Volume 94, Issue 71

Tuesday, January 30, 2001


Cheating: Getting caught in the act while trying to find the easy way out

Cheating: Getting caught in the act while trying to find the easy way out

By Jill Shaw
Gazette Staff

Most people have probably thought about cheating at least once during their academic careers. Some may have done it. Either way, the temptation is certainly there.

Francis Bauer, Western's ombudsperson, said cheating usually occurs when people are not sure of what is allowed within the context of an assignment, the instructors or proctors do not enforce the rules, or the risk of getting caught seems low. Working in a highly competitive environment where there is a desire to impress professors or parents, can also motivate the student.

"Most students try cheating at least once," Bauer said. "[But the numbers of] those accused of cheating are much higher than those who actually do."

According to Bauer, graduate students and visual arts students cheat least often, as do students who attend schools that have honour codes in place.

Harry Murray, professor of psychology at Western, said the temptation to cheat is especially prevalent if the option to buy a paper exists. He said he felt students do not cheat regularly and the consequences now are not as serious as they were when he was a student. "In those days, the consequences were severe, you could get kicked out of school."

"Failure in the course or zero on an assignment is the most common penalty at the department level," Bauer said. "The burden is on the instructor to show some kind of academic dishonesty occurred."

Bauer explained the instructor consults with the chair who determines if sufficient evidence exists to prosecute. The chair of the department in which the alleged cheating occurred also determines the penalty. For those who feel that they have been falsely accused, there is a course of action to follow, she said.

According to Bauer, if a student feels he or she has been wrongly accused, the student can do the assignment again or appeal the decision. "The appeal process is the same as a grade appeal, but the student has the right to appeal to the Senate appeal board."

Photo by Dave Van Dyck/Gazette

According to Walter Zimmerman, on-line services librarian at The D.B. Weldon Library, it is difficult to detect if a student handed in the same paper for two classes, or another student's work. "In the past, the professor would know everything about the subject [in his field], now students can write outside of the professor's field." The introduction of new software to catch plagiarism will soon change that. Zimmerman said Western is currently considering two software programs, Turnitin.com and Essay Verification Engine (EVE).

He explained the program will work by cross-referencing student work submitted over the Internet, with the database of other sources and essays on the database. He added that even if the source the student plagiarized from is not in the database, another student may have used the same source in a paper.

"This is not an anti-student thing," Zimmerman stressed. "It's a good thing for students. If cheating is more prevalent, the [university] degree seems worth less. People should welcome it."

Zimmerman said he believed the program will provide many benefits to the university. "It will save faculty time, giving professors more time to do their jobs. It will also save time for distance students."

He also added the software's strength comes from having more universities involved in the program, leading to a larger database.

Jeff Sutton, VP-education for the University Students' Council, said while cheating is not a significant problem at Western, the goal of purchasing such software is to deter students from cheating.

"There is much better software out there," he said "The university is taking advantage of software at a lower cost to act as a deterrent [to students]." Sutton acknowledged it might be difficult to initially convince students to submit essays over the Internet, but it will soon become common practice.

"I think it's a great idea," said Linda MacKeen, exam co-ordinator at Queen's University in Kingston, adding she was unaware if anything similar was being considered at Queen's. According to MacKeen, the most common types of fraud involve bringing unauthorized material into an exam.

Still, technology is already being used to detect cheating during exams. Doug Link, director of the Social Science Computing Centre, said Scan Exam is used to analyze components of multiple choice exams, such as the effectiveness of questions, if the questions answered correctly as well as pinpointing any potential instances of cheating.

"There is a default in the program to identify extreme cases," Link said. He explained professors can look at individual scores to see what answers students match on. If two students answered the same questions incorrectly, the seating plan can be consulted to determine if the students were sitting near each other.

"This software can't prove cheating," Link said. "It's only a tool of investigating." However, he added if the statistical analysis shows a potential case of fraud, odds are good that cheating occurred. The value in the program also comes from encouraging professors to find ways of making cheating more difficult, such as giving different exams, or using random seating.

Greg Kelly, assistant professor of zoology at Western, said he uses Scan Exam. But he said felt students use their own judgment to prevent cheating by monitoring themselves.

Murray said he doesn't think cheating can ever really be solved, but plagiarism can be prevented by assigning students certain topics and requiring the use of certain references. "In most of my courses, I've minimized it to almost zero," he said.

"You can do your best to prevent cheating," MacKeen said. "But it really depends on the genius of the student."

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