I’ve been designing, developing, and teaching courses for more than thirty-five years. Over that time span, I have consistently encountered students who try to cheat the system.
The reasons for cheating vary. Some students are simply dealing with time constraints while others feel pressured to succeed academically in order to land the right job. Rhea Kelly at Campus Technology discusses why students cheat in her recent post. She concludes:
I think there’s a kernel of truth in the pressures students face to parlay their college experience into success in the workplace. When so much emphasis is put on the transactional nature of education — pass this course, achieve this degree, get this salary — it’s easy to forget the inherent value of learning for personal growth.
In general, students who cheat see little connection, beyond the attainment of a credential, between their coursework and professional success. The credential, coupled with their personality and potential, will get them in the door. In other words, these students view the specific skills related to the credential as having limited value. They believe they can learn what they need to once they get a job.
This attitude has been enabled and empowered by a couple of factors. The first, and least important, is the growth of Internet sites and companies that make it easier for students to cheat. NPR had a segment this week on how many students are cheating their way through school with the help fo essay-writing companies. This exchange between NPR’s Toia Smith and a student captures both the practice and some of the sentiment behind it.
SMITH: Send us the assignment; we’ll write it for you, they offered. The student, who asked that her name not be used for fear of repercussions at school, picked one that cost $10 a page and breathed a sigh of relief. In the cat-and-mouse game of academic cheating, students know plagiarism will get caught by computer programs that automatically compare essays to a massive database of other writings. But to students like this one, buying an original essay seemed like a good workaround.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Technically, I don’t think it’s cheating because, like, you’re paying someone to write an essay, which they don’t plagiarize, but they write everything on their own.
SMITH: So they may not be plagiarizing, I say, but aren’t you?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: That’s just kind of a difficult question to answer. I don’t know how to feel about it. It’s kind of like a gray area.
The second factor contributing to the rise in cheating is our systemic failure — by institutions, accrediting bodies, faculty, and curriculum designers — to help students recognize and appreciate the real value of the information and skills they acquire in their courses. If students do not understand the specific skills and knowledge they are acquiring in each course, as well as how those translate to future personal and professional success, it can be difficult for them to value actual learning more than grades (or a credential).
This is one of the reasons we place such a great emphasis on demonstrable mastery in our TEL courses. We understand the value of asking students to produce evidence of their learning that can serve proof of their abilities. Our rubric-based Evidence assignments are designed as contextualized, step-by-step critical thinking activities that prioritize feedback and improvement (learning) over grades.
Over the coming months, we will be building on this focus with two additional initiatives. In May, we will introduce our new TEL Mastery Standards and Outcomes, which are designed to give students greater insight into what they are learning and the value of course-specific skills/knowledge as applied to professional success. In June, we will roll out plans for a library of Experiential Learning modules that require students, working in groups, to identify and solve local, real-world problems related to specific course areas.
Our goal with this work is to help students recognize and appreciate the real value of the information and skills they acquire in their courses. This, we believe, will lead them to value learning over grades and the importance of doing their own work instead of cheating.
Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library