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View Full Version : Cheating in the classroom - a real lack of clues



ngc3314
2004-Dec-29, 09:29 PM
I'm used to a certain level of students copying work for assigned papers in my freshman astro class, and had sort of learned not to take it personally. I've cut down on it by posing hypothetical questions (at least the ones that Neil Comins doesn't have good online essays about...). This fall, I told the class twice not to do it - it's wrong, they signed a form upon enrollment acknowledging this, and the University has a two strikes - you're out policy. I also told them not to try it since I do research for a living and can undoubtedl use Google more effectively than they can. So a few weeks ago I busted two. One was straight from Britannica. The second was more fun - three consecutive pages from a web site, including the description of a graphic which said site reproduced wth permission and a link by name pointing back to - you guessed it - my own site. Maybe it was supposed to be flattering.

But it could have been much worse. I just heard from a guy who had AY101 from me over 15 years ago, who teaches political science at a university several hundred miles north of here. He just had a cheating scandal. In his ethics course.

I'm guessing that these individuals probably were not familiar enough with the course material to have passed anyway...

jfribrg
2004-Dec-29, 09:52 PM
One dead giveaway is when the quality of the written homework and other "take home" assignments is far superior to the quality of the class and test performance.

darkhunter
2004-Dec-29, 11:07 PM
One dead giveaway is when the quality of the written homework and other "take home" assignments is far superior to the quality of the class and test performance.

Or the quality/style of the work itself is not internally consistant...

Candy
2004-Dec-29, 11:10 PM
ngc3314, I'm glad you busted the kids! =D>

I find cheating very common at the University I attend.

I agree with jfribrg, but with a twist. The majority of my professors make their midterms and finals essay (doesn't work for every course). This at least, weeds the bad students out from the good students when it comes to GPA's (exams are usually 40% of the overall grade). :D

Glom
2004-Dec-29, 11:23 PM
O'BRIEN: Your last assignment was to right an essay defining the term "ethics". Let's start with... Nog.

NOG: I don't have my essay.

O'BRIEN: Why not?

NOG: My PADD was stolen.

O'BRIEN: Is that a fact? Any idea who stole it?

NOG: It happened at Quark's. I put it on a table and there were some Vulcans nearby-

O'BRIEN: Hold on, you're saying Vulcans stole your homework?

NOG: Yes, sir.

O'BRIEN: Any idea why?

NOG: Because they don't have ethics?

George
2004-Dec-30, 01:45 AM
I hope their classmates have gotten the message. Did you notice any changes in the class as a result?

ngc3314
2004-Dec-30, 03:27 AM
I hope their classmates have gotten the message. Did you notice any changes in the class as a result?

No chance for that - this was at term's end and the Dean's consequence decisions were after classes ended ( as well as being confidential). I did announce publicly that I would not be able to return papers copied from the web, which did not prevent either miscreant from calling me to ask what the problem was.

CafeenMan
2004-Dec-30, 03:51 AM
I'm not a teacher, but I have a fairly active website (see my sig). About once a month I get a question from someone who basically wants me to design an model aircraft for them that can carry a given amount of weight a given distance with a given size engine and fuel capacity.

It's a fairly standard assignment for aerospace students. The funny thing is these kids already have more "education" than I've got. On my site I even go so far as to say I'm not doing anyone's homework for them. That hasn't worked unfortunately.

My standard e-mail response is that I'll be happy to design the plane for them if they are willing to to provide me a portion of their lifetime income after I pass their course for them. No takers so far. :)

Brady Yoon
2004-Dec-30, 03:56 AM
I think the rules are too strict sometimes. These things can ruin a person's entire career and academic life.. I'm thinking college administrators should take it easy a little... I'm a little scared when the time comes for me to go to college. I'm about to get a degree, then suddenly, an accidental plagiarism or some other accusation comes my way and I end up being thrown in jail... :(

CafeenMan
2004-Dec-30, 04:04 AM
I think the rules are too strict sometimes. These things can ruin a person's entire career and academic life.. I'm thinking college administrators should take it easy a little... I'm a little scared when the time comes for me to go to college. I'm about to get a degree, then suddenly, an accidental plagiarism or some other accusation comes my way and I end up being thrown in jail... :(

"Accidental" would have astronomical odds against being exactly the same unless it's a common usage phrase. But writing even an identical paragraph would be almost impossible.

Personally, I don't think anyone is "entitled" to pass. If they don't have the capacity to learn the subject, then they do something else. There are too many people who are not qualified to do the jobs they do and I would guess a lot of them either took "everyone passes" (medical tech jobs, for example) courses or they cheated somehow.

beck0311
2004-Dec-30, 04:09 AM
I think the rules are too strict sometimes. These things can ruin a person's entire career and academic life.. I'm thinking college administrators should take it easy a little... I'm a little scared when the time comes for me to go to college. I'm about to get a degree, then suddenly, an accidental plagiarism or some other accusation comes my way and I end up being thrown in jail... :(

You would not land in jail for an accusation. Academic dishonesty is a serious issue, and it ought to be handled as such. If you do your own work you will honestly never have anythig to worry about. If you do the research and properly cite your sources and do not copy them word for word you will be fine.

beck0311
2004-Dec-30, 04:12 AM
I'm not a teacher, but I have a fairly active website (see my sig). About once a month I get a question from someone who basically wants me to design an model aircraft for them that can carry a given amount of weight a given distance with a given size engine and fuel capacity.

It's a fairly standard assignment for aerospace students. The funny thing is these kids already have more "education" than I've got. On my site I even go so far as to say I'm not doing anyone's homework for them. That hasn't worked unfortunately.

My standard e-mail response is that I'll be happy to design the plane for them if they are willing to to provide me a portion of their lifetime income after I pass their course for them. No takers so far. :)

Heh, I did that competition. We designed ours on our own. I am glad you don't help people design theirs. It is kind of hard to believe that people who go to all the bother of studying for a degree in engineering would try to cheat their way through the most fun part of the degree!

CafeenMan
2004-Dec-30, 04:17 AM
It is kind of hard to believe that people who go to all the bother of studying for a degree in engineering would try to cheat their way through the most fun part of the degree!

I agree. In fact, I would do it just for fun. Who cares about the degree? I mean except for the fame, fortune and girls that come with it. :D

So how did you do? Have any photos of or links to your plane?

beck0311
2004-Dec-30, 04:42 AM
So how did you do? Have any photos of or links to your plane?

22.8 lbs. We tried to lift 25 lbs but it just wouldn't rotate in the t/o distance. We predicted 23 lbs, so it was pretty close. It was long enough ago that the both the SAE and my university have removed the pics from their websites. It was pretty ugly, but it flew really well-a lot of the planes seemed to have a similar short period longitudinal mode that acted up during approach, but ours stayed steady.

CafeenMan
2004-Dec-30, 04:54 AM
Edit: Post was moved to a new thread.

beck0311
2004-Dec-30, 04:59 AM
Rather than hijack the thread further I started a new thread (http://www.badastronomy.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=18639).

Normandy6644
2004-Dec-30, 05:12 AM
I hate cheating. As a student, it's really annoying too when I see people doing it. At my old school (a public state university) it was all over the place. Now at Cornell it's significantly less (as one would hope), so I feel much better. In my physics and math classes we are encouraged to work together, but always have the final work be our own, which I think is perfect. No one ever has to do everything by themselves, but the final product should be original.

Tobin Dax
2004-Dec-30, 06:48 AM
I hate cheating. As a student, it's really annoying too when I see people doing it. At my old school (a public state university) it was all over the place. Now at Cornell it's significantly less (as one would hope), so I feel much better. In my physics and math classes we are encouraged to work together, but always have the final work be our own, which I think is perfect. No one ever has to do everything by themselves, but the final product should be original.

It always irks me when their "own work" that people turn in after working together is barely different, i.e. short answers with three words differing in two sentences. I found a couple homeworks this past semester where the students' solution to a problem was written in *exactly* the same way: same things written on the same line in the same way. *Exactly* the same way. There were four fractions as part of the answer, each written on a different line, and alternating between vertical and diagonal forms. These two students really both wrote each of the four fractions in the same way (I think the order was vert, diag, vert, diag). :o #-o I'm amazed sometimes at the intelligence of an college freshman. [/rant]


I think the rules are too strict sometimes. These things can ruin a person's entire career and academic life.. I'm thinking college administrators should take it easy a little... I'm a little scared when the time comes for me to go to college. I'm about to get a degree, then suddenly, an accidental plagiarism or some other accusation comes my way and I end up being thrown in jail... :(

Brady, accidental plagiarism is usually easily identifiable as such, as is actual plagiarism. I'm sure you won't have to worry about it. Your character and knowledge will come out in all of your work, and if you forget to cite something, it can taken care of pretty easily. These major consequences only happen when they are deserved (if then), and there's a long process to go through before such decisions are made. You have nothing to worry about...unless you're already planning on doing such things when you get to college. :wink:

Musashi
2004-Dec-30, 06:50 AM
Yeah, it is usually pretty obvious when a cite is missing accidentally as opposed to on purpose.

beck0311
2004-Dec-30, 06:55 AM
A friend of mine in grad school was a TA, he told me that quite often students would provide citations in their papers, and when he went to check on them he would find the exact paragraph that he was checking on, word for word. It almost seemed as if they wanted to get caught.

Keerax
2004-Dec-30, 07:09 AM
A friend of mine in grad school was a TA, he told me that quite often students would provide citations in their papers, and when he went to check on them he would find the exact paragraph that he was checking on, word for word. It almost seemed as if they wanted to get caught.

Not to incriminate myself or anything but...
College students don't really expect their professors to check the sources that they cite in their papers. Now if it were a very specialized class that was higher up than the Speech course that everyone and their mother has to take to get that particular degree then it should be common sense to expect more strict grading. Just my thoughts. :)

Wally
2004-Dec-30, 01:36 PM
I've never understood the "why" of cheating on essays. Perhaps I'm one of the lucky ones, but I've never had any problems writing essays or term papers. Sure, it involves work, but to get sources, make notes, then put down your finding in your own words has always come pretty easy for me. I always received A's on these type of assignments, a few times the only A given in the class.

I always figured if I could make a living at writing essays, I'd be rich by now! As it stands, I guess I'll have to settle for being a systems programmer for the rest of my life. . . :P

dgruss23
2004-Dec-30, 01:55 PM
There are ways to make intentional plagarism extremely difficult, but before I get to that I have a classic example of why this is such a problem.

First its important to understand that The people that sit where the buck stops do not want to deal with holding up the penalty. I'm referring to parents and the administrators in charge of handing out the penalty. A few years ago my wife (a high school English teacher) had a Senior heavily plagarize the final research paper. She of course gave him a zero - which meant (gasp) he was not going to graduate.

The Principle tells her she needs to find the references the student lifted paragraphs from because the parents are disputing this. So she does that ... literally 3/4 of the paper is highlighted yellow with plagarized paragraphs. The original sources are printed out.

So the principle meets with the parent, shows the parent the work proving the student plagarized, and then tells the parent the student will be allowed to graduate. The parent demands that my wife be fired for incompetent teaching claiming she must not of taught them how to avoid plagarism... not true as it was shown several places in her plan book where it was taught and reminders were given. Obviously my wife wasn't fired, but the mentality at play is absurd. Your child is a high school senior caught cheating and you want the teacher fired?

So in many cases the parents don't want to see their child suffer the penalty to learn an important lesson (which means the child carries that attitude right on to college) and the Administrator is unwilling to uphold the rules because it will mean messy, angry meetings with parents.

If I had been the high school principal, I would have offered the following compromise:

The student will spend his days and nights between now and the day before final grades are due writing a paper for himself. If he completes the paper before grades are due then he gets to walk through graduation. If he does not, then he will not walk through graduation, but will receive his diploma at which time over the summer that he finally finishes the paper. (Grades can always be adjusted after the fact if late work that is a major project is completed - although this is usually only done during the school year).

Seems like a simple enough solution. Since this post is already long enough I'll offer my suggestions for avoiding this problem in a second post.

dgruss23
2004-Dec-30, 02:28 PM
Ok, that was weird. I tried to correct two typos in my previous post by selecting "edit" and when I was done it added the post as a new post. I deleted it.

:-?

Anyway, here's one approach I took that dramatically cut back on plagarism. I wanted my Environmental science class several years ago to write a final analysis paper on an issue. My goal was for a paper in which they took a position on an issue and defend it with evidence from references.

Since the goal was to develop the skill of researching, describing, and defending a position on an issue, I let them choose any issue that was scientific - it didn't have to be an environmental issue.

The project was assigned about 15 weeks before it was due. During the first 10 weeks they had to turn in each friday a written summary of an article along with a copy of the original article. The summary included the correct citation for the article at the top of the page (to emphasize referencing), a bulleted summary of the key points in the article, and a response from the student describing how he/she felt it related to their topic and any thoughts about it.

I also encouraged them to find better articles by putting a number from 1-5 on each article indicating the quality of the article as a reference for writing a paper.

After the article summarizing phase was completed, they had a week to outline the paper and turn in the outline. It was expected that the papers they read (which were kept in folders) were used as references in the paper. Then they wrote the paper and turned it in with all of their materials.

Several things that worked well with this approach:

1. Since they had to turn in a weekly article summary(which was graded), it was readily apparent who the last minute writers were going to be ... and their grades suffered with a string of zeros for summaries not turned in.

2. Since they were writing summaries of articles and their reaction, they were essentially doing a preliminary writing of the paper - which made outlining and writing the papers easier.

3. Since they turned in the articles, which I'd been reading all along, it was easy to recognize who was actually using materials they read.

4. Since it was an analysis piece with their own suggestions, better than half of them (which is good for a high school class that is being taken by most because they don't want to put in the effort needed to understand chemistry) did take a genuine interest in researching the topic and writing the paper.

5. The students actually were able to talk about their topic with some knowledge of it. And since they had already invested the time researching and evaluating the topic, there was less motivation to plagarize.

6. Plagarism was easy to spot. For example, I had one paper where it went from beautifully written paragraphs describing the science to grammar/spelling error plagued paragraphs giving the students opinion. Hmmm... copy and paste anyone?

Obviously this was a lot of work for me. If you have a college lecture with several hundred students this may not be feasible. But for smaller upper level specialty classes, this approach might help.

I'm not sure the value of a "research paper" anyway. I think more in terms of "analysis papers". Take a position and give me the facts to back it up. Most high school and college students will not become researchers. Those that do become researchers will be taught the proper way to write a research paper by their mentors. Having every student just write about a topic ... "write a paper about global warming", is not as valuable as having them analyze a topic and take a position "Take a look at the evidence for/against global warming and using that evidence as justification take a position on Kyoto."

Granted many research paper assignments really are analysis papers, but I think its critical to structure the assignment so that a student cannot simply buy a paper from an on-line paper mill.

Another thought I had on this: Instructors could call students in and quiz them on their paper. If they wrote it they should be able to answer questions. If they plagarized, or bought it, who knows if they even read it.

George
2004-Dec-30, 07:15 PM
Nice approach dgrus23.

Plagiarism is theft and lieing. Not only is it stolen but it is flasely represented as the presenter's original work. Systems can usually be installed to minimize the risk of theft, homework or otherwise. Looks like you have a nice system that works.

Brady, I'd bet you won't plagiarize. For clarification, do not confuse plagiarism with copying. You nearly always have to use the work of others to make your best presentation. However, you must give them their due credit so you are not falsely misrepresenting your effort.

Anyone want to add "old poop" to this discussion? [Is it still called that?]

jfribrg
2004-Dec-30, 07:26 PM
A few years ago, the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) had an episode of professional plagarism. Someone took a paper from an ACM journal, and submitted it in a European journal, assuming that nobody would read both an obscure American journal and an obscure European journal. Someone noticed and reported it to the ACM, which promptly sued the plagarizer and notified said plagarizer's employer. The suit was settled quietly with the plagarizer apologizing and agreeing to destroy all ACM papers in his posession and agreeing to never read another ACM paper. The ACM agreed to keep the person's name and the associated papers confidential. You can put partial blame for this on the "publish or perish" mentality. This episode prompted a few letters to the editor concerning plagarism. One I recall is of a professor who caught an asian student. This student feigned surprise, indicating that in his homeland, plagarism is proper and considered the highest complement, since it means that your work is so good that other people are willing to associate their name with it. The professor debunked that theory with a 2 minute phone call to the embassy of that country. He got a 0 for the term paper, but deserved an A for originality of the excuse.

Makgraf
2004-Dec-30, 08:52 PM
I think that there is a problem with teaching about plaigerism. Back in high school we did a lot of group projects. I remember that in a lot of them people would just grab chunks off the internet or books and paste them in. They didn't consider it plaigerism cause they listed it in the bibliography. Of course if you don't paraphrase or put in quotes it is plaigerism, but I guess the lesson just wasn't getting through.

Or to quote Tom Lehrer:
Plagiarize!
Let no one else's work evade your eyes!
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes
So don't shade your eyes
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize!
(Only be sure always to call it please "research")