Handling Academic Dishonesty

Why is cheating on the rise?  What is the real cause?  Cheating is a national as well as an international problem.  Some educators blame the rise in cheating on the lack of ethics in a self-centered society.  Some point to habits learned from years of working in cooperative work situations.  Parents blame teachers who don't care if students cheat or who would rather avoid the work of disciplining those who do.  Teachers blame indulgent parents who refuse to hold their children accountable.  The readily available information found on the internet has also been labeled as a cause for the increase in cheating.  The truth is that all of these factors play a role in cheating.

What is cheating?

  • Supplying or using work or answers that are not your own
  • Providing or accepting assistance with completing assignments or examinations
  • Faking data or results
  • Interfering in any way with someone else's work
  • Stealing an examination or solution from the teacher

What is plagiarism?

  • Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment
  • Buying a paper from a research service or term paper mill
  • Turning in another student's work with or without that student's knowledge
  • Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment
  • Copying materials from a source text, supplying proper documentation, but leaving out quotation marks
  • Paraphrasing materials from a source text without appropriate documentation
  • Turning in a paper from a term paper website

Which students are more likely to cheat?

Anyone is likely to cheat.The evidence does not indicate that GPA, gender, or year in school are more reliable predictors.Studies did show a positive correlation between cheating and student residence in a fraternity or sorority.Other studies showed that students who observed fellow students cheating or just believed that others in the class were cheating also tended to cheat.Answer copying on exams is more likely to take place between friends.Friends do copy from friends.A positive correlation was also found between cheating and the level of consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Understanding the reasons for why students cheat can be helpful in forming a picture of academic dishonesty.Reasons for cheating include:

  • Students today have less loyalty to the academic institution so that cheating is more impersonal and seen as less painful because of this detachment.
  • The competitive job market places great importance on a high GPA which means that any means necessary will be used to achieve good grades.
  • Some students feel that teachers are cheating them in the classroom by ignoring their teaching responsibilities.Students adopt the attitude that turnabout is fair play.
  • New students feel overwhelmed with their course work so they resort to cheating to achieve good grades.

What can Faculty DO?

For papers and daily work

  • Make it very clear from the first day of class how you define cheating and plagiarism.
  • Include this information in your course syllabi along with your course objectives and expectations.
  • Clarify the resources your students may use in completing assignments.
  • Use another means of assessment besides or in addition to tests and quizzes.
  • Keep an open line of communication between you and your students.
  • Be accessible to your students.
  • Read all papers on the same topic together.
  • Use daily lesson plans with stated objectives.
  • Create a new test each time you teach the course.
  • Remind you students of your policy on collaboration.
  • If you have assigned group projects, tell your students if you expect them to collaborate on the test.
  • If so, tell the class if you expect each group to submit a single response or if you expect each member of the group to submit a response or both.
  • Have your students reflect personally on the topic or as a completely separate assignment.
  • Before an assignment is due, require students to report on their progress.
  • Different ways to do this include requiring topical proposals, idea outlines, multiple drafts, interim bibliographies, and copies of sources
  • Early in the term, assign in-class written work to become familiar with your students' styles and abilities.
  • Explain what you consider to be acceptable use of information found on the Internet.
  • Warn students of signs of dishonesty (ex., writing style, topic does not match the assignment, type face on the title page does not match type in the body of the assignment, the assignment is photocopied but the cover page is an original).
  • Prepare a handout that explains your expectations for written assignments including format, style, documentation, and footnotes.
  • Give specific topics for assignments.
  • Keep copies of past papers.
  • Require the original copy of the paper.
  • Do not accept photocopies.
  • Consider establishing an honor system among the students in your class.

Before an exam or quiz date

  • Remind students of your definition of academic dishonesty and how you will handle cheaters.
  • Be specific about the materials you will allow students to bring into the classroom on the test date and those materials you will not allow (ex., cellular phones, computers).
  • Explain the measures you will take to stop cheating.
  • Alternate test forms with scrambled number items.
  • Prepare multiple forms of the test.
  • Assign students to a specific seat.
  • Students will often sit near their friends or become acquainted with the students sitting near them.
  • Changing the seating arrangement for the test will decrease the likelihood of answer sharing or copying.
  • Use a proctor that you have trained.
  • Acquaint students with the format of the test.
  • Include some good examples of possible essays.
  • Consider using more essay exams and questions.
  • Research indicates that using essay questions is one method that has been consistently effective in discouraging cheating.
  • Remind students to bring their student ID.

Immediately before the exam begins

  • Ask students to check the ID cards as students enter the classroom.
  • Count test takers, scan sheets, and test booklets.
  • Have students place all materials underneath their seats.
  • Require students to turn baseball caps backwards or remove them.
  • If you instruct students to bring a blue book, require them to exchange their blue book with at least one other student or collect all of the blue books and distribute them randomly.
  • Stamp, number, or initial each blue book once the desks have all been cleared.
  • Widely space the seats during exams.  If students believe that others are cheating, they themselves are more likely to cheat.

During the exam

  • Monitor students by moving around the classroom without distracting them.
  • Stop inappropriate behavior (ex., tapping, making inappropriate noise, exchanging pencils or pens).
  • Take attendance.
  • Position proctors throughout the classroom.

After the exam

  • Compute correlation on wrong/correct answers with students seated near one another.
  • Destroy old exams.
  • Collect all evidence to support an accusation of academic dishonesty (ex. crib sheets, reports from proctors, other student comments).
  • If you use statistical evidence to support an allegation of cheating, base data on the performance of all students in the class.
  • Meet with students suspected of cheating individually, privately, and immediately to discuss your concerns and present all evidence supporting your allegation of cheating.
  • Do not call attention to a student suspected of cheating during the exam by taking away their test or having the student move to another location.  It will disrupt the other students.  Instead, allow the student to finish the exam.
  • Confirm absences by comparing attendance records with submitted exams.

How can I detect plagiarized papers?

  • The writing style, language, vocabulary, tone, grammar, etc. is above or below the student's ability.
  • Sections or sentences feel out-of-place
  • Look for strange text at the top or bottom of printed pages
  • Look for gray letters in the text.
  • Because color letters on a screen show up gray in a printout, this is often an indication that the page was downloaded from the web
  • Essays that have been printed out from the student's web browser
  • Web addresses left at the top or bottom of the page.
  • Many free essays have a tag line at the end of the essay that students often miss
  • Strange or poor layout such as page numbers, headings, or spacing
  • References to graphs, charts, or accompanying material that is not in the text of the paper
  • References to professors, classes, or class numbers that are not taught at UTC
  • Students cannot summarize the main points of the paper or answer questions about specific sections of the paper
  • Read quotations carefully.
  • Do they sound like a quote from an interview?
  • Are there quotes without bibliographic entries?
  • Students cannot identify citations or provide copies of the cited material
  • Review the bibliography.  Is the correct citation style used?  Is the citation style used consistently?  Does it match the sources referenced in the paper?  Are there many items that the library does not have?

You may not be comfortable using some of these suggestions or have the resources available to implement other suggestions.  Research on cheating, however, shows that addressing academic dishonesty in your course syllabi and having an in-class discussion will stop about two-thirds of the students from cheating.  One of the most important actions a teacher can take to prevent cheating is to model ethical behavior.

The overall attitude at an academic institution can be crucial too.  If the college or university can establish a sense of community and loyalty, it will be that much harder for academic dishonesty to exist.  Various authors who have studied the impact of integrity on a college campus offer some strategies for establishing this sense of integrity.  Some suggestions include:

  • Consistent and vocal support for the concept of academic integrity must be present.
  • It should be clear to the students when they arrive on campus that the institution has high expectations for their students and any violations of these expectations will not be tolerated.
  • A highly publicized and well-known code of academic integrity is essential in nurturing this sense of shared values.
  • The code will be most effective when students, faculty, and administrators are involved.
  • Studies are especially insistent on the idea that students must be involved from the start if any lasting changes are going to take place on campus.

Other Resources

If you would like to learn more about academic dishonesty, you can come by the Walker Center for Teaching & Learning or visit these websites: