I don’t remember it being a problem in my high school, but I’m sure our teachers were on the lookout as we took our exams. And they all had eyes in the back of their heads.
It was made clear in college that, if you wanted to cheat, you’d better be pretty good at it. Because getting caught had severe repercussions.
My experience as a student dated to the 1940s. Simpler times when major infractions involved writing on your arm. Now there seem to be more and more challenges as pressures develop to get the desired well-paid job or entry into graduate or professional school.
Students are clever at developing cheating methods, like stealing a copy of the exam by climbing over ceiling panels at night into the instructor’s office, using clandestine electronic communication equipment, and the time-honored bathroom break.
One of the most disgusting cheating schemes was perpetrated by parents, not students. These parents were rich. Some were celebrities. They gave large sums of money to shady university employees so their kids could get accepted at the university. And many of the involved universities were prestigious. The methods were almost laughable. A student might be accepted for participation on the rowing team, even if she wasn’t sure what an oar was.
How can we expect honesty from students with parents like that?
In fairness, though, many of the children the bribes were intended to help were appalled by their parents’ actions.
Technology has created new problems and my motivation for these comments was an article in Focus, a teaching-oriented journal published by the Mathematical Association of America, titled “What have we learned about ChatGPT, and what has it taught us.”
ChatGPT, as is widely known, is an artificial intelligence (AI) device very good at writing. Although I held an early interest in AI, the field has left me woefully behind. And I know next to nothing about ChatGPT. But I gather it’s pretty amazing.
Some academics and public school teachers have endorsed it as a way to enhance the educational experience. Some of this was covered in the Focus article and a recent MIT Technology Review devoted a major portion of an issue to AI and education. One article points out that “schools have survived calculators, Google, Wikipedia, essays-for-pay websites, and more.” So, it concludes, they can survive ChatGPT.
Other instructors at all levels are worried about it being a great cheating tool. Will students use it to write their papers? Many submitted works have raised suspicion because their quality was well above what the student had demonstrated previously.
As a result, some instructors have eliminated at home paper assignments and replaced them with in class tasks. I don’t know how well that works, but it seems to me one can’t rush good writing, unless you want to be a journalist where speed is important.
I have been impressed about how scientists and educators have begun to deal with the threat. As mentioned, some look for innovative ways to use this new tool while others search for methods to thwart its negative impact.
I miss teaching terribly, but I’m glad I’m not doing it now for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is dealing with more advanced methods of cheating.
Looking back, though, I never had much trouble with cheating. At least I don’t think so. When I did catch someone, and I believe the instances could be counted on the fingers of two hands over more than three decades, I never felt it should be an education ending event for the student. I never started the process that could lead to expulsion. I talked to the student one-on-one and usually wound-up expressing disappointment in him and lowering his grade two levels (a B would become a D, for example) for that specific assignment only. It seemed a fair penalty to me and the student knew he had escaped much worse. And hopefully learned a lesson. I never had repeat offenders.
So why did I have so few instances. I believe there are two reasons.
First, I think I could easily be outwitted by potential cheaters, and I’m sure I was some of the time.
Nevertheless, I think the main reason is the second. On the first day of class we’d go over the material to be covered: exam schedules, grading schemes, and my views on cheating.
I said cheating violated every principle of mathematics, and we were going to be studying mathematics. At one time at this point a student said in an obviously sarcastic voice, “They’d only be hurting themselves, right?” I replied, “No. While that may be true, they also are hurting everyone else in the class by affecting class average and mocking their fellow students’ decisions to be honest. It is not fair to everyone else to cheat.”
Then I went on to say that I was easy to fool, and I might very well not catch an infraction. I ended by asking them not to fool me and to adhere to the highest standards; that I expected them to do just that.
I may be a fool, but I think this largely worked.