One of the many reasons I am happy to be retired is that I no longer have to spend time tracking down sources in cases of suspected cheating. In my time, it happened periodically, and, as I used to tell my students, I was a pitbull when it came to academic dishonesty. If I suspected it, I would spend however long it took to track it down.
As my career was winding down, academic dishonesty was becoming just another of the many issues that had become 'political', in the sense that administration would have liked to wish the problem away, as parental anger over a student getting zero for cheating often caused them headaches.
A recent story from the Toronto Star is well worth reading, as it examines the problems being confronted at the university level, where cheating seems to have become widespread and relatively sophisticated. I am reproducing the story below:
Student cheaters have plenty of tricks up their sleeves
September 11, 2010
One panic-stricken student bought an essay for a course, only to leave the credit card bill among the pages when she handed it in.
Another student in an economics exam attracted a bit too much attention by whispering questions up his sleeve, where a forbidden cellphone taped to his arm was transmitting answers from a friend off-site.
Then there were the cheating lovers – literally; two female students unaware they were dating the same sly male classmate who sweet-talked both into writing tests and papers under his name. When love turned sour and the two University of Toronto undergrads discovered the scam, not only did they turn on their ex – they turned him in.
“In the end he faced 67 different charges of academic misconduct and was expelled,” recalled Professor Edith Hillan, the U of T’s vice-provost of faculty and academic life. “It was one of the more egregious examples of academic misconduct we’ve seen.”
As classes start Monday, Canada’s largest university is stepping up its campaign against cheating.
Dramatic displays of dishonesty are on the rise at the U of T, where the highest academic court – which hears only the most severe cases – received 38 new complaints in 2008-9, up from 21 the year before. The surge may partly reflect a larger trend cited recently in the report “Liars, Fraudsters and Cheats” by the Canadian Council on Learning, which found nearly three in four students in this country say they have cheated at least once, thanks to the cut-and-paste wizardry of the web and the trend to file-sharing almost everything.
But the U of T also is becoming more proactive against those who play dirty.
Leading the charge against cheating is the university’s leafy Mississauga campus, where a new full-time honesty watchdog began three summers ago to give instructors in all 15 departments a compulsory crash course in how to discourage, detect and deal with everything from plagiarism to paying for papers.
In the three years since academic affairs officer Lucy Gaspini began the training, campus charges have more than doubled to 388 in 2009-10 from 182 in 2006-7.
“It’s partly because instructors are being more vigilant, but I’m afraid it’s also because students are feeling more pressure to do really, really well now that almost everyone seems to go on to university and there’s real competition to get an edge,” said Gaspini. “We see cases of cheating even in fourth year because they’re battling to get into grad school.”
Often students who are caught tell Gaspini they just forgot to cite their sources; it was midnight, three essays were due and there was the Internet at their fingertips. Some plead too many deadlines and not enough time, the pressure of part-time jobs and financial worries. Others believed shortcuts were the only way to ensure a particular mark they needed.
“If they’d just invest the time doing the work and studying that they do on all these other tactics, they’d be fine,” said Gaspini. She met this fall for the first time with international students to talk about the perils of plagiarism, warning against such popular tricks as using a Morse code-style system of pen clicks to share answers on a multiple-choice test.
“We have a case now where students clicked their pens a certain number of times to indicate the question number, and then clicked again to indicate whether the answer was a, b, c or d,” said Gaspini. “Even if you’re the one giving the answer, you’re providing unauthorized aid to someone else and you’re guilty of academic dishonesty.”
Mississauga’s student council joined the awareness campaign last week by producing student tipsheets about cheating which it tucked into Frosh kits, and plans its first plagiarism workshop for students this fall.
“A lot more grey areas are coming up now. When I sold a text book last year I made a little extra money by throwing in my course notes but what if the person who bought them used them the wrong way?” wondered Grayce Yuen, the student union’s vice-president of university affairs and a co-author of the pamphlet. “I’d be more cautious next time.”
Yet it’s not all grey, stressed Gaspini in a recent workshop for some 10 instructors from the historical studies department. She warned about such tricks as printing notes on the inside of a water-bottle label, or the rim of a ball cap, or even between a student’s fingers.
“One instructor photocopied a student’s hand as evidence of crib notes before they could be washed off,” said Gaspini. Others have been rumoured to jot notes on parts of their bodies too intimate for an instructor to check.
Professor Sarianna Metso recalled marking one essay which footnoted a scholar she knew personally – saying something that simply didn’t sound like him.
“I was surprised, so I pulled my copy of his book off my own shelf and turned to the page cited on the footnote, which didn’t have that passage at all. It turns out all the footnotes were fiction,” she said. “The quotes were just made up off-the-cuff.
“But if you knowingly let an offence pass through your fingers (without discipline), you yourself have committed an academic offence,” she said. “You’re not doing anyone a favour, and the student just thinks they can do it again in another class without penalty.”
Cheating horror stories at U of T
• A tutorial assistant charged three students $1,500 each to slip them the answer sheet when he escorted them to the washroom during the exam. Ruling: suspended for five years.
• A student plagiarized an essay, then forged a doctor’s letter saying he was too sick to hand in a second essay on time. He then plagiarized it and handed it in late, followed by a third plagiarized essay. Ruling: recommended for expulsion.
• After agreeing to write an essay for $120 for a classmate, a student then plagiarized the essay so his customer failed the course. When she tried to get a refund, an ensuing fistfight brought the essay-writer to the attention of the university, which learned he had been selling essays for years. Ruling: suspended for five years.
• One student plagiarized an essay from a website for a course called Philosophy of Language, in the same term as she plagiarized an essay for another course. Essay topic? Artificial Intelligence. Ruling: suspended for three years.
• One student submitted an essay written originally by a professor at Purdue University whose name, sadly, she failed to include on her essay bibliography. Ruling: suspended for two years.