Cheating Lessons

Dan Ariely published a book about cheating called The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How we Lie to Everyone- Especially Ourselves. The book describes multiple experiments about cheating and also Ariely’s own experiments where he created scenarios that would prompt people to cheat. Ariely came to the conclusion that “under the right conditions, most people are willing to cheat a little bit”. One would expect all people to be innocent, but under certain situations people may behave out of the ordinary. Those people are concerned more about the end results over the method used to attain that result, even if it means cheating. In some situations it would feel as though the ends justify the means, however cheating is never justifiable.

There are many factors that affect the desire to cheat in a school environment.  These factors include Sex, Age, School, type of course (online or lecture), size of course (classroom or auditorium), etc. However, pinpointing the specific environment that encourages more people to cheat and assigning more proctors to watch students like a hawk during an exam is not the solution. Instead, one should adjust the environment so that people are less tempted to cheat. There are many factors that affect the desire to cheat. This includes: the course itself, the course requirements, the nature of the course, the professor, etc. With the right mix of these factors one could potentially create an environment where students are less willing to cheat on a test than compared to another environment where students are willing to cheat despite the presence of proctors.

A trio of researchers in Britain conducted an experiment called “Princess Alice.” In this experiment, a handful of kids age 5-9 are told to throw a ball at a target while using their non-dominant hand and also have their backs facing the target. Because of how impossible this task is, many kids resorted to cheating in order to get the prize for landing the ball on the target, a small toy. The children are put into 4 categories: those who had adult supervision, those who believed in/unsure Princess Alice’s existence, those who didn’t believe in Princess Alice’s existence, and those who did not have supervision at all. Princess Alice sort of symbolizes the children’s guilty conscience; the idea of a being that is watching their every move made the children unwilling to cheat. What was interesting about the Princess Alice experiment is that the group of children who believed in her existence performed almost the same as the children who were in the presence of an adult. If we could somehow use the Princess Alice concept and apply it to college classrooms, we may be able to reduce cheating. On the other hand this experiment only had 11 subjects which make the results not so reliable.

George M Diekhoff and a group of researchers conducted a survey regarding cheating behaviors in higher education. About 700 students from United States and Japanese Universities were surveyed. The purpose of this survey was to find out which types of students are more likely to cheat. The study shows that 55% of Japanese students admitted to cheating, more than twice the amount of American students. Japanese students are more willing to cheat because more is on the line for them. This is because Japanese students’ grades heavily rely on the final exam with their final grade extremely dependent on the performance of one exam. On the other hand, American students’ grades are based on many things such as multiple exams throughout the year, quizzes, and homework. Thus, Japanese students are more compelled to cheat than compared to American students.

“High-stakes” tests induce people to cheat. Courses with only two or three test grades that affect your final grade would pressurize an average student to cheat. These high-stakes tests will induce your desire to cheat by so much that even the punishment for getting caught cheating wouldn’t faze you. A good example of this is the Chinese civil-service exams. If you do well on the CCS exams, you will be guaranteed a good job position in the Chinese government. If you fail however, you will be a dishonor to your family and not get a good job (unless you decide to devote another 3 years to studying). The punishment for cheating in the CCS exam was extremely severe and goes up to the death penalty. Even the death penalty did not faze the CCS test takers because of how “high-stake” the test was.

Does this mean we shouldn’t have any high-stake tests in our education system? No, high-stake tests are essential, but the correct solution for this is to have many lower stake tests/quizzes to better prepare the students so they will do well on the high-stake tests without being tempted to cheat. Reducing cheating and increasing learning go hand in hand.

75% of students surveyed admitted to cheating at least once in college. This 75% has been constant since 1963. In recent years, in a survey with 150,000 students across different institutions the amount admitted to cheating was between 60-70%. You may think that the cheating rate has lowered, however the method of survey (online vs paper for the 1963 survey) could affect the results. On the bright side, there is no concrete evidence that the rate of cheating has increased either. The fact that this number, 75%, has remained constant for the past 50 years indicate to us that we haven’t been doing enough regarding this matter.

Students are less tempted to cheat when a course offers multiple low-stake tests compared to just two or three high-stake tests. Not only does multiple low-stake tests reduce cheating, it also increases learning. In an experiment conducted by Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke, the participants had to study 40 English-Swahili word pairs and was tested on their memory. One group was given all 40 words at once and was tested after every study session. Another group was also given 40 words and was tested after every study session but they removed every correct pair they got correct after each test. Both groups performed the same on the four post study session tests and also the final exam. The conclusion from this experiment is: it isn’t about the amount of information given, it is about the frequency of testing. However it isn’t just simply frequent testing either, it is about the memory and retrieval of information. There are many ways to practice retrieving information. For example, “minute paper” is where you take out a piece of paper in the last 5 minutes of class and write concepts you learned in class that day.  We cannot fully prevent cheating in the school environment, however, schools can definitely change the nature of the courses and course requirements so that students are not pressured or tempted to cheat.

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