When Cheating Isn’t Cheating

The Canadian Council on Learning just released a report on academic dishonesty in Canadian schools. In summary, it sounds like someone was paid a lot of money to study and report that the internet helps cheating.

Really?

Wow! [insert heavy dose of sarcasm]

Actually, to be fair, the report goes further to say that it appears that the rise of the use of technology in cheating has also changed people’s perception of what is or isn’t cheating. Here’s a quote:

For example, the 2006 University of Guelph and Rutgers University survey revealed that students saw many acts of academic dishonesty as “not cheating” or “trivial cheating,” while faculty perceived these same acts as moderate or serious cheating.

The report says this might be because of a lack of training in what constitutes cheating, or it might also be due to new technologies changing behaviours. It’s the second one that interests me on a philosophical level. I do not believe that technology is value-neutral. That doesn’t mean I’m going all Amish on you. I’m not a Luddite (hey, I have a blog, a website, and a Twitter account, ok?). But technology changes the way we live, work, and interact with others. It changes our perceptions, our needs, wants, and habits. Certain technologies can distance us from reality or they change reality such that what might not be morally or socially upright in face-to-face interaction could be perceived as acceptable with the new technology.

For example, I’ve heard it argued quite persuasively that ease of accessing information on the internet means the nature of learning has changed. The argument says it’s no longer about knowing how to find information (researching in a library, following footnotes, citing different authors, etc.). Now learning is about knowing how to craft an effective, persuasive argument – so gather all the info you can from whatever sources you want and put it together to make an effective argument. It’s not about protecting the original authors of the content or protecting against plagiarism; rather, it’s about gathering the information from the internet and using it to create an effective argument. The info is already in the public domain, the argument goes, so let’s focus on the most important learning – argumentation!

No, technology isn’t just another tool. Stephen Johnson, TED presenter and author of Where Good Ideas Come From, doesn’t promote cheating, but you can see where you could take his comments in light of what I just said: We should value connecting ideas more than protecting them.

Now, speaking of technology and cheating, I need to bring this back to a Registrar’s discussion. When students are caught in some academic dishonesty, there’s always a question of what to do with their transcripts. Should you post a note saying there was disciplinary action taken for academic dishonesty or not?

Of course, the answer should depend on your school policy, but in case that policy hasn’t been looked at in a while or you don’t have one to help guide your decision, I offer a few of my own thoughts on the matter.

A transcript is a powerful document, able to get students through borders, into professional organizations, and careers and vocations around the world. It is a permanent document, meant to be a record of academic activity. I do not believe it is a document that passes judgement – it is simply a document of facts. Therefore, I lean towards keeping statements like “Required to Withdraw for Academic Dishonesty” off of the transcript unless the decision is final and permanent and of such a level that you would be willing to go to court to defend the decision.

What do you think? What does your institution choose to do? Please comment!

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2 thoughts on “When Cheating Isn’t Cheating

  1. I’m still waiting to be informed by an educational institute that a student has stolen some of my material and passed it off as their own, or something to the tune of me requiring proper credit and/or citation for my blog writings. Hasn’t happened yet. Not ready to risk oxygen intake on it yet either….

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