Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sneaky students

I had a student sneak out during an in-class, group exercise to which she attached her name. I'm sure she thinks she's so smart that I didn't notice. The truth, however, is that I don't enjoy her presence in class and was happy to see her go. As to her grade, what do I care? Good riddance.

That's not to say I'll let any cheating pass without action. If the cheating hurts someone else's grade or hurts the morale of the class, I step in. If it's discrete and serves only to cheat the culprit (a bit cliche, but nevertheless true), I remain lazy.

Is that bad? I don't see how, but I still find myself wondering each time. I suppose if a student who would otherwise fail ends up passing because of cheating, that wouldn't be good. But that's never been the case in my experience. My experience is that people cheat to avoid work, not to boost their grade (perhaps at higher-stress schools, things are quite different?). I gave a take home physics test once, and many people clearly cheated off each other. I say "clearly" because a large group would have the same very wrong answer. If they cared much about their grade, they would have cheated using someone who actually knew the answer. No, they didn't search out such a person, but instead took the lazy path of copying from a classmate.


Anonymous said...

Several years ago I taught high school science. When I gave out multiple choice tests, i did an A and B version (same questions, different order, and abcd in different order). I mixed the two and handed them out so it wasn't obvious that there were two version. A couple of times I had people that I'm pretty sure cheated off someone next to them, but they already had a bad grade, so I genearlly didn't pursue it further.

I did have one student try to write answers on his hand to cheat during the test, but he wrote them on the back of his hand, not the palm.

CarlBrannen said...

What the heck is a "group exercise"? Maybe I got taught physics back in the old days before "from each according to his abilities" and all that took over academia. We had to do our work on our own.

Angry said...

CB: Group work takes lots of forms and is part of the recent trend towards "active learning." I'm fairly convinced that regular physics lecture is only slightly helpful for all but the most attentive students. I've found some success (not that I'm taking credit, I've come across such suggestions) breaking students up into small groups and having them work a problem or try to answer some questions. The smarter ones have to answer the questions of the others so they end up understanding things better, and the weaker students have a safer environment in which they can participate and ask questions.

Anonymous said...

In principle, I think the punishments for cheating should be such that the "expectation value" of cheating--the probability of being caught times the penalty--should end up being worse than the expectation value of, say, attempting a test for which one has not studied. So caught cheating = failure of class, not just a zero on the test. Of course, this probably gets the psychology of cheating completely wrong, in the same way that simpleminded "get tough on crime" ideas do.

One of the physics blogs posted this article a while back, about the surprising negative effects of praise. One point it made about a result of the self-esteem culture of recent decades: "Students turn to cheating because they haven’t developed a strategy for handling failure."

In reality, I am non-confrontational by nature and would really rather look away. I did see students cheating on a quiz I gave during my first semester TA'ing. I chose not to say anything. One of the students ended up failing the course anyways.

CarlBrannen said...

Angry, thanks for explaining. That makes complete sense. No one learns the same way. Back in the day, I always thought that lecture was totally useless except when the instructor didn't have a book, and those classes I avoided if I could. I only learned by spending great effort in calculation.

The best class I ever had was a grad class in real analysis. The instructor assigned the 4 to 8 students to solve particular problems, no two students on the same problem. 90% of class time was spent on us consecutively going to the blackboard and proving the desired result.

If someone wasn't ready, the task went to the next person to prove their next problem. It was possible for us to end up in the sad situation when no one had anything to prove. This was horribly embarassing to us as members of the class.

At the end of the year, I mentioned to the instructor that I thought that the problems he had assigned to me were more difficult, on average, than those assigned to my peers. He said that he had carefully assigned problems knowing the limitations of the students.

Most of the time the instructor sat in a desk in the back row of the classroom, feet up on a desk, perhaps smoking a pipe. The other students were expected to point out defects in the proof. If we missed them, he wouldn't.

CarlBrannen said...

Actually, it was point set topology. The instructor was David Arterburn now professor emeritus at NMT.