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What is the best way for universities to catch today’s ever-evolving cheaters—and discourage them from cheating in the first place?One approach is to take advantage of a number of new technological tools like Turnitin that are designed to make academic dishonesty easier to sniff out.Others have found it helpful as a teaching tool, allowing students to see and correct problem areas before they submit their final drafts.
The committee failed him on the assignment, but not the course, “because some felt that he genuinely was unaware that the ideas had their origin outside of his own thinking.”Fishman points out that while students usually understand the “gross boundaries” of cheating, the specifics are much fuzzier, especially when it comes to paraphrasing and citation.
“Frankly, I’ve been in many, many groups of teachers who are discussing where the borders are of plagiarism, and most of the time [they] can’t agree on where the exact boundaries are,” she told me.
The definition of common knowledge—which determines what information needs attribution, and what doesn’t—is one such point of contention. “There’s no one box of stuff that we can say, ‘Okay, this is common knowledge,’ because it varies from community to community.
What’s common knowledge amongst a group of medical students, and what’s common knowledge amongst a group of engineering students is going to be different.”This kind of ambiguity is one of the main reasons Fishman counsels a more human-centric approach to college cheating. “There has to be an opportunity for [students] to attempt something, screw it up, and then to get feedback and correct it, without it being a semester-killing matter.”Elizabeth Kiss, the president of Agnes Scott College, says that one way to achieve this is an honor code.
Turnitin, for its part, is a web service used at institutions around the globe to analyze written schoolwork, giving students who run their papers through it computer-generated advice on their writing’s organization and sentence structures.
And it gives professors a grading platform that compares every sentence in a student essay to a big database: billions of archived web pages, millions of academic articles and—perhaps most interestingly—most of the other student papers submitted on Turnitin in the past, more than 337 million, according to the company’s website.But Don Mc Cabe, a retired professor at Rutgers University who led the ICAI student surveys for many years, is hesitant to blame today’s student cheating rates on easy access to the Internet, computers, mobile phones, and more.His survey data shows a more complicated portrait: The percentages of student cheating did begin to increase once the Internet became ubiquitous, but now are actually trending down again, toward pre-Internet levels.Some new ways of uncovering cheating may feel a little creepy.Proctortrack, a software that monitors online test-takers through a webcam, identifies slouching, stretching, shifts in lighting and picking up a dropped pencil as potentially dishonest behaviors.The company behind it, Verificent Technologies, says that Proctortrack is currently installed on 300,000 student computers, with over 1 million online exams proctored since its release.Other data experiments happening in higher education could have implications for how schools patrol for cheating in the future: many universities are starting to use demographic data like the student’s age and family education history alongside information on classroom engagement to predict a student’s likelihood of passing a course or even of graduating in four years.A quick read of case notes from the Williams College Honor and Discipline Committee’s rulings on cheating accusations bears this out.In one situation, “[t]he student was a first year student from a high school abroad in which citation was not taught at all,” but still was punished by flunking a paper that didn’t have appropriate citations.“Fundamentally, it’s about creating a culture which focuses on membership in the community being connected with academic honesty, and then also having the critical conversations that reinforce that culture,” she says.The student handbook echoes her: “The cornerstone of the entire structure of Agnes Scott life is the Honor System,” it states.