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troubleinharlem's avatar

What do you think about this view of cheating (in academics)?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7968 points ) January 5th, 2013

Everyone’s opinion is great – I want to hear from the teachers here especially, however.

Just a note, I don’t like cheaters, but this made me think about cheating in a different way. I got this quote from some random blog post that showed up on my dashboard on tumblr, you can see it here.

“People hate tests. Students don’t like them because they feel pressured and teachers don’t like them because they have to grade them and become aware that all the effort they put in teaching those who failed wasn’t worth it . I blame cheating.

To put it more clearly, I blame the notion of cheating. Cheating only exists as we know it (copying from a colleague or a previously prepared sheet of paper) because learning has become memorizing. And that is palpable when we analyse the thought process of a student:

“As I am now, I will fail this test. The only way I am going to pass is to write this small amount of information on tiny sheets of paper and take them with me.”

On a larger scale, cheating works like this: you can’t put that much information on sheets of paper that the teacher won’t notice. The students, knowing they can pass with this method, refuse to work and learn on their own. The students who cheated pass with below average scores but that doesn’t matter because at least they passed. The teacher sees that the grades were terrible and decides he/she will make na easier test next time, so the grades will improve.

When students say: “When am I ever going to need this?” I think they are actually saying: “When am I ever going to need this so urgently that I won’t have time to Google it or read the Wikipedia article?” And they are right.

The solution is obvious. Allow students to bring whatever they want to the test. The purpose of this is not to let everybody pass, but to make tests harder. So hard you couldn’t pass without knowing where to look for the information or knowing it already. I remember being in highschool and having graphic calculators that allowed you to insert text. The maths and physics teachers knew we used them and even encouraged this behaviour. Nonetheless, they made the test so that you couldn’t pass without learning.

You may protest: “It could work in maths and physics, but how can it work in Geography or History?

Simple. Don’t teach the facts, teach the students how to think. A test with questions that can be aswered with short answers is easily solved if you have the course book. Instead of asking “In what year was [Important Person] killed?”, ask “What were the reasons for the murder of [Important Person] and what implications did this have for the rest of the population, particularly those who commited the murder?”

The fact that the second answer has a much longer answer will make cheating a lot more difficult, as well as allowing those who don’t have the “complete answer” to get a few point for the information they actually know.

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7 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I think open book tests have their place, i am not against them, but some things I would argue the children need to know without looking it up. Knowing how to research something in itself is a great skill, but for sure we can not rely on a students opinion of them thinking they will never use the information in the future. Kids say that all the time and wind up being wrong.

I cheated once off of someone else’s paper for a test. A farely insiginificant 20 question test. Never did it again, I don’t understand how people cheat feeling just fine about it, I never felt fine about it, I regretted doing it.

I think testing is important. It measures what we have learned. Memorizing is not all bad. Having a strong memory is part of intelligence. We store nformation in our brain and build on that information, cross reference it. When I strike up a conversation with someone the very smart successgul people have incredible amounts of information memorized. You can’t be in a profession and not have some information memorized.

I don’t believe in purposely trying to make a test tricky. I don’t think most teachers try to do that.

Sunny2's avatar

People say, “Why should I learn Algebra or Science?” I think the American education system fails to point out along the way that students are being taught problem solving methods. They could be taught the kinds of problems they may meet in life an how a math system could help them solve those problems. I got stuck learning arithmetic in second grade because I learned that going faster than anyone else was most important, not accuracy. The closest I could get to turning in my paper first, the better. That was my goal. The same with tests. Needless to say, I still have problems with arithmetic.

wundayatta's avatar

I think testing is pretty much bogus. I’ve written about why elsewhere, and won’t reconstruct it now.

However, if you have to test, then you should definitely do tests that require students to think. You should let them take the tests home and use whatever resources they want in answering the questions. But the answers can’t be right or wrong. They must, as you suggest, require students to demonstrate their thinking. Any other test really is bogus. It is an assessment of memorization, which really isn’t that useful for a lot of things in our world.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am reminded of a joke by Woody Allen. He said that he cheated on a philosophy test by looking into the soul of the person next to him.

What you say makes good sense. I also like the idea of Outcome Based Education. In OBE, students move at their own pace. Tests tell whether a student has mastered the material. If not, the student has to go over the material again before moving on.

El_Cadejo's avatar

The way school has been for me my whole life is remember a bunch of random facts, regurgitate for the test, forget facts, remember new facts regurgitate for test, forget, rinse, repeat. Very few of my classes really taught me something and those that did were as you said in your question, the ones that required me to think about the why not just the what.

Quick! I need you to tell me the first time that someone circumnavigated the globe in a ship or the hostages won’t make it out alive!

Bellatrix's avatar

This is why I have got rid of most exams in courses I work with. The exams that remain are made up of analytical questions (even for short answer questions) that require the student to apply their understanding.

There are already open book exams and they can often be tricky because students assume they will have enough time to look up the answers. In reality, you usually need to know the material and the book is really only useful to confirm or clarify. You have to already be very clear about where to look in that book for it to help.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I already more or less test in the way recommended, and for basically the same reasons given. There’s a lot missing in the quoted analysis, however, not the least because cheating is not limited to exams. People cheat on papers, people cheat on labs, people cheat on presentations. It is simply false, then, that “cheating only exists as we know it because learning has become memorizing.” The fact is, people will cheat as long as there is such a thing as evaluation. And by evaluation, I don’t mean grades. Even Bennington, Evergreen, and Reed—some of the better known schools using narrative evaluations—have cheaters.

It is also false that teachers see bad grades and decide to make the tests easier next time. Some do this, I’m sure, but others simply don’t care. The professor for whom I was the teaching assistant is proud to be known for giving difficult assignments (including quizzes). Indeed, my entire department is engaged in a battle against grade inflation. Low grades do not bother us—in part because we think grades are treated with undue importance these days, in part because grades lose what little use they have if everyone gets an A for everything.

I’m all for coming up with ways to reduce cheating. Every semester, I try to convince my students that there’s no reason to cheat in my class because we can always work something out. I’m also all for coming up with ways to improve how we evaluate students. Like I said, I already employ the methods recommended in the analysis (and many others as well) so as to better ensure that I am testing the skills they are supposed to be learning rather than their ability to memorize and repeat. The analysis makes some important points, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that it solves—or even addresses—the whole of the problem.

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