Thursday, May 18, 2006

More Cheating

Over at Econball, Tony V links to a NYTimes article on cheating at colleges. He argues that the equilibrium level of cheating in increasing because the benefits of cheating are increasing (more pressure to have good grades) and the costs are decreasing (technology makes it easier to cheat). This is basically correct, although it should be noted that this applies primarily to cheating on exams. Technology (e.g., google) has also lowered the cost of catching students who plagiarize or try and turn in purchased stock essays (although I guess it also makes it easier to find someone else to write an original paper for you).

Tony wonders if this increase will lead away from reliance on honor codes and toward increased enforcement. This is one possibility, but I don't think it will happen. The problem is that at most schools enforcement is left to faculty, and, as discussed earlier, faculty don't particularly want to be bothered with this. So increasing the probability of catching cheaters seems difficult. Schools could also try and discourage cheating by increasing punishments, but I am not sure they have much room to increase them because they are already pretty severe.

Ultimately, I think the real trick is for faculty to adopt methods which make it harder to cheat. E.g., when I Tf'd 1011a, we designed the exams so that no calculators were necessary, so all students could have on their desks were the exam and a writing utensil. Further, they were primarily analytical exercises that cheat sheets or notes were unlikely to provide much assistance on. I think the only way to really deal with growth in cheating is to adjust teaching methods so that it is more difficult to use technology to cheat.

Perhaps, if schools want to address the problem they can invest in developing and disseminating other ideas which do this.

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