On Cheating

In a recent interview by Serena Golden on Inside Higher Ed, James M. Lang, an English professor at Assumption College, answered questions via e-mail about academic integrity. Lang has a new book that was recently published from Harvard University Press, called Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty. “Lang reviews research on both academic dishonesty and human learning to build a case that the most effective instructional strategies to minimize cheating are the same ones that will best help students to understand and retain the course material,” summarizes Golden. Here are some excerpts from Lang’s interview responses I found particularly compelling:

Cheating is an inappropriate response to a learning environment that’s not working for the student.

The fascinating discovery I made in my own research was that the features of a course that do tend to induce cheating were also ones that tend to reduce learning.

Too often we think about courses as “covering” material. As plenty of people have pointed out, though, just because you are covering something doesn’t mean that the students are learning it!

But I think every day we are preparing to step into a classroom, we have to ask ourselves this question, and be ready to answer it: Why should students care about this material?

And when we link our material to real and fascinating problems or questions — the types of problems or questions we tackle in our own research — then it becomes easier to help our students learn to care about our courses.

Some students cheat because they have poor metacognition — that is, they have an inaccurate picture of their own understanding of the course material.

Without question, the best means of improving student metacognition is with frequent, low-stakes assessments.

Whatever you are going to ask students to do on their graded assessments, give them the opportunity to try smaller, low-stakes versions in class or on homework assignments before they have to ramp up and try for the grade.

As much as possible, when it comes to academic dishonesty, we should keep our eyes focused on the design of the course and the assessment system.

The research clearly suggests that faculty inconsistently report instance of cheating in their courses, and the most frequent explanation they give for that is that they find administrators siding with students over faculty, or they find the bureaucratic procedures required to pursue a case of academic dishonesty incredibly time-consuming.

Don’t take it personally. Students cheat on assignments or exams; they don’t cheat on you.

What has Lang done to his own teaching after researching and writing about academic dishonesty? “So beginning this year,” he wrote, “I have reframed my courses around big questions that I hope will capture the interest of my students, and I have redesigned my assessments systems in order to give students more choices in how they demonstrate their learning to me.” Developing lessons around essential questions, transfer goals, and authentic problems can help motivate students to learn. Scaffolding assessments and giving choice to students when they are asked to demonstrate understanding can help eliminate academic dishonesty (hopefully).