERLY. Is this surprising? Somewhat, but not so much when I reflect on my own, public-school and public-university education.

I haven't gotten back my official evals yet, but I ran an extra-credit, anonymous survey, and the answers were disappointing. People were mad that there was no external motivation (i.e., tests, papers relating directly to readings, etc.) to read the readings or come to class, so class was "boring" because no one had read. Plenty of people loved that they could explore their own interests, but there were lots of other students who were of the "Just tell me what to do/memorize/regurgitate and give me my A" variety.

Maybe I'm overstating the negative feedback; I haven't gotten the quantitative results yet.

tl;dr: I set out to design something wholly creative and useful to the students, and there was still rampant cheating; perhaps some of it is unintentional and due to a failing of their prior education.
posted by amberwb at 10:47 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here’s some more info directly from Panos Ipeirotis, the professor, on why he took down the post.

Here’s a follow up article from the Chronicle of Higher Education: NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again—and Faces a Backlash.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 8:35 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


amberwb, I think there is a lot of confusion among students about plagiarism, and I certainly think that they do not come into college really well-prepared in the art of note-taking and citing. I don't know why this doesn't get drilled into them in freshman English classes, but it doesn't. But I also think there is a healthy dose of laziness involved, and a general feeling that it's not that important.

And while I think it's great if we all try to improve our assignments and design creative solution for cheating, there are always going to be topics and classes that just don't lend themselves to that. So we have to also always educate our students about academic dishonesty in its many forms, and remain vigilant. Giving up is not the answer.

Also wow-- he got a C&D letter! Eek.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:29 AM on July 22, 2011


I thought of this blog post when I read this Slate article about the Atlanta cheating scandal. I wonder how many of these educators cheated in college?
posted by bq at 2:04 PM on July 22, 2011


Until I got to college I did not take notes of any sort. I never needed to. Between lectures and textbooks I had quite enough material if I only wanted to study just hard enough to pass the class with a minimum of effort... which is precisely what I wanted, since I didn't particularly care what college I got into, really wanted to avoid impressing my peers, and thought my teachers only avoided being evil by way of being incompetent.

Since this approach had always worked for me, certain "obvious" facts about note-taking were not obvious to me, such as:
  • you need to take notes in your own words
  • you need to write down anything that you, personally, do not find obvious
  • conversely, spending every night rewriting the current section of the text, when you've already learned most of it, is a waste of time and effort
    • studying requires the efficient use of your time and effort
  • if you don't understand something well enough to write it in your own words, write a question to indicate what knowledge you need to find
    • having done this, you need to follow up on it later, by answering the question by whatever means necessary
It's likely that I heard all these things from one teacher or another at some point, but I happened not to be in a frame of mind to listen. I expect this is a common affliction in adolescence.

My inner twelve year old cringes to hear me say this, but we need a lot more repetition of these basic concepts. We need this at every level of education. We need it twenty years ago.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:01 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


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