Why students cheat and what we can do about it

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I just read a feature article posted by the American Psychological Association providing some depressing statistics and, what I feel are, common insights into why students cheat. A survey of 40,000 U.S. high school students found that more than half have cheated on a test, 34% have done it more than twice, and 1/3 have used the internet to plagiarize. Additional surveys indicate that their behavior continues in college, and might even be associated with dishonesty later in life.

The article provided reasons on why students cheat: academic pressure to do well, low intrinsic motivation (learning)/high extrinsic motivation (grades), peer influence (cheating is contagious), and the need to stay competitive.

The real value of this article was in reading about a student-led effort at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where a student petition is calling "on faculty to provide more education on academic integrity, state more explicitly the rules for academic integrity in the classroom and report all cheating when they see it." At UCSD, "all freshmen must complete an online tutorial on academic integrity before they can register for their second-semester classes." Professors are encouraged to spend time in the first week of classes to stress the importance of academic integrity and explain the behaviors that constitute cheating, including the consequences. UCSD's academic integrity coordinator feels that a university-wide initiative such as theirs must include an assessment to first capture student and faculty attitudes and current behavior. It makes sense to understand the current state of affairs before developing a strategy to move forward. 

At Penn State Harrisburg, faculty invite the Learning Center's writing specialist, Kathy Brode, to visit their classes and address plagiarism issues with their course writing assignments. Faculty also build in a process of writing with multiple milestones and deliverables that makes it more difficult to plagiarize. An increasing number of faculty also use Turnitin for plagiarism detection. When they have their students submit a draft of their writing assignment to Turnitin and allow them to see their own originality report, it often creates a teachable moment. Penn State has an iStudy module, titled Academic Integrity, Plagiarism, and Copyright, that they can import into their course in ANGEL for student use. The module "has been reviewed by Judicial Affairs and the Academic Integrity Committee," and includes materials for the instructor and the students. I would love to see an initiative led by students and faculty, with strong administrative support, to build a stronger climate of academic integrity here, promoting ethics and professional integrity.   

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