When Your Students Cheat

By Kareem Carr

One of the least favorable aspects of formal teaching for me is the phenomena of cheating. It puts me in a role that I am least interested in pursuing. That is to say, I have to wield authority in service of society; I must be an enforcer. It is most preferably my bent to be an aid, a compatriot, a conspirator, a collaborator and a colleague. When these poses are denied me, as in the case in cheating, I feel forlorn. My consolation in teaching is in the blooming of flowers of the mind. How distasteful it is to have to squelch possibility and close off avenues.

It is the case that cheating has become prevalent. Some might even say rampant. It is so much the norm that, as hard as it is to believe, some are not even aware what it is or when it has actually occurred. One non-mathematician graduate student, of my acquaintance, encountered cheating of such vast scope and magnitude that meting out the normal penalty seemed almost unimaginable. Ninety percent of the class had carefully reproduced the same rather large swath of Wikipedia, uncredited. They had done this both inaccurately and incorrectly — the snippet did not answer the question.

It was decided the students would have a blanket amnesty; They would be lectured on what cheating was; Thereafter, they were advised, they would be held fully accountable. This seemed to work.

Yet, I can’t think of anything I could want to be involved in less!

My advice is to discuss cheating early. If the consequences are clear beforehand, detection is good and punishments are quickly administered, then things won’t get out of hand. I say this as someone who wishes there was some way to avoid the whole business.

I would be interested to hear how others have approached this increasingly common aspect of teaching.

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