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What is cheating and how do I define it?

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PEDAGOGICAL DESIGN
What is cheating and how do I define it?

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Author :
Dr. Shannon Lynn Burton and Breana Yaklin
What is cheating and how do I define it?

DY Contact profile image
Author :
Dr. Shannon Lynn Burton and Breana Yaklin

Academic integrity has long been a concern, and is even more prevalent with students and instructors moving courses online. Unfortunately, this is a gray area that can be difficult to define, and becomes even more difficult in the online space. What should you do if a student is wearing headphones or keeps looking off-screen during a proctored exam? Or, if a student submits a paper with writing that is inconsistent with their previous work?

The best first step is to have a conversation with the student. Begin from a place of curiosity, rather than a place of blame. A good script to follow is “I noticed this behavior happening. Can you tell me more about what’s going on?” This conversation should help to assess what’s happening in the moment. Did the student look at their phone during the exam because they were cheating, or because they were checking the time or an app that helps them track their health? Did the student look off-screen because they were looking at pre-recorded answers, or because they looked away to think through their answer? Zoom Fatigue is a real phenomenon, and being recorded or seeing themselves on screen while completing exams can add more stress for students. Looking away from the screen might be a natural human behavior as they focus on their answer.

If after talking with the student you feel the need to take action, keep the following points in mind:

  • The burden of proof falls on the instructor. 
  • If you give the student a penalty grade, you are required to file an academic dishonesty report. 
  • If you do need to submit an academic dishonesty report, know that our approach at MSU comes from an educational philosophy, not a punitive approach. The first step is to identify how we can help the student with their needs. If this is a first offense, students will take a class on academic integrity.

How can you prevent this? 

A proactive approach can help prevent questions of cheating. Again, the best first step is to begin with a conversation. Let students know we take integrity seriously at the beginning of the course. Open up the conversation on why integrity is important, try to connect the importance of integrity to the discipline and return to this conversation throughout the course. 

Another proactive approach is to re-think your assessment design. Consider tools like Turnitin and exam proctoring tools with a critical eye. These tools are not perfect, and if students are committed to cheating they can find ways to circumvent them. Rather than committing to an approach of assessment surveillance, look at your assessment design. Is there another way to assess what students are learning in your course? For more help with assessment design, see the resources below.

Finally, know that you can set policies for exams in your course. Set the policies you need at the beginning, such as no headphones during exams, or no technology visible on screen during an exam. 

Resources:

For more help with questions on academic integrity, contact Shannon Lynn Burton in the Ombuds office at ombud@msu.edu 

Or, check out this new book by Phillip Dawson, Defending Assessment Security in a Digital World: https://www.routledge.com/Defending-Assessment-Security-in-a-Digital-World-Preventing-E-Cheating/Dawson/p/book/9780367341527

For more help with thinking about your exam design or assessing your students beyond the exam, register for these upcoming assessment workshops: https://iteach.msu.edu/iteachmsu/groups/iteachmsu/stories/1367 

References:

Dawson, P. (2020). Defending Assessment Security in a Digital World. Routledge.

Jiang, M. (2020, April 22). The reason Zoom calls drain you energy. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting