Cheating and plagiarizing have become so prevalent in society today that some people feel that it is the norm to engage in this dishonest behavior. In the video, Faking the Grade, it was reported that “half of undergraduates, who responded to one Canadian study, admitted to cheating in university and three quarters say they also cheated in high school”. (Doc Zone, 2014). With the amount of academic dishonesty that is occurring everyday instructors need to be more aware of its prevalence and know where they stand when it comes to the following scenario.
School policy states that students caught cheating on an exam or plagiarizing receive an automatic zero on the assignment. IS THAT FAIR? Why would you (or why would you not), follow through on this policy? Is there a time when you would “bend” the rules? What are the issues that underlie cheating and plagiarism?
Before I answer the above questions, I would first like to introduce to you two situations that I was involved with recently. Last semester I was teaching a Health Administration course within a Business Management- Post Degree Diploma program. These students all possess a minimum of a 3-year degree in a health related field, and all happen to be international students. I had previously been warned, by other colleagues, that both cheating and plagiarizing were common issues among international students. Thinking I was being proactive with this issue, I designed a video discussing academic dishonesty and had the student’s view this video during our very first class. Prior to the midterm exam, I went over my expectations of student conduct during the exam, clearly indicated that no talking would be permitted, while also explaining the consequences the students may face if caught engaging with one another. I was astonished on exam day when two students repeatedly kept talking to one another, despite repeated and continued warnings at the time of the occurrence. I arranged to meet with both of the students individually prior to the next class and explained to them they would both be receiving a zero on the exam. Both students were extremely upset and swore up and down that they were only asking the other student for a pen. The discussions that occurred during the exam were in their native language of Malayalam, so I do not actually know what was or was not said between them, thankfully I do not have to prove that they were discussing the exam because my rules were clear that there was to be no talking whatsoever during the exam. In this circumstance I informed the chair of the program, who forwarded the situation on to an ad hoc committee, and both students received zero on the midterm exam.
The second situation that I encountered last semester, in this same class with the same group of students, was multiple instances of plagiarizing on their term papers. Out of 25 students who were enrolled in my class, 13 of them has issues of plagiarism within their essays. This is despite the fact that I had shown them the academic honesty video on the first day of class, and made it very clear that they were to cite all of the sources they used to get information from. The college that I work at takes a progressive approach when considering cases of plagiarism, as opposed to automatically just assigning the student a zero for the assignment. These situations were all forwarded to an ad hoc committee with the results being that students who were first time offenders, of which there were 5, were given the opportunity to resubmit their essay, receive a 20% grade reduction, and were given a written warning. There were 6 students who had previously engaged in academic dishonesty, but who had only received a verbal warning in the past. These students were given a chance to resubmit their assignment, received a 50% grade reduction, and also received a written warning about their conduct. The final 2 students, who were deemed as multiple offenders for academic honesty, received a zero on the assignment and were given a written warning stating that any further dishonest conduct would result in them being removed from the program.
Originally when dealing with this situation, I was in agreement with the penalty’s that the ad hoc committee had recommended. The more I research and learn, about how prevalent this type of misconduct is becoming, the more I feel like our institution should not be taking a progressive approach and should be sticking with the penalties we have indicated to the students in their student handbooks, that if caught cheating or plagiarizing they will receive a zero on the assignment/exam. I actually have become quite angry at times when reflecting on these situations. These students are taking advantage of a system that is not truly penalizing them as they should be.
Academic dishonesty does not happen by accident, you cannot unintentionally cheat or plagiarize someone else’s work. These acts are often well thought out and do require some effort on the offender’s part. Take for example a few scenarios that were introduced to us in the video Faking the Grade; students cheat by writing down answers on a rubber band, copying other’s answers, or even using small earpieces and whispering the questions to someone on the other end who is looking up the answers for them. It doesn’t stop there, the reporters discuss how easy it is for students to buy a term papers online, mentioning that parents often help them out in these situations by paying for the paper in question. (Doc Zone, 2014).
I used to think that by being blunt and honest with my students, about how I expect them to behave, was enough to dissuade them from engaging in academic dishonesty. We are, however, surrounded by cheating and plagiarism all around us on a daily basis, just look at Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, FBI officers, and the Canadian Dean of Medicine, to name a few examples discussed in Faking the Grade. (Doc Zone, 2014). Simply telling our students that cheating and plagiarizing is not acceptable is no longer enough to keep them from doing so.
In answer to the original question, yes, I do believe that receiving a zero grade on an assignment/exam where cheating or plagiarism has occurred is fair. Not only is it fair, I believe that by enforcing these strict penalties we will be more successful in deterring our student’s from engaging in academic misconduct. The progressive approach, that has been implemented in practice by the college I work for, is not the solution. It can easily be seen that this approach has not been effective; I had multiple students who had engaged in some sort of academic misconduct prior to the instances that occurred in my course. It feels like the message we are sending to our students is that it’s okay to cheat and plagiarize to some extent, but if caught doing it one too many times then we may kick you out of the program.
Yes, we are surrounded by cheating and plagiarizing on a daily basis. Yes, the pressure students have to succeed in today’s society may be greater than ever. Yes, the competition with peers can be very intimidating. Yes, students are having to learn more in school than ever before. But NO, cheating and plagiarizing are not acceptable behaviors to condone.
Cheating and plagiarizing effects everyone, not just the person who demonstrates this dishonest behavior. It negatively effects the instructors, by creating more work, having to inforce disciplinary action, and making it more difficult to build meaningful working relationships with their students. It effects other students, by creating greater competition and higher standards, creating more undue pressure to succeed, and ultimately demoralizing them. It negatively effects the entire educational system and eventually the whole of society, as these individuals are likely to continue with their cheating and plagiarizing ways for the rest of their lives if they continue to get away with it. One article that I read even went to the extent of saying “the decline of standards in society will become prominent when the current wave of cheaters completes school”. (Rubin, 2012). It can clearly be seen that the negative effects that both cheating and plagiarizing result in affect everyone, and will continue to do so in the future, if educators continue to turn a blind eye or not penalize students to the full extent.
Another article that I read stated “the strict policies which become consequences of cheating could help in maintaining honest behavior in students”. (Misbah, 2012). This fact definitely reinforces my feelings that, in the future I need to follow through with enforcing strict consequences. Yes, I want to see each and every one of my students succeed, but not if I have to do so by condoning academic dishonesty on any level.
I would like to say that no, there are not ANY circumstance that could occur where I would not “bend the rules” again in the future. In all honesty though, there may be a time when it would be necessary to do so. At the moment I can’t think of a situation where I would be okay with doing so, however, I also never imagined that over half of my students last semester would plagiarize their term papers. We really do not know what the future holds, but I can say that I am now more aware of how prevalent cheating and plagiarism has become and I do not condone these behaviors on any level.
As educators in today’s society, we need to take a stand, band together, and enforce the school policies to their full extent. If we continue to ignore the problems, not penalize our students appropriately, or engage in bribery, then we are becoming no better than the people who cheated and plagiarized in the first place. We are essentially condoning this dishonest behavior from our students, who are sure to continue these behaviors throughout their working lives as well. We need to ask ourselves “is this really the kind of people we want to be sending out into society to become our doctors, lawyers, and teachers?”
Doc Zone [screen name]. (2014, Apr. 24). Faking the Grade . Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2304831657
Misbah [screen name]. (2012, May 25). Causes and Effects of Cheating on Students. Retrieved February 25, 2016 from http://misbahworld.blogspot.ca/2012/05/causes-and-effects-of-cheating-on.html
Rubin, R. (2012, Mar 9). Opinion: Cheating has Long Term Negative Side Effects. In The Circuit. Retrieved February 25, 2016 from http://www.cbhscircuit.com/?p=1296