Cheating confusion persists

The majority of students surveyed in a News poll, more than 600 undergraduates, have witnessed cheating over the course of their Yale careers.

The majority of the 1,037 undergraduate respondents also said they understand what constitutes cheating at Yale, despite the fact that the majority have not read the University’s Undergraduate Regulations on academic dishonesty. But while University administrators and professors work to prevent cheating, academic dishonesty is still on the rise: The number of cheating and plagiarism cases brought to the Yale College’s highest discipinary body tripled from 24 in the 2006-’07 academic year to 72 in the 2009-’10 academic year.

For nearly ten years, Jonathan Edwards Master Penelope Laurans has included academic honesty in her presentation to new faculty, which is designed familiarize them with Yale and its customs and traditions. She reminds them that not all students have a firm understanding of academic dishonesty, she said, so teachers should make their expectations clear to students.

“Yale has to ensure the integrity of its own degrees, and it must recognize and honor right from wrong,” she said, “so it is [Yale’s] responsibility to see that cheating is addressed when it is discovered.”

Eighty percent of respondents said they already understand what constitutes cheating on problem sets, and only 15 percent said they have ever knowingly cheated on an assignment or exam. Still, students are unclear on how certain practices — such as working with a partner on a problem set or recycling written work for different classes — can cross into academic dishonesty.

“I can see that the [Dean’s Office] has some work to do in educating Yale students,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, “particularly with regard to the question of ‘turning in the same essay for two classes’ as well as in terms of understanding the Undergraduate Regulations.”

One out of three respondents said they did not know that turning in the same essay to different courses is considered cheating — and over half said they do not think it should be considered cheating.

“They’re your ideas still,” said Raquel Guarino ’13. “If [the essay prompts are] asking substantively the same question, I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Executive Committee Chair Margaret Clark said there are some instances when students can write about a topic more than once — but only if the student discusses the assignment with the professor and tries to add something new. Catherine Nicholson, an English professor and assistant director of undergraduate studies in the English Department, said she enjoys when reading and discussion in her courses overlap with students’ other coursework.

“I’m very supportive of students who want to adapt an assignment to allow that other perspective in,” she said. “It’s worth trusting that they won’t exploit that option unfairly because that sort of cross-pollination is liberal arts education at its best.”

Nicholson said she sends an e-mail to English professors at the beginning of each semester reminding them to discuss plagiarism with their students. She said she also presents examples of plagiarism to her own students to make the rules “seem less like unintelligible abstractions.”

Professors who assign problem sets face a different challenge in explaining and preventing cheating — and some choose not to explain it at all.

Mathematics professor Andrew Casson said he does not explicitly announce his policies to his students, but he allows them to work together as long as each student actively contributes. He said problem sets are not a significant portion of students’ grades, and he has not run into problems with cheating very often.

But Noelle Thew ’14 said she thinks many students copy answers for problem sets.

“It has to do with stress and feeling like you don’t have enough time to work through the problems on your own, or you convince yourself that you’ll go over it later to fully understand,” Thew said.

Somin Lee ’14 said students who copy answers on problem sets will likely suffer later in the course.

Economics professor Ray Fair said he announces his policy in class, and he permits students to work together as long as they write their own answers and write the names of the other group members at the top of the page. If an answer seems familiar as he or his teaching fellows are grading, he said, the names allow them to quickly check if the answers were copied.

But Andrew Everett ’12 said he still thinks of problem sets as “a gray area.”

“They expect you to work together and not have the same answers,” Everett said, “which doesn’t really make sense.”

The Executive Committee saw 80 total cases during the 2009-’10 academic year, 90 percent of which involved cheating or plagiarism.

Comments

  • townieexprof

    “and only 15 percent said they have ever knowingly cheated on an assignment or exam”

    wow, “only” 15%?

    That about says it all.

    Editors, c’mon.

    Substitute “appalling” for “only”, or “sickening”, or anything but “only”.

    But perhaps you meant “only” 15% admitted cheating while 60% admitted witnessing cheating.
    What are the odds that the 15% number is correct if we assume the 60% is correct?

    There’s your problem set neffew.

    And sadly, what are the chances anyone DID something about having witnessed cheating?

  • ds747

    I think there is a definite gray area when it comes to problem sets. My impression (which could be incorrect) is that the TAs who grade problem sets often only look for final answers and only skim over the work done to find them. As well, large lecture classes (econ115, chem114, etc.) have many TAs, and students who work together on problem sets will often have different TAs. Thus, there’s really no chance for cheating to be caught…

    Also, as a student, I have to say that I don’t really take problem sets seriously. They aren’t worth nearly as much as essays or final exams, and they’re generally graded very easily.

  • prion

    > as a student, I have to say that I don’t really take problem sets seriously. They aren’t worth nearly as much as essays or final exams, and they’re generally graded very easily.

    I.e. you’re not a student, you’re a compliance-oriented panderer.

  • River Tam

    > and only 15 percent said they have ever knowingly cheated on an assignment or exam.

    “Only” 15%? Nice to see the standards we’re keeping here.

  • Undergrad

    @townieexprof

    “What are the odds that the 15% number is correct if we assume the 60% is correct?”

    That’s actually not too difficult to believe. All it means is that for every cheater there’s 4 witnesses–especially possible since some of them have probably cheated many times.

  • yalie13

    One of the most absurd things so many professors do is grade problem sets. It’s absolutely ridiculous, especially when you call it cheating if you work on it with someone else. It creates a hostile learning environment where it’s in nobody’s interest to help the other person out.

    Don’t grade a problem set based on the right answers. Just grade it based on doing it. That way, you’re encouraged to study in groups (where the REAL learning happens; there’s nothing more intellectually valuable than talking concepts out and explaining it to other people), and if you copy the answers or fake answers, you’re just cheating yourself because then you won’t understand the concepts and you’ll do poorly on exams.

    **A problem set is meant to TEACH, not to examen. That’s what we have exams for.**

  • prion

    Yalie13 posted

    > Don’t grade a problem set based on the right answers. Just grade it based on doing it… A problem set is meant to TEACH, not to [examine]. That’s what we have exams for.

    Why grade it at all? Just give us feedback. Classes would be so much better if they weren’t hijacked by all those people who want the grade but not the education.

  • yalie13

    @prion

    Yea, that’s a valid point and a lot of classes I know don’t grade problem sets (like Genetics), but you sure as heck going to end up doing them because they’re very helpful for the tests and they’re covered in sections.

    I know of other classes like Freshman Organic Chemistry where problem sets are an extremely minuscule fraction of your grade and you are only graded on doing it, not if you have the right or wrong answer. And the grading basically works such that if you do essentially all the problem sets, the professor puts that into consideration if your final grade is borderline between two letters.

    l suppose the idea behind grading problem sets based on whether you did them but making them a really small fraction of your grade is to provide some slight nudge or encouragement for doing the problem sets so that they don’t have the misconception of appearing pointless.