Your Students Are Cheating

So, this is not a comfortable topic. And, surprisingly, the reaction I most frequently get from my academic colleagues is “Not my students.”

Alas.

Your students are cheating.  Not all of them. Not on everything. But on a hell of a lot more than you know, and, apparently, are willing to admit to yourself.

Why am I making this outrageous claim?

Last spring, we found, using our online testing software, that over 30% of our students cheated on every single item of their 2nd Psych 101 test.  Further, nearly all the students cheated on at least one question.

How?

We didn’t use respondus lockdown browser and they clicked out of their test to google search the answer.  But respondus lockdown browser isn’t enough.  Do your students have a smart phone?  They can use easily google test questions on their smart phones.  Heck, they can ask Alexa/Siri/Google out loud to search for some answers.

Still don’t believe me?  I just googled the stem of a test bank question from one of my clases.  Here is the top google search, which is basically the answer for every question in the test bank.

Don’t use test banks?  Create your own materials?

Go to Course Hero. Go to Study Blue. Go to Quizlet. Heck, just google a question from an assignment: this week my TA and I found 10 basic blogs with all the assignments and answers for free.  We found it because a student put a synonym on the answer for every other word. Nonetheless, our anti-cheating software vericite found it.  ((Ironically, the assignment was on academic cheating!  I SHITE YOU NOT!))

So what have we done?

We now use respondus lockdown with video monitoring to record students taking tests.  Is it effective?  Well, before I ever used online tests, my undergraduate test averages were around 75.  After online tests, they rose to between 82 and 85.  I was so proud of the rising test scores!!  My active learning strategies were really working!!!  Ha. This semester, after video monitoring, the average score was 67 on the first (easy) test.

We, as a department, are also teaching our students how to study again.  This includes basic information on how to take notes.  On how to read the book.  On how to listen to and participate in lectures.  My attitude has been one of support in my classes: “other students” have cheated.  But let me help you learn to take notes better, to take tests better ((surprisingly or not–a lost skill)), and to be proud of earning your grades and degree.

After catching 20% of my class plagiarizing, I made clear that I am MUCH LESS interested in the “right” answer than evidence of them thinking and trying.  The class exercises are not designed to be A Search For The Answer Dr. B Wants.  They are designed to give the students practice in critical thinking, applying theories to problems, and communicating their ideas.  That discussion and talking with each student who plagiarized improved their performance in terms of effort in the next exercises.  I’m also ditching that assignment.

Does it really matter?

Well, a friend of mine works at a fancy organization here in Charlotte as a fancy pants manager.  Yesterday, she shared that a two years out from graduation employee from a top national university is struggling with basic skills and behaviors at work.  This employee can’t take notes in meetings.  This employee can’t write basic sentences so that other people can understand them.  This is a top graduate of a top university who can’t perform basic employment skills.  I strongly suspect that this employee’s degree was bought not earned.

This is a controversial topic.  I get that.  Not everyone agrees with why we have a problem or what we should do.

Several colleagues fault giving online tests: they demand in-class tests with proctoring. I note that students are taking and sharing cell phone pictures of exams. I note the test bank I easily found above. I also like the automatic analysis I get about each item to help improve tests. ((Although, as an aside, on the last test, students were missing questions on topics that were highly covered in class and in the book. Hence, my efforts to help them learn how to study again.))

Some colleagues don’t care. So what if they cheat?  It’s too much work to file an academic settlement and they still learn the material anyway. I’d say they are not learning the material. And they expect that their presence in class is enough for the material to be absorbed adequately to graduate with a degree in our discipline.

They’ve always done this. This is old news. Fraternities and sororities have always had old tests and assignments.  Ok.  That doesn’t make it right. And I’ve never let students keep my tests.  Further, now, they copy and paste answers from one screen to another.  It doesn’t even pass through their brain.

Some colleagues deny that it’s possible to cheat in their class or by their students. I have found my own personally developed case studies and examples available on Course Hero. We have found thousands of course and lab specific documents from some departments on our campus on Course Hero, alone.

We shouldn’t make students pay for monitoring software, therefore, we cannot monitor them.  I FULLY AGREE WITH THIS.  The university should pick it up. But I’m not going to wait until that happens, letting my tests continue on with 84 averages for students who have not studied.

It’s a tough balance, right? We can suspect that many students have cheated. But my students and I are in a social contract right now during my class and I like to like my students.  Well, folks, we can do tough things. I honestly don’t give a flying fig newton what my students have done before or in other classes.  It’s a clean slate with me: I’m going to teach them how to study and how to learn my course’s material.

And they are going to earn their college degree on their own.

About Anita Blanchard

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
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