How College Faculty Can Beat the Cheat

Higher Education

How College Faculty Can Beat the Cheat

By Tina Nazerian     Nov 20, 2018

How College Faculty Can Beat the Cheat

Students cheating on assignments is hardly a new or surprising problem. But it may surprise college faculty to find out just how widespread it is today. In research and surveys conducted by Dr. Donald McCabe and the International Center for Academic Integrity over the span of 12 years, 68 percent of undergraduates who responded admitted to cheating on tests or written assignments.

But whether they teach in-person or online, faculty can take steps to safeguard their courses against academic dishonesty. April Millet, a learning designer at Penn State University, gave educators tips on how to do so last week at the 2018 OLC Accelerate conference in Orlando.

Communicate Expectations Early and Often

Millet stressed that it’s imperative for faculty to set definitions and guidelines early about academic honesty, and regularly communicate those expectations to students. “Don’t wait until you start seeing people cheating to say something about it.”

To make clear what constitutes an academic violation, educators can add an academic integrity statement to their syllabi, or require students to take a quiz on the topic. A quiz, she noted, is proof that students got the instructions. “They can’t say after-the-fact ‘Oh, well, I didn’t know that was an academic integrity violation.’”

Millet said some of her Penn State colleagues have built in a small academic integrity lesson into their courses for students to complete during the first week of instruction. Students learn what academic violations are, and what will happen to them if they’re caught.

Some students, Millet said, don’t realize that certain things are considered cheating. It may not occur to them that they need to cite the information they use in their assignments, or that some faculty explicitly state that certain sites are off-limits. She recalled one instructor who told her that 11 students in her class of 35 turned in the exact same assignment using materials from Course Hero, a website where students can share and access course study materials.

Academic integrity isn’t a one-and-done conversation at the start of semester, though. Millet said faculty should periodically remind students about rules on academic integrity as the course moves along. And if they do see cheating, faculty can call out those incidents as teaching moments. If several students submitted the same work for an assignment, educators can give the rest of the class an overview of what happened, and reiterate why it’s important for them to do their own work.

Tell Students Cheating Doesn’t Benefit Them

In conversations about academic dishonesty, educators can certainly emphasize the consequences to dissuade students from cheating. But faculty must be mindful of their messaging. “You don’t want students to feel that you don’t trust them,” Millet said. That’s why she thinks it’s more helpful for educators to approach academic integrity as something that is for students’ benefit, such as telling them how academic integrity and professional integrity go hand-in-hand.

Faculty can also encourage students to learn for the sake of learning, Millet said. They can tell students that if they cheat and aren’t caught, they might get a high score on that test or assignment, but they won’t actually absorb the material.

April Millet presents at the 2018 OLC Accelerate conference in Orlando. Photo Credit: Tina Nazerian

Consider Pedagogy and Course Design

Safeguarding a course from cheating can come down to the very design of the course itself. Reducing students’ test anxiety can help, Millet said.

For example, a course that has two big tests worth 80 percent of a student’s grade can create anxiety because the stakes are so high. Faculty can add more tests or assignments to the syllabus, or split large assignments into smaller sections so that students have more opportunities to build points throughout the semester, and more opportunities to see where their skills or knowledge stand as the course progresses. Faculty can also give students practice exams so they can see how they’re doing, Millet suggested. “That will help them feel more confident.”

Faculty should also consider using more authentic assessments. If a student needs to be able to do something, “have them do that thing,” Millet advised. “Don’t give them a multiple choice test to prove to you that they understand how to do something.”

If educators must test students, changing the questions can help foil potential cheaters as well, said Millet. Doing so can be time consuming, but Millet thinks even the smaller changes, say the numbers in math problems, can help curb the problem.

Faculty can also shake up how they assess students. One option? Incorporating peer review into their courses. “The best way for people to learn something is by teaching something,” said Millet. Another step is giving students more detailed feedback on their work, spelling out what a student did and did not do well.

Whatever the assessment process is, Millet said it’s crucial for faculty to link objectives to assignments. “One reason why students cheat on assignments it that they don’t think it’s important.” Connecting objectives to assignments gets students to see the value in that work.

Use Tools and Services

There are tools and services that can help instructors catch cheating on assignments, such as Turnitin for writing. For exams, faculty can use testing centers or remote proctoring.

If faculty have students take tests through their learning management systems, some of these tools include features that can be used to curtail cheating, such as setting tighter time limits and displaying one question at a time.

Educators who have time can also search for a student’s response online if it looks suspicious. Searching for a particular phrase can often take an instructor to the website where it was taken from.

Millet also urged faculty to monitor study sites like Course Hero and StudySoup.

“The sad thing about this is that once one of these goes out of business, another one takes its place.”


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