USA Today recently published a major piece on the high-tech nature of academic cheating. It’s a topic I’ve written about frequently. Like, repeatedly. Perhaps obsessively.  

Part of the reason I return to the topic of cheating in American colleges is how willfully blind college leaders are to it. Cheating in college is pervasive. Whether it’s plagiarism, paying for custom assignments, improperly accessing and using academic resources or something else entirely, no college, no subject, no teacher is immune to it. It happens everywhere and with a frequency that education leaders won’t want to imagine.

For example, also published recently was news that incidents of cheating at a large, prominent university in Australia went up 2,000% when the school changed up how they were looking for it. What that really means is that students were cheating that much before the change, they were just getting away with it.

That news out of Australia quotes Cath Ellis, Associate Dean of Education at the University, putting the number of students who cheat in Australia, “as high as 12%.” It’s actually more common in the United States.

What’s truly disturbing about cheating in the U.S. is what schools are doing about it, which is nothing at all. And, on occasion, that’s on purpose.   Today In: Leadership

One public, state school with a large online program recently took a hard look at the issue of cheating, which is especially difficult to combat online. Their major internal report had some troubling, but not at all uncommon, findings.

“Faculty perceive academic dishonesty as a serious and pervasive problem at [school],” the report says, “and describe the problem as being largely beyond their control.” The same report found that nearly half of all program chairs (49%) and nearly 40% of teachers reported detecting plagiarism either in every single class or even several times in each class. And that’s just plagiarism, which is just one way to cheat.  

What’s also common, and more damaging, is that same report found that many teachers simply don’t believe cheating happens in their classes. Administrators are nearly twice as likely to say cheating happens than teachers. The truth is that cheating happens in every class, with every teacher. Those who don’t acknowledge it are in denial and, frankly, part of the problem.

And this is shocking. Even when they suspect cheating, an alarming number of teachers and administrators don’t do anything. According to the report, “28 percent of [administrators] and 14 percent of faculty acknowledge … that they have previously chosen to ignore suspected academic dishonesty that occurred in their courses.”

The combination of denying academic fraud, and not doing anything about even when you find it, is toxic. The report correctly cites research showing that conclusively, overwhelmingly, “academic integrity operates in students’ educational experience mainly through fear of punishment.” In other words, policies and lectures on integrity do not work. Honor codes don’t work. Fear of getting caught works. And if you’re not looking for it, or ignoring it, no one is afraid of being caught and it will continue.

It’s not as though colleges are powerless, there are dozens of things they can do right now to make cheating more difficult. It’s a mystery why they don’t.

The bigger, more shocking mystery is when schools know a specific action can reduce cheating and they affirmatively reject it.

Everyone knows, for example, that one way to deter cheating is for professors and administrators to change their course assignments and assessments. If an assignment is new, students can’t find recycled work online, which is a deep and growing problem among online classes where assignments and work exist digitally. Once a student does an assignment once, they can post it or even sell it on a number of widely accessible websites. So, even minor course changes can throw off and unmask cheaters.

From that report I keep citing, “Indeed, at [school] a majority of (68 percent) and faculty (52 percent) agree that changing assignments more frequently would deter academic dishonesty.” That’s right; it would.

But, the school says, simply changing up the assignments presents “challenges.” First, the school says, “for institutions like [us] that emphasize a standard and consistent curriculum to ensure the educational quality of teaching and learning, frequent assignment redesign lacks scalability.”  

In other words, because they teach primary online, where everything tends to be recycled and classes are managed rather than taught, changing the assignment isn’t something they can do. They don’t say it, but they know that changing online courses costs money. Online classes only work when you can design a course one time and sell it over and over again. Course changes won’t scale, they say.

The other reason they say changing assignments won’t work for them is that, “no institution can redesign assignments faster than they will appear on commercial websites.”

That’s not entirely true. But the bottom line is that even though this school knows a specific practice would cut down on cheating, they won’t do it because it costs money and because they think it’s pointless. So it continues. And they know it.

In the interest of fairness, this school is ahead of curve in even talking about cheating and is taking some proactive steps to curb it. But it’s still difficult to swallow an affirmative decision to not take a step they know will work.

What you’ve got, what we’ve got, is a serious problem. And the cheaters and cheating enablers are just one side of it. The prevalence of online teaching for “scale” is its own big problem. Teachers being in denial or looking the other way is another. Schools being unwilling to address it is yet another.

Whether this academic epidemic gets exposed here is not a question of if, it’s a question of when. As is who is going to have to answer for leaving it this way for so long.

Original Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/dereknewton/2019/08/31/looking-the-other-way-on-cheating-in-college/#4ad1e75392b6

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