Unfortunately, cheating is alive and well in the college classroom, and it’s a disheartening reality for instructors. After all, cheating flies in the face of the knowledge and values college teachers want to impart to students about the world.
Of course, most of the responsibility for honesty lies with students. Nevertheless, instructors can use strategies to discourage this behavior, beginning with explaining the repercussions of cheating beyond the boilerplate message of “it’s wrong.” Students must understand why cheating is counterproductive and how it can be prevented.
Steps Instructors Can Take to Avoid It
To set students on the path to academic integrity, instructors can take several steps.
- Adding a no-tolerance policy on the syllabus. Spelling out the consequences of plagiarism or cheating on the syllabus drives home the seriousness with which an instructor views this behavior. Linking to the university’s academic integrity policy helps: Research shows that institutions with honor codes experience fewer instances of cheating and plagiarism. Likewise, talking about cheating and plagiarism at the beginning of the term and then revisiting the topic sporadically throughout the term keeps students on course.
- Confronting dishonesty. If students know a teacher will call them on their behavior, they are less likely to continue it. Informing the class about a cheating or plagiarism incident (without mentioning names) puts potential dishonest students on notice and tacitly rewards those who have been honest.
- Giving students explicit instructions about how to use research. Lessons on citing sources, summarizing, and paraphrasing teach students how to honor academic conventions and encourages buy-in by explaining that citing sources makes a document more credible and adds weight to any argument.
- Linking cheating to lapses in ethical behavior in the workplace. By tapping the news cycle for illustrations of ethical lapses, instructors show students the consequences of such behavior in the “real world.”
- Explaining that cheating is self-defeating. Plagiarizing and cheating hurt students in ways they probably never consider. Instructors who explain how dishonest behavior is not in students’ self-interest will help them help themselves.
College instructors will probably always have to deal with some dishonest student behavior. But open discussion, clear policy, and swift action can keep it to a minimum.
[Instructors: Download the following “How Cheating Cheats You” handout to share with your students.]
How Cheating Cheats You
You do not master the material being taught. If you have to cheat to pass a test or complete an assignment, you are not learning the information your instructor assumes you know. This can only lead to your falling further behind because much of what you learn in college is cumulative, i.e. it builds on previous knowledge.
You miss out on learning skills. Employers expect college graduates to possess certain skills such as critical thinking and the ability to write. If you are copying answers rather than learning answers, you do not absorb the skills taught in your classes. This lack of knowledge will lessen/affect/diminish your ability to impress future employers.
You set yourself on the wrong course. Your moral compass guides your actions in life, not just in the classroom. Once you cheat in college, you are on a slippery slope to behaving dishonestly with employers, colleagues, and institutions.
You lose integrity. Your values and ethics form your moral core. Ask how you want to define yourself.
You harm others. Think about how your dishonest actions affect others. Failing to do your share, contributing unreliable work, or using shady actions to attain goals reflects poorly on a whole team. Dishonesty skews fair competition in the classroom. The results of the class as a whole are distorted when some students take the easy way out while others put in the honest hard work needed to succeed fairly.
You fail to develop grit. Grit is one of the main characteristics that helps people get ahead. If you have to cheat to do well, you are taking the short-sighted path instead of doing the work you need to succeed. People who are successful in college and beyond know that hard work is the reason.
You lose a sense of pride. The sense of accomplishment you feel when you complete a difficult task cannot be matched by the short-lived sense of relief you have when you see you’ve passed a test or cheated your way to an acceptable grade.
You waste your costly education. You (and perhaps your parents) are underwriting an expensive education. Cheating undermines one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make.
Download a copy of the “How Cheating Cheats You” handout now.