University of Wisconsin–Madison

Cheating: To Chase or Not To Chase


What I wanted:

Early in my college teaching experience, I was preoccupied with students’ cheating.  With assignments, exams, papers and projects, I worked diligently to employ safeguards that would prevent cheating.  That took time.  And, it was no fun!  It felt like a “chase,” my running to catch up with those nefarious characters who seemed to be hell-bent on thwarting my best efforts to catch them in their devious ways.  Oh, the drama!

With an increase in class sizes and the ubiquitous nature of all things online, I was not catching up…..nor was I catching cheaters.  I had to find a way to highlight the importance of academic integrity, while meeting the instructional and learning objectives of the courses I teach.

What I tried

I tried to care less about cheating, and more about teaching.  It started slowly.  Baby steps.  For one course, in one semester, my approach was to back off on my CSI approach to solving the crimes of serial cheaters.  I wrote up an extensive policy for my syllabus, made a few announcements early in the semester, and soldiered on with my teaching.

Were students cheating on exams, assignments, projects and papers?  It’s likely a few of them were.  Was I a poor teacher because I was caring less and less about cheating?  I don’t think so.  In fact, I felt some genuine liberation from “the chase.”  I could devote more of my time and energy to teaching.  I could read students’ papers with a primary focus NOT on whether this was plagiarized work, but more on improving their writing skills with my edits and comments as part of assessing their writing.

Today, my syllabus cheating policy is summarized in this one paragraph:

Please represent your own work and research for anything you produce for this class: writing assignments, Online Discussion Forum posts, in-class presentations, etc. In other words, please don’t cheat! Thank you, in advance, for your anticipated honesty in maintaining your own, and the UW-Madison’s, academic integrity. For clarification about UW-Madison’s Policies and Procedures related to compromising academic integrity – a.k.a., cheating – please refer to this document:  UW Student Academic Misconduct Policy & Procedures.

My start-of-the-semester address to students is simple:  “Please don’t cheat.  If you are a student who regularly relies on others’ work, without appropriate attribution, if you are someone who makes a habit of cutting corners to get what you want, if you are unprepared to meet the rigors of study for this or other courses and cheating is your easy way out, I feel badly for you.  Because, although I may not catch you in the act, those poor choices will catch up with you.  Maybe not in this course.  Maybe not this semester.  But choosing to cheat will catch up with you.  So, please don’t do it.”

Naive?  Maybe.  And, I feel as though I’ve provided some role-modeling.  When most of my teaching effort is focused on our honest students and their hard work, cheaters, eventually, will feel left out.  And, every now and then, I believe it will give them reason to think twice about their poor choice to cheat.  Maybe, just maybe, they’ll spend more time on their studies, and less time engaged in the chase.

Next time I would…

I’m realistic enough to know that I have not completely eliminated cheating in my classes.  With the additional support of a Teaching Assistant for larger classes, we work together and “keep an eye out” for any obvious cheating.  Still, I find that I have more energy for my teaching practice if I’m not so fixated on chasing cheaters.

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