Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 24 seconds
For some reason, I feel compelled to write this post. I’m not sure why. I tell these three stories often, to say that even a straight A students who generally has a lot of academic integrity and believes cheating is wrong… may be tempted to cheat. A time or two. I want to explain each of these, and I think they reveal something about our students. So it is important for us as educators to remember what it was to be in their shoes?
Before I share the stories, I just want to establish two things. First, my mom taught me that we do the right thing not because someone is watching or can catch us, but because we know God is watching, and she always said, if you find yourself hesitant to tell others you’ve done something, you’re doing something wrong. I don’t necessarily believe this is the strongest argument now, but it worked well when I was younger and into my teens. Second, as someone who tended to do well in school generally, I never felt the need to cheat because I had usually studied well and generally tended to do well on exams and assignments without help, so why would I seek unauthorized help, when I didn’t need much help at all? So this last one won’t work for most students, obviously, but it was what worked for me.
Plant is the silliest of my academic integrity violations. It was a science exam, a crossword puzzle, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the clue was talking about. The answer was “plant”. The way I knew it was the answer is that the person in front of me was on the same page on the exam, and while I was thinking, my eye glanced at his page, and then I couldn’t unsee it. And of course this was a crossword, so unlocking this clue helped me solve all the other questions – without needing to look. The lesson learned in this particular example is that, first of all, seat students a bit farther apart or give them different versions of the exam. I didn’t INTENTIONALLY look, but I didn’t intentionally NOT look, either. The other thing is that a crossword may not be the best thing to use in a graded exam, because it introduces a layer of complexity and coincidence that has nothing to do with the main learning outcome that you’re testing – i.e. someone may do better or worse because of coincidences related to how well they answered one of the other questions, you know? On the crossword.
Bubble sort. This one was in my second year of college. We were asked to write the algorithm of bubble sort using assembly language. This, if you know what bubble sort is and how rudimentary assembly language is, and you know this is like our 3rd programming course – you would know this is not a normal thing for a sophomore to be able to do! It’s really hard. I struggled with it. We all struggled with it. A friend who was a year or two ahead of me offered to give me his code. I refused. He offered again. I refused. I kept struggling with it. The deadline loomed. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask the TA or professor for help. I think it was so beyond my abilities, I couldn’t even get my head around it enough to ask an intelligent question about it! And then I caved. I took the code from my friend, but I said I would try to understand it first before I adapted and submitted it. I think I tried. I don’t think I was able to get my head around it. Trust me. I was *really* good, and I couldn’t get my head around it. Everyone took someone else’s assignment for this. No one did it. And I don’t know if the professor ever knew how hard this assignment was, because everyone just took readymade code from an older friend! Lesson learned? If you assign something so so so high above your students’ level, they’re likely to get “unauthorized support”.
Ex: You know where this one is going, right? I wrote a paper for my ex-boyfriend because he was stuck in time and asked my help. He was my ex even at that point, but I felt bad for him and I wrote it for him, because it was easy for me to do that. End of story. Lesson learned? When a student helps another student, I’m sure that deep down somewhere they know it’s unethical, but I think there are complex and emotional factors at play, and they’re not thinking straight. I would have been shocked if I’d gotten caught. But I didn’t feel guilty doing it, unlike the previous two cases. I don’t even remember what the paper was about, I was so NOT feeling guilty! You know?
That’s it – I just needed to share these stories today!!! Maybe triggered by our first big workshop/conversation around Artificial Intelligence on campus today.
And yes the semester starts in 2 days and what if a student of mine sees this? Well, then they’ll know I am human and was like them one day!