I recently finished Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty by James Lang. While some of my colleagues believe that cheating is on the rise on campuses, Lang shows early in the book that the rate of cheating by students is comparable or less than rates at other times in recent history. Lang also explains that while students ultimately choose to cheat, there are classroom factors that promote cheating. He provides four classroom features that pressure students into cheating and presents case studies (some educational and some not) that exemplify each of the features. Later in the book, he showcases different educators who have redesigned their classroom environments to not just reduce cheating but to make their classes more authentic and supportive learning spaces. Wondering whether your classroom culture promotes or reduces cheating? Here are the four features that Lang presents as pressuring individuals to cheat.
1. An emphasis on performance. A student’s grade in a class should be dependent on their performance, right? That’s the prevailing procedure in most classes. Students take exams or write papers and then get grades. Lang argues for more of a mastery approach to learning. Rather than judging on performances like exams or papers, allow students to develop mastery by retaking exams or revising their work. The increased focus on learning rather than performance helps to reduce student cheating on single assignments.
2. High stakes riding on the outcome. I had several classes in college where the entire semester grade was determined by a single assessment, the final exam. This high stakes pressure influences students’ decision to cheat. When there is a lot to lose from failure, students see a great benefit from cheating. To reduce this high stakes pressure, provide more opportunities for students to showcase their learning through varied assessments. Instead of scheduling a handful of exams during a semester, provide additional quizzes or assignments to assess student learning.
3. An extrinsic motivation for success. Students cheat more in environments where there are extrinsic pressures to succeed. While there are times when we as individual educators can do little to reduce these outside motivators, we can foster more intrinsic motivation by structuring our courses differently. One way is to make the assignments more relevant and authentic for students. When students see the real-world applications of what they’re learning, they can become more personally invested in the process and less motivated to take short cuts to insure their success.
4. A low expectation of success. Some professors’ exams are legendary on campus. I’m sure there’s a certain level of pride that comes with creating challenging exams that become the thing of lore with students. When students perceive a task as being impossible, however, there’s an increased likelihood that they will cheat. In the book, Lang does not suggest that we lower standards so students cheat less. Instead, he suggests providing more opportunities for students to develop mastery with the content and increasing the amount of feedback that faculty provide to guide students’ academic development. He also suggests helping students develop the metacognitive skills that help them to attend to their own learning to prepare better for difficult tasks.