10 March 2008

Everybody's Doin' It

I think that one of the biggest classroom tug-of-wars of my career has been around cheating. Over time, I've discovered that one of the major reasons is that kids' operational definition for "cheating" differs from mine. If you ask someone what the answer for #5 is---does that count? What about copying some math homework? If you have biology fifth period and you ask someone in a first period class what was on the test---does that mean you've cheated? Those examples suit cheating for me, but I can think of countless students over the years who were not in agreement. They honestly saw nothing wrong with those kinds of behaviors. Their view of what might be constituted as crossing over ethical boundaries has been confined to the use of crib notes on tests or stealing a copy of the test prior to class. I have found over the years that it is worthwhile to have a discussion with kids at the start of the school year about what I will view as "cheating," and then go back and revisit that definition as instances start to creep into classroom life during the year. I can't say that my classroom is ever cheating-free. It's an ongoing drama.

I started thinking about this again after seeing this ABC News piece about cheating scandals in some of America's top high schools. Examples do include stealing a copy of a test from a classroom and photographing a test with a cameraphone. There are "lesser" examples as well (such as copying homework), if you believe that not all cheating is created equal. The bottom line? "An estimated two-thirds of all high school students admit to 'serious' academic cheating, according to a national survey by Rutgers' Management Education Center in New Jersey. A startling 90 percent say they cheat on homework."

I know some teachers who have completely devalued the points awarded for homework in their classrooms because of the amount of cheating. I'm not sure if this is really the right reason for using homework as formative assessment. As a teacher, one still needs to have a sense of what every student can do...not what one kid can do and the other 29 can copy. While I agree that communicating to students the value of an assignment (and ensuring that the work is meaningful) is part of a teacher's responsibility, a student shouldn't use boredom as an excuse not to do it (or to copy it).

Technology will make things simpler for preparing for assessments. (For more on this idea, check out Bora's recap of a "Facebook scandal" in which students used an on-line meeting space for a study group and were accused of cheating by their professor.) However, poorly applied classroom ethics aren't going away anytime soon. If anything, I expect that advances in technology will make it easier for students to find ways around engaging with the hard work of learning.


Clix said...

This is another of the reasons I use personal reflective writing for most of my homework assignments. I wish I could trust the students... but I don't.

Kelly Curtis said...

Interesting post - I've enjoyed perusing your blog. Here via COE - my Flat Stanley post was included also.

Jose Vilson said...

Certainly cheating does change over time and person, and it's unfortunate , but that's why I focus on single assessments as my #1 grading, because I make it really hard for them to cheat off each other. :: shrugs::