Fighting The System: Good Students Vs. Academic Dishonesty

Students are blurring the lines between academic honesty and legitimate study more and more as time goes on. While the nature of cheating is still clearly defined, students can now find help online in a multitude of ways. It can be difficult to determine what is dishonest and what isn’t.

For example, is it cheating if a tutor works out a math related homework problem for a student to study later? The student did not technically do the work, but the student does not turn it is as his or her own work. The distinction is becoming more and more unclear.

As students go further in their academic careers, there is a greater urge to be academically dishonest. The students who have cheated in the past will continue to do so. But what about everyone else? What about the students who normally perform well, but find the need to find extra help elsewhere? There are many reasons why students cheat, but the most consequential reasons come from the fact that students in higher education are often pitted against an unforgiving system that gives very few second chances.


Numbers Matter

Many rigorous college courses weigh some assignments more heavily than others. It’s very common for a teacher to instruct a course in which there are two important assignments—a midterm and a final, or a final and a research project. The homework has little, if any, influence on the final grade. Students understand that they’ve got to learn strategy if they want to succeed in higher education. It’s not enough to just show up, listen, and do the assignments. You’ve got to know how to work the numbers and figure out what hits you can and cannot afford to take. If both your tests are each 40% of your final grade, and you don’t do so well on the first one, you know you’re performing damage control for the rest of the semester. This is part of the problem. Students will do anything to boost or stabilize that grade percentage. Sometimes, they run into situations that are less about ethics and more about survival.


Full Speed Ahead

The pace of the course is also a contributing factor to why students cheat. You’ve got to be absolutely ready for a midterm in a ten-week course because, again, doing poorly will cost you for the rest of the term. It’s one thing to have difficulty learning at such a rapid pace. Being penalized for it is another matter entirely! Yes, that’s just part of the challenges students face in higher education and they should learn to adjust. But the breakneck pace leads to a lot of anxiety among students who have a lot depending on the outcome of a course. A low or average grade could cause a student to miss out on an internship, university admission, or scholarship. The challenge itself is not what causes academic dishonesty. The outcome and subsequent effect on a student’s life is enough for even the most ethical student to weigh their options more closely.


Learning Factory

Many universities around the country offer courses with an enrollment size of 100 or more students total. Professors often do not have time to get to know each student individually, much less learn their handwriting, work ethic, and learning style. Academic dishonesty becomes much more attractive knowing that the instructor may not know that the student is cheating in the first place. It’s much harder to do in community colleges or schools with smaller class sizes, but is relatively easy in larger university courses.


So What’s The Takeaway?

I don’t believe new technology has any influence over a student’s decision to cheat. The way we cheat today is the same way we’ve cheated 30 years ago, those methods have just moved to an online format. However, today’s students are aware that they have to understand the system they’re engaged in if they want to survive. Every course syllabus explains the weight of various assignments. The student decides what to focus on. If they slip up on a certain assignment, or perform poorly on a test, they understand that it’s not enough just to do well on the next one. Academic dishonesty isn’t necessarily a route for lazy students to avoid applying themselves. It’s also a way for students to stack the odds in their favor. If we want to address the growing threat of academic dishonesty, we first need to understand the situation students all over the country contend with. It’s so much more than just studying and taking tests. It’s strategy, too.


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