04 October 2009

Student Cheating

In a recent student survey conducted in one of the Computer Science courses at UBC, we asked the following question with the preamble: Just like all your other responses in this survey, no instructor will have access to your identity. In particular, your responses to the following two questions will not be used in any way as evidence of violation of academic misconduct.
Do you believe you may have ever violated the academic conduct guidelines of a UBC course and, if so, what activities were you engaged in?
Out of 81 responses we received, no student admitted to having violated the academic conduct guidelines. Of course it is quite probable that UBC students are highly ethical in nature, or the question may not be clear enough on what constitutes "academic conduct guidelines". In any case, even with the preamble, the students may not feel comfortable in revealing the truth because the survey did ask for their student number in the beginning! In a study of student cheating by Sheard et al. (2002), students self-report of their cheating activities ranges from around 10% to 47%. In general, there are internal and external factors that cause students to cheat, but the three most common reasons are: time pressure, possible failure of the course, and difficulty of work.

One of the more publicized cases of student cheating in Computer Science is reported by Zobel (2004). In that case, students cheated by purchasing assignments and even have someone write the exams for them. As the faculty tried to investigate on the case, there were met with violent threats and even office break in's. It all sounded like a soap opera, but it is understandable that many faculty members or administrators do not want to deal with cheating cases. After all, it is costly on every one's part.

Greening et al. (2004) and Joyce (2007) examine ways of integrating ethical content into computer curricula. A student survey that involves a number of scenario's that involve cheating seems to challenge the students' thinking on critical ethical issues of a number of issues. It is also critical that faculty needs to have a good background of philosophical frameworks to guide the students. Some of these include utilitarian, deontological, virtuous, and relativist frameworks.

The prevalence of cheating cases, especially in assignments, works against student learning in that properly designed assignments are effective ways to help students construct their knowledge. If instructors knew that students mostly cheat on the assignments, they tend to place less emphasis (and hence, marks) on assignments, and students are further unmotivated to do the assignments. Why is it so difficult to make up Computer Science assignments that are fun and are made up of small incremental tasks to engage the students?


Zobel, Justin. (2004). Uni Cheats Racket: A Case Study in Plagiarism Investigation. Retrieved on October 4, 2009 from http://crpit.com/confpapers/CRPITV30Zobel.pdf.

Greening, T., Kay, J., and Kummerfeld, B. (2004). Integrating Ethical Content Into Computing Curricula. Sixth Australasian Computing Education Conference, Dunedin, NZ. Retrieved on October 4, 2009 from http://crpit.com/confpapers/CRPITV30Greening.pdf.

Sheard, J., Carbone, A., and Dick, M. (2002). Determination of Factors which Impact on IT Students' Propensity to Cheat. Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2003), Adelaide, Australia. Retrieved on October 4, 2009 from http://crpit.com/confpapers/CRPITV20Sheard.pdf.

Joyce, D. (2007). Academic Integrity and Plagiarism: Australasian perspectives. Computer Science Education. 17(3), pp 187 - 200.

1 comment:

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