Academic dishonesty has reached epidemic proportions, starting as early as middle school. Cheating is a complicated problem, not just explained away by a lazy student. The good news is that educators can be a critical part of education and prevention for their students on this subject.
Honors students, weak students, low GPA students, high GPA students, students of color, students who are white, middle class students. In a phrase, all types of students.
We have seen evidence of cheating in places we would not expect: Harvard and the Air Force Academy, to name two. The point is, there is no typical student that can be identified as a chronic cheater. More effectively, instructors can find ways to reduce the incidence of cheating through practical changes in their own classrooms.
Academic dishonesty cannot be eliminated or reduced by policy alone. The good news is educators can have the greatest positive influence on students in terms of their decision to be dishonest in their own academic career.
With increased access to ways to cheat, here’s the game changer: Students who feel they belong in the classroom and that their teacher cares about them as individuals and about their true learning are less likely to cheat.
The most common form of cheating is plagiarism in the form of copy and paste and not citing sources. Education around this subject can be the greatest impact on student academic dishonesty. Other forms of cheating are less common such as copying other’s work and buying already written papers although this behavior is most commonly thought of when cheating arises.
So, how does one educator make a difference in what seems like a huge problem? Here are three strategies to promote academic honesty:
Strategy #1 – Your Syllabus
If your school has an honor pledge or policy, include it in your syllabus. Interestingly, some studies show incidence of serious cheating is 25% to 50% less when an honor code is present. (Here’s a link to the University of Florida’s honor code.) Additionally, clearly define in writing the consequences of cheating in your class.
Strategy #2 – Your Words
Review your syllabus with the class, directly discussing the honor code, your views on academic integrity, the importance of documenting and citing work and what the consequences are in your class and with your institution. Talk about why students are in this class, the significance of the course for their learning, how the course relates to other courses that are later in their tenure as a student. Tell them why you think this course is important! Your enthusiasm for the material and their learning can go a long way to let students know they are valued.
Strategy #3 – Your Actions
When students feel anonymous, they are more likely to cheat. When possible, learn your students’ names. For large lectures, be there early to greet students as they enter. Always honor office hours at different times as to be available for students with varying schedules. Allow students to make appointments with you outside of those established hours. If you see a student is struggling, ask the student to meet with you. Lastly, use your service time to be involved in the dialogue both on your campus and in national organizations. Volunteer on committees and interest groups and continue the conversation on this very important topic.
The best deterrent to cheating is the probability of getting caught. By being open and communicative around these issues is critical to undermining the culture of academic dishonesty in your institution. Additionally, using resources such as(provided by the University of Florida) and Citation Machine can allow students to be proactive and arm them with the tools to create more authentic work.
Strategy #4 – Your knowledge of your institution’s academic dishonesty policies and procedures
Most colleges and universities have academic dishonesty policies. (Here’s a link to UF’s Dean of Students resources on the process for addressing academic dishonesty.) In many institutions, reporting cheating is not optional. Reporting is a critical, albeit uncomfortable, part of disarming the cheating cycle for a student. Without consequences, students don’t recognize their actions in terms of the damage to the greater community. Additionally, consequences at this stage in their career are so much less impactful than once they are working, when livelihoods are on the line.
This is our chance as educators to stop the culture of cheating, one student at a time.