7/20/2011

Thoughts on Cheaters

CalTech Girl posted a link to this article on Facebook yesterday. I had a rather long bunch of thoughts typed out in a comment on her link and then decided to delete them and just comment here, instead. Not sure why other than I really couldn't get all my thoughts out in one little comment box and didn't feel like spamming her link too much.

The article (if you're not interested in going over to read it) is the first hand account of someone who makes a relatively good living (around $60K/year) writing papers for college students. In other words, facilitating cheating. I'm not really sure how you get to the point that you have such a lack of moral fiber that you're willing to undertake this as your "career", but the author of the article is certainly not alone. There are numerous websites out there that offer this service - and more (for other types of assignments, not just papers) - so it's not as if one person quitting (which the author says he is) is really going to make a dent.

What was interesting to me is that this person feels that the faculty are really to blame for students cheating. I can sort of see the point, though I disagree completely, as he's never had a student inform him of their expulsion due to unoriginal work (though I tend to doubt that doesn't mean no one's been caught - they just simply failed to inform their cheat-provider of the situation, and really, why would you? When you're dealing with the poo-storm that comes from academic integrity investigations, I'm guessing an email to the person who helped put you in that situation is really going to be low on your to-do list priority.) Should there be more rigorous checking for cheaters though? Frankly, I'm torn.

In the programming classes I teach, I have at least 2 students each term who turn in work that they pay for. I know this because I know the top three places they're likely to go to place an order for their assignment and I watch the "recent orders filled" pages and compare the dates with the assignment wording and then download the solution myself in the 30 or so minutes that it's available to everyone online who's watching that particular thread. So I know that for between $20 and $50, people are cheating in my Java class. I turn each and every one of them in and give them a 0 for the assignment. I've only had one person fight me on it, and they didn't win. But honestly? The effort that takes takes away from productive work I could be doing and part of me doesn't see the point. Sure, someone will graduate without actually having learned what they're saying they've learned. And that's irritating and wrong, there's no two ways about it. But that person is also never going to get (or if they do get, hold) a job in the field. They don't have the skills. And that's going to be imminently clear when their employer first gives them an assignment. At which point, that student's life is going to suck more than would ever be caused by any little academic tap on the wrist that the administration chooses to give.

I hate knowing that my choosing to skip 2-3 hours of tracking down cheaters a week is contributing to an influx of morons into the job pool in my chosen profession. I don't like the fact that this person who has a nice smile and manner may beat out someone with better programming skills for a job initially because it looks like they're both equal in terms of knowledge because they bought their way to a grade. But the effort required to catch someone who goes that far out of their way to cheat is over and above what I have the time and inclination to do most days. When you parcel out my paycheck to an hourly rate, if you really take an honest look at my hours, it's well below minimum wage. You don't teach because you want to make millions. You teach because you love teaching and you love knowing that you've made a positive impact on students who actually want to learn. And at some point, teachers realize that they have to let go of wanting to impact every student - because there are, most likely, always going to be cheaters. If someone wants to find a way around actually doing their work, they're going to find it.

I think that most faculty are doing what they can to clomp down on cheaters while still focusing on the more important part of their job: teaching.

To me, the people who provide these "services" are the ones truly in the wrong. To say that they're simply filling a hole in the market is the same as saying drug dealers aren't to blame for kids who get hooked. If you took all the drug dealers out of play, there would probably still be some people desperate enough to find a way to get high, but you'd cut the population down by a huge margin, I suspect. In the same way, if these people with no ethics whatsoever were to develop a shred of conscience and get out of the business of making cheating easy and cheap, there would be less of it going on. Some people would still find a way, sure, but more of them would make their way to the faculty offices and lay it out and say, "Hey, I need help." And then teachers could do the job they want to do instead of all the babysitting that we end up doing.

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