Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cheating Part 4 - Viable Solutions to the Epidemic

Are there solutions to be had to the epidemic of cheating? If they did exist, why haven't they been implemented you might ask?

In fact, there are a variety of powerful anti-cheating solutions that can be implemented and in some cases have, but for the most part there is strong institutional resistance to taking the steps that must be done, as many of them are politically difficult to implement.

I would like to identify two general classes of solutions to cheating, "intrinsic" and "extrinsic." The former type of solutions focus on altering student behavior by changing students fundamental attitudes towards education. The latter deal with creating incentive schemes in the school that discourage students from cheating.

Intrinsic Solutions: Changing the Modern Student
There are many methods and methodologies that one can implement which may have an effect on fundamentally altering students' behaviour and attitudes towards cheating. One method that is advocated is the incorporation of Ethics into the curriculum, either in other courses, or as a dedicated course (see: Ethics Education in Business School). Another method, which was used at Dartmouth College is an academic honor code, in which the moral responsibility of cheating is transferred to the students. While in my own experience, this latter method was a failure, I do feel that it can be effective when combined with extrinsic solutions. A third possible solution to change students' intrinsic beliefs about cheating is remove the focus on grades and focus on learning. This can be done either through teaching the importance of learning, which is unfortunately not stressed nearly enough in current education systems.

Extrinsic Solutions: Changing the Modern School
Extrinsic solutions are those that change the incentive structures for students, to disincentive cheating. The simplest extrinsic solution (and probably least politically favorable) is to make the consequences for cheating severe. At present, many institutions (colleges and high schools alike) have laughable penalties for cheating. In the Hanover High cheating scandal (See: Cheating part 2), the penalties were miniscule compared to the scale of the crime, which involved breaking and entering and pre-meditated theft of exams. The criminal charges on many of them were dropped, and they were not expelled. Harsh penalties such as permanent expulsion (from either the university or the high school) would make it clear that cheating is not acceptable. A second solution, less cost effective, is to reduce the ability of students to cheat. Stop giving take-home exams or open book tests, place students large distances apart when taking exam, etc. Such direct deterrents will greatly limit the ability of students to cheat. Finally, we note that students greatest incentives to cheat are when they either only care about the grade or they are being forced to take the course. To reduce the former, remove grades and instead use a short letter of recommendation from the professor. To reduce the latter, remove mandatory courses. For example, remove distributive requirements at liberal arts schools. Why force someone passionate about English to take a math course, which he or she is likely to cheat through anyway?

While there are no doubt hundreds of other solutions, I believe I’ve fleshed out the two major classes of solutions that can be applied. One group of remedies focuses on altering the way students fundamentally think, and the other focuses on modifying student behavior by altering incentivizing certain actions and disincentivizing others. I leave it you to decide which class is better, or if both should be used together.

1 comment:

  1. You made some very good points I think. In the end I have to say that we need to reform our school system. How do we give incentives for our students to learn while removing the pressure on just getting the "good grades"? There is no simple answer to this problem.

    There is nothing wrong with a little grade inflation. The more students are fighting against each other for grades the more cheating there will be. In other words, the more grades are taken seriously, the more incentive you are giving people to cheat the system. This is nothing more than a projection of the human nature: if there is something worth having, it is something worth cheating for to get it.

    I'm not saying that cheating in school is justified. But we only have to take a step back and look at our society to see that dishonesty is not always punished. If we can't even expect most people to have real world integrity how do we expect people to have academic integrity?

    In the end, the question to ask yourself is this: Why are you studying hard and NOT cheating? The answer should be: I'm working hard because I wish to learn something that I could use to benefit the society and make myself as useful as possible. It should NOT be: I want to get a 4.0 so my transcript would show everyone that I am smartest and I should get the best job.

    A college should not exist just to rank its students from the best to the worst. It should exist to impart knowledge to all its students in the best way possible.