The problem of cheating

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A look into academic dishonesty at Murray State

Story by Gisselle Hernandez, Assistant Features Editor

appleA student comes across a difficult question on his mid-term exam. Beads of sweat form on his brow as he racks his brain for the answer. There is none. He glances nervously at the professor in front of the class and then proceeds to pull out his cellphone to text a friend for help. This student has now cheated.

In October 2015, professors Steven D. Levitt and Ming-Jen Lin developed an algorithm that, when applied to a general science course at a top university, pointed to evidence that at least 10 percent of the students in the class cheated.

At a large university, this percentage may include thousands of students.

On March 4, The Murray State News conducted an unscientific survey of 65 students at the Thoroughbred Room on academic cheating. The News tallied scores depicted four categories: have students cheated in college, and if so, was it was through traditional means (copying or cheat sheets), electronic means or both traditional and electronic means.

About half of the students surveyed admitted to cheating at some point in their collegiate careers.

COLLEGE OF BUSINESS

Last fall, Linda Johnsonius, director of Undergraduate Business Advising, filed a stack of reports, many being  about students who had been academically dishonest in the technology class CSC 199.

Graduate assistants for the CSC 199 class, Munther Hidmi from Jerusalem, Israel, and Inrah Cruz from Ladyville, Belize, had first-hand experience with students cheating on a large scale for a certain term project by turning in other students’ files instead of their own.

This issue is common in the CSC 199 class, a technology class that is deemed difficult by many students. Johnsonius said one case stood out to her, in which a student was “very generous” and was sharing his files to many students in the class.

He was eventually caught, which was easy because he was making friends all over the place, Johnsonius said.

Cruz said she has had a student lie directly to her face while using his phone to text, denying he was texting when confronted. Hidmi said he has witnessed students opening other tabs that contained answers to the exam they were taking, even though they were aware that the professor can monitor any suspicious activity on all computers in the lab.

“Students rather risk getting caught to get a passing grade because if they didn’t study, either way they will get a zero,” he said.

HISTORY DEPARTMENT

Aaron Irvin, assistant professor of the ancient world in the history department, has had multiple accounts of students plagiarizing and copying directly from Wikipedia to turn in as their papers.

One of the more striking experiences he has had was when he was an assistant grader at his graduate school in 2005. A student turned in a paper and, while grading it, Irvin realized it was his own paper he had written as an undergraduate and later posted onto Wikipedia. The student plagiarized Irvin’s whole analysis, and because Wikipedia was not as well known as it is now, the professor might not have caught if it hadn’t been the grader’s own work, Irvin said.

These are a few examples of academic dishonesty professors have faced and dealt with, not including the different methods students have admitted to using, like writing answers on their leg or pretending to use their phone as a dictionary if their native tongue isn’t English. As for the reason why college students cheat, answers varied from person to person.

REASONS FOR CHEATING

Johnsonius, who believes no one is unable to learn something, said cheating is caused by laziness.

Cruz agreed, saying professors provide plenty of opportunities for students to achieve an A on their own without being dishonest.

“We give them so many chances, and for them to just cheat is irritating,” Cruz said. “We provide practice tests with unlimited tries, and then during the test they want to cheat. It’s disappointing.”

Sidney Martin, professor of electromechanical engineering, said a prime reason is the underlying pressures of being a college student.

Many students are attending Murray State on a scholarship, and pressures of having a certain grade point average can lead to a student prioritizing grades over integrity. The pressures of student loans also can cause a student to leave little time for studying awhile trying to pay their tuition.

“College is so darn expensive, and a lot of students are working. And I think all of that are pressures that make preparations for exams tough,” Martin said.

Martin also said cultural differences sometimes influence when a student cheats. He said some school systems outside of the United States accept students helping one another as OK. Martin said he once witnessed a student openly take a friend’s exam paper, look at it and return it as if it was normal. He then realized specific rules had to be set to minimize cheating and change the concept some international students might not think is cheating. For instance, at the end of the semester, it is usually international students who approach Martin, asking to “round up their grade.” Martin learned after extensive reading on the issue that this occurs because in some regions, such as the Middle East, everything is negotiable.

Irvin said cheating is born out of circumstances. To him, students often cheat out of a sense of desperation, saying these circumstances can strike anybody.

“Cheating is about fear and self-doubt: students don’t think they can do it on their own, they can’t foresee a way out of the consequences if they fail an exam,” he said. “So finding a shortcut seems more attractive than relying on themselves and facing the results of their failure.”

Cases like these and many others lead to the university taking precautions to limit further academic dishonesty. Murray State implements programs like Turnitin, which scans students’ papers for plagiarism, and the Lockdown browser, which restricts students from opening any tab other than the quiz/exam they are taking and records students through their computers’ webcam to monitor any cheating.

Technology aids in minimizing the cheating, making it easier to document any dishonesty, Johnsonius said. For the CSC 199 class, a program to turn in projects, Simnet, scans for minor details that may indicate someone has turned in someone else’s file.

AID OF EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY

As technology evolves, it makes it easier to catch students, but it also makes it easier for students to cheat, Hidmi said.

Students now sport the newest smart watches, which make it easier for students to cheat instead of usually using their phone.

“Back in the day, they used little papers and wrote on their hands which was tough to figure out,” Hidmi said. “Technology now has a big impact on cheating, helping it a lot.”

During Martin’s final exams, students have learned how to use the application WhatsApp, which is a type of text-messaging platform for smartphones. Martin said it is noticeable when students are cheating during an exam, because some people’s phones will chime at the same time, receiving a message with answers for the exam.

While answering The News anonymous survey, students admitted to getting creative to pass an exam. More than one student said they put a cheat sheet as their wallpaper on their phone, making it easier to just glance at the phone and quickly lock it without the professor noticing.

In addition to using restrictive programs to minimize dishonesty, Johnsonius said professors should stress that cheating is unacceptable and will result in sanctions.

Irvin also said professors have a significant role to play in students’ desire to cheat. Professors can teach students how to properly research and to ask questions requiring critical thinking, instead of rote memorization, which encourages them to cheat. He said students should take advantage of campus resources such as the library and Racer Writing Center, which can be great assets.

“Hopefully students will realize that with all of the options and resources available, that cheating really is just unnecessary,” he said. “And ultimately is little more than a waste of everyone’s time.”