Monday, March 31, 2008

Cheating Honor Codes

A little rule of thumb. If it at all can be avoided, do not plagiarize your own honor code.

Students apparently copied honor code

Sun Mar 30, 3:20 PM ET

SAN ANTONIO - Their goal was an honor code that discouraged cheating and plagiarizing.

However, the wording in a draft by students at the University of Texas at San Antonio appears to match another school's code — without proper attribution.

The student currently in charge of the honor code project said it was an oversight, but cheating experts say it illustrates a sloppiness among Internet-era students who don't know how to cite sources properly and think of their computers as cut-and-paste machines.

"That's the consequence of the Internet and the availability of things," said Daniel Wueste, director of the Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University. "It doesn't feel like what would be in a book. You Google it and here it comes."

Student Akshay Thusu said that when he took over the project a month ago he inherited a draft by earlier project participants, including a group of students who attended a conference five years ago put on by The Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson.

Materials from the conference, which are used by many universities, were probably the main source of UTSA's proposed code, Thusu said. That's why parts of the Texas draft match word-for-word the online version of Brigham Young University's code.

BYU credited the Center for Academic Integrity, but the San Antonio draft doesn't.

That will change, said Thusu, who plans to include proper citation and attribution when the draft is submitted to the faculty senate.

"We don't want to have an honor code that is stolen," Thusu said.

This is nothing new for those of us in academia. One of the unfortunate consequences of the internet is that students cheat now more than ever. Academics, too. If there was an honest assessment of every dissertation and published article in peer review journals, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that about a third of them have some problems with plagiarism (usually due to a lack of citation or lifting of ideals and concepts without giving proper credit). There are many a department who should breathe a sigh of relief that their faculty "scholars" do not have their writings subjected to the review of a Stephen Ambrose or Ward Churchill (including some of the increasingly overrated products from our Ivy League institutions).

I do not even bother to assign long paper assignments in my class anymore, but instead make my students write several shorter assignments, to force them to get to the point in their writing and make it more difficult for them to cheat (since copied term papers are longer). And I still catch students cheating (and not infrequently copying and pasting from sites, almost word-for-word). It is to the point now that I make my students take all-essay exams, to look at their writing style, and check to see if it is similar (knowing that they cannot plagiarize in the controlled atmosphere of the classroom during an exam). The smart ones will mix up the words, reducing the probability of the anti-cheating programs. I have caught quite a few over the years through this, but if it is not similar enough to show high correlation there is little a professor can do (knowing most of the universities will side with the students, since they or the parents of these little hucksters pay their salary).

Ultimately, there is no way you can entirely stop cheating, except to force the students to write everything during class time. And even then, they are adept to using electronic and digital mediums to bridge the cheating gap (you have to look out for the hats and long hair, used to disguise earphones). If these kids were as studious as they were dishonest, they could probably get A's, but our culture of instantaneous gratification makes such study and work habits seem antiquated.


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