One More Time: Cheating
Last time I discussed the paper-writing industry, making all papers submitted in online classes (and most in traditional classes) suspect. Online courses also have tests. Those are suspect, too.
Admnistrator: “Studies show that Integrity Oaths reduce the incidence of cheating.”
--it’s true, but the reduction isn’t much, still allows for a great deal of cheating, and the studies rarely consider the possibility that a cheater would break an oath made to a machine.
I can’t help but suspect the widespread cheating I’ve observed with my own eyes is a huge factor in the greater success of college students in online courses. The primary, hysterically poor, defense colleges have against cheating is forcing students to agree to some sort of “Integrity Oath”, where they promise not to cheat. Would a cheater also lie on an oath? Administration seems to think “absolutely not,” and so considers such oaths to be an inviolable measure to prevent cheating. More likely, of course, administration doesn’t really care about the integrity of the institution.
Tests administered to kids in public online schools are proctored and regulated, but at the college level, a student merely has to say he has integrity, via an Oath, to be allowed to take online tests without oversight. Most online tests are multiple choice or short answer, often with a time limit, and often the software won’t allow other programs to run while the test is being taken (to prevent a student from looking up the answers on the internet, for example). For a college student at home, of course, even if no ringer can be hired, it’s trivial to set up two computers if need be, or buy a smartphone, and simply search online for the answer to any multiple choice question…seriously, how is it that administration has never thought of this simple method to get around the laughable anti-cheating ideas in most online test-taking software?
“Grant money and special leave will be granted to faculty that translate their courses into a 100% online format.”
--the notice that motivated me to create an online statistics course in the 90s.
Some colleges force online students to come into campus to take critical tests and exams, and this does grant some legitimacy to online courses, but this is discouraged by administration—forcing the student to come on campus violates the entire purpose of online courses reaching a wider market, after all. “100% online”, a course that does not require students to come to any campus, is the goal of most online developed courses for this reason. “100% online courses” maximize the increase in the potential student base, and integrity is casually sacrificed by administration for such a goal.
Administration claims that it’s simply not feasible to set up proctored testing for online students scattered around the country, which is why no online schools have it. Somehow, they’re unaware that Educational Testing Service (ETS) offers proctored testing centers across the country…it’s such an obvious measure to stop cheating on tests, but completely overlooked, “for some reason.”
“I’ve looked over the two papers, and the students say the similarities are because they studied together. Give both these students a passing grade.”
--Administrator, overruling a faculty member who, strangely, thought it was unlikely students would type up word for word identical paragraphs in a two page paper.
Cheating in college or elsewhere isn’t viewed the same as it was in times past. Although I’ve caught many a cheater, as have my associates, even the most egregious of violators will not be removed from college. The student rarely drops the course, forcing the faculty member to view the cheater very kindly or face a brutal evaluation—a cheating student’s opinion can actually influence a faculty member’s chance of keeping his job! Imagine if criminals could influence who could work as a security guard; I imagine wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf, prone-to-narcolepsy guards would be quite popular! The equivalent to these types of guards as professors certainly are popular on campuses.
“If you give the student a 0 for the assignment, she will fail, preventing graduation this semester. Please allow the student to re-submit the paper.”
--Administrative semi-overruling how one faculty handled a cheating student. Sure, the faculty was politely asked, and could refuse…and look for another job next semester. If you punish a student for cheating, that student WILL go to admin and complain. Admin doesn’t like student complaints.
The penalty for getting caught cheating is, most often, nothing at all past not getting a benefit for cheating. Imagine if the penalty for getting caught robbing a bank was limited to that you had to return any money you stole; with nothing to lose, anyone would give it a try. Under these circumstances, I don’t blame students for cheating, and cheating can’t be even be called disrespectful in a system nearly void of integrity in every way.
Any serious attempt to find cheating succeeds on a wide scale; even with hundreds of incidents of cheating in a University of Florida computer course, there were no expulsions1. The students were even warned about exactly how they would be caught cheating in that course, and it changed nothing, they went ahead and cheated anyway using a method they were informed in advance would get them caught. One student even challenged what penalties she did receive, excusing her cheating because “students cheated in years past.” Hey, if one guy successfully robs a bank, that means it’s ok for me to rob banks too, right? Ok, maybe some students do rather have it coming.
With student integrity at this level, and administration unmotivated to remove warm bodies for any reason, it’s madness to introduce a method of course delivery, online, that is perhaps the most conducive to cheating possible. With at least 60% of college students admitting they’re cheating (some reports put it at 98% self-reporting cheating), with cheaters having higher GPAs (more than half a point higher) than non-cheaters, 85% of cheaters believing cheating is essential to college success, 95% of cheaters not getting caught, and, most damningly, with the public more concerned about cheating than college officials, it’s unlikely the cheating issue will change anytime soon2. I have to use the word “issue” instead of “problem” when describing cheating, because my bosses don’t consider it a problem, unless the student gets caught and complains about whatever punishment I mete out. It’s been made clear that everything is best if the cheaters don’t get caught in the first place.
Even if cheating weren’t a serious issue, it’s fairly clear from the unprepared online students that come to my traditional courses that learning is much reduced in an online environment. Employers, the “real world” if you will, also generally hold online degrees in low regard. Even from an accredited institution, online degrees are worth nothing when it comes time to get a job. My own institution generally tosses such applications in the trash when we have a position open.
It’s no surprise that online learning is minimal; almost all students in the modern world spend a decade or more in the public school system, learning in traditional settings little different than at Plato’s Academy, a few thousand years ago: a teacher stands with students gathered around, paying attention and asking questions. This really is how most humans have learned for millennia: being taught by another human. It would be surprising if suddenly switching to a new method of delivery were particularly useful. It’s about as reasonable as a suddenly switching from holding your fork in your right hand to holding it in your left and expecting to eat a meal just as smoothly, if not better.
Cheating is wildly rampant in higher education, but students are only a little to blame. They know there is no penalty, and considering how worthless most degrees are, there’s little harm. Does it really matter if the student with a degree in Political Science of Women cheated to get that degree? Still, the fact remains that higher education is a system where the bosses, the administration, are highly motivated to remove all integrity, and to punish faculty that dare keep integrity in the system.
The promotion of cheating may be administration’s greatest achievement in undermining higher education, but they have other ways to improve “retention,” the only goal of administrators. I’ll address some of them in the next essay, but until then I encourage the reader to think of what these ways could be, the better to appreciate the extraordinary imagination of administrative avarice.
Think about it.
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