How teachers prevent (or promote) academic dishonesty

by Daniel Axelrod
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

A few of the final embers from Harvard’s year-old cheating scandal recently slipped into the ashes when the university revealed that an administrative leak about the incident had been inadvertent.

Ultimately, Harvard forced 60 students to withdraw from school for varying periods of time after they shared answers from a take-home final exam for a class about Congress.

But instead of gawking, it’s worth discussing what teachers can learn to prevent such incidents.

So, Dr. Norm Lewis, a University of Florida journalism professor who studies academic dishonesty, shared with me eight simple solutions for teachers to stop it before it starts:

1.     Be clear about your expectations for academic honesty. At the semester’s start, don’t skip or gloss over the academic dishonesty policies in a syllabus. The first class is the ideal occasion to remind students of the definitions for, and the consequences of, different types of cheating and plagiarism.

2.     Set the right tone. Convey the ideas that good students will be rewarded for effort, and success comes from hard work (not luck or arbitrary judgments by the instructor).

3.     Be there to help your students. True accessibility transcends office hours. From the get-go, let students know they can ask questions and meet with the teacher for feedback.

4.     Lower the stakes. One assignment need not disproportionately count toward a final grade, and students deserve chances to rewrite what they submit. Academic dishonesty is more likely if grade pressures are too high, if students think they can’t handle the work, or if they believe the professor is demanding perfection. So, teachers should adopt attitudes, and institute policies, that prioritize learning over grading.

5.     Prevent last-minute efforts. Leave students ample time to complete assignments, and let them submit work in stages.

6.     Do some detective work. Call or view the students’ sources to see whether they were consulted, if they were properly cited, and to gauge the originality of the submission.

7.     Get to know your students. Besides using a diagnostic assessment to discern students’ creative voices and measure their abilities, simply learning students’ names, and forging real relationships, are the perfect ways to disincentivize/prevent academic dishonesty.

 8.     Close the loopholes. Complete the same tests and assignments given to the students. Consider every crevice, and then start caulking.

Plagiarism and cheating will always exist. But, like students, teachers are accountable for academic dishonesty, too. To ensure academic integrity, the first question an educator should ask is: “Do my practices and priorities prevent or promote it?”

 Daniel Axelrod is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).

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