Reported by Jen Wright
Imagine you are taking a test.
You’ve been studying hard for this test, but you are unsure of your ability to remember enough to get the grade you need to pass the class.
Your flashcards are in your bag beside you, and the professor isn’t looking. Do you trust your preparation, or do you try to use your flashcards to help you on the test?
In a survey conducted between 2002 and 2015 of over 70 thousand undergraduate students, thirty-nine percent of undergraduate respondents admitted to cheating on tests and 62 percent cheated on written assignments, according to the International Center for Academic Integrity.
One of the biggest factors in cheating is academic stress and the expectation for students to constantly perform at a high level. Students may feel justified in cheating a system seemingly built to make them fail, especially when the benefits of getting a high grade are so valuable.
“With so many scholarships, awards, internships and other incentives at stake, it’s entirely possible that those reporting no regrets considered their actions justified when rewarded for their ‘success,’” the Open Education Database (OEDb) said.
There are a multitude of ways to cheat, from flashcards to fake water bottle labels, simply peeking over your neighbor’s shoulder, or even plagiarism.
Academic plagiarism can range from a single sentence copied from Wikipedia or Yahoo! Answers to a full paper pulled from an online “paper mill” like allfreepapers.com.
The public is more concerned with academic dishonesty than college officials, with results from a survey by the Ad Council and Educational Testing Service stating 41 percent of Americans consider cheating a serious issue, but only 34 percent of college officials do.
“They attribute the surprisingly low numbers to a decreased stigma surrounding the actions and an increase in emphasizing a stockpile of rewards and honors over hard work and dedication,” the OEDb said.
When more value is placed on grades and honors than genuine performance, students suffer, especially students trying to adhere to the rules.
But cheating isn’t all black-and-white, and the grey area is huge, according to Professor Isaac Choi, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at George Fox University (GFU) who teaches ethics classes and is a faculty fellow for the William Penn Honors Program.
Many universities have writing centers to help students with written assignments and tutors to help students understand their coursework. But where do you draw the line between getting help and cheating?
“If you have a student who hires someone to write their paper, that’s clearly dishonest,” Choi said. “Maybe if you hire someone to really help you a lot in writing a paper ... that’s kind of more in the grey area, right? Because where does tutoring end, and actual dishonesty begin?”
Academic pressure, low self-confidence and lack of awareness of what cheating is can all play a part in the decision to cheat, but according to Choi, academic pressure plays the biggest role.
“Students are at a disadvantage because of the fact that they have been so highly programmed since birth,” Choi said, “whereas, when I was young, kids were able to play, they were able to relax. [Students] have been under a ‘pressure cooker’ from very early on. Over-programmed, [over-examined], over-tested, these kind of things, I just think are bad cultural trends.”
These combined factors have made it harder for students to succeed overall, and professors like Choi and Professor Steven Classen are working to help their students not only get good grades, but also to have a good experience. Classen is a professor of Communication at GFU and a faculty chair for the Department of Communication and Cinematic Arts.
Being a department chair means that Classen sees students in cases of academic dishonesty and has the opportunity to discuss the issue with them. But Classen doesn’t just admonish students and discuss punishments and sanctions in those meetings, he tries to help build on the experience.
“I use it as an opportunity to talk with them about why the college experience should be about not just passing classes and not just getting grades but also about them thinking about their own character, their own values, and the cultivation of virtues,” Classen said.
As teachers, both Classen and Choi are mindful of the pressures on students and attempt to lighten the load as much as possible, encouraging an emphasis on learning rather than grades.
Grades don’t always reflect how much a student is learning in a class, or how much time they are putting into their work, and rarely reflect a teacher’s opinion of a student.
“Students do feel pressure to get A’s and B’s in classes, and I oftentimes say to students that C students very often are the students who will learn as much as the A students in a class,” Classen said. “I also make it clear in many of my classes that grading scales don’t correlate at all with how much I appreciate a student, [or] how much I like a student.”
Fostering a welcoming classroom environment is one way for teachers to help students combat the academic and social pressures that push a student to cheat, but a larger change in the system may be required to affect the kind of genuine success coveted by university students nation-wide.
On the whole, though, academic honesty has to be its own reward. You may not get the best grades or scholarships, but you learn the material in the most thorough way, and that sets you up for success in the long run.