U instructors strategize to prevent cheating

by Nichol Nelson

Four times a quarter, the massive cavern of 175 Willey Hall fills with 550 squirming, nervous students ready to take a psychology exam; some have studied, some have not.
Seven teaching assistants roam the aisles, looking for a student with scribbled notes written on the soles of her tennis shoes or a test-taker craning his neck to catch a glimpse of his neighbor’s multiple-choice answers.
The large size of the University and relative anonymity of students swimming in large classes creates an environment ripe for cheating. In the wake of recent allegations of academic improprieties in the men’s basketball program, University faculty members are evaluating their strategies for preventing scholastic dishonesty.
Judy Peterson, undergraduate psychology coordinator, said the size of a class like Introduction to Psychology presents a challenge for faculty members trying to prevent cheating. To combat the large numbers, instructors require students to sit apart from each other during exams and ask students to present picture identification when they turn in exams.
“We try to discourage ringers,” Peterson said.
Some faculty members avoid standard methods of cheating by requiring essay responses to their questions, reducing the threat of copying.
History Professor Edward Farmer said he uses essays on exams because they force students to make better judgements.
“The quality of the grade depends on how coherent you are,” he said about his tests.
Farmer received his undergraduate degree from a college where students were held to a strict honor code. His alma mater required professors to leave the classroom during exams, leaving students in charge of reporting any wrongdoing.
Farmer said the system was effective, and he misses it.
“I’m not into policing people,” he said.
Other faculty members echoed Farmer’s sentiment. David Ghere, a professor of history in the University’s General College, said the threat of cheating can interfere with quality teaching.
“There’s a dilemma in the sense that some of the best teaching methods are the ones that open up the possibility to cheating,” Ghere said.
He said working in groups and writing group papers helps students learn more effectively, but some students take advantage of the pairings and cheat.
Students accused of cheating face a myriad of consequences. Instructors who suspect a student of cheating can deal with the student personally, but instructors in the College of Liberal Arts are urged to report the incident to the Committee on Scholastic Conduct.
In the 1998-99 academic year, there have been 29 reports to the committee. However, professors are not required to report all incidents.
Committee members notify students of the charges and allow the accused persons to decide if they want to request a due-process hearing. Consequences for a first offense range from a low grade on the assignment to suspension from CLA.
Students who feel the charges of cheating are unfounded can seek help through the Student Dispute Resolution Center. Janet Morse, administrative director of the center, said the majority of cheating cases she sees are due to student inexperience. Many first-year students collaborate on papers or copy from textbooks without proper citation.
“It’s horrible to be charged with something like that when you simply don’t know what you’re supposed to do,” Morse said.