new strategies to reduce cheating
By Bobby Gruenberg
The best way to get the attention of a university admissions officer is to run through their office naked, screaming their fight song, and paint your name and GPA on your front and back.
Another more realistic but equally unfavorable way to leave a lasting impression is to have a note on your transcripts alerting that you have been caught cheating in a class you have an F for.
In Fall 2005 this scarlet letter could find itself on dishonest students' transcripts.
"The faculty members were concerned that the number of students cheating seemed to be on the increase. Cheating, it's unpermitted, whether or not you as an individual think it is serious or trivial. The faculty decided that we have enough support and evidence into drafting an honor code," said Esau Tovar, Santa Monica College assessment advisor and part-time teacher.
While most schools have policies on academic dishonesty, Tovar is in charge of the research and writing of the first honor code for a California community college, which will bear serious consequences for students who do not follow its guidelines. "This is the place where we instill purpose, value, and identity in students," he said.
"Mothers have taken tests for students, impersonating them. A mother took the class one semester and then signed up for the next class but when her son actually showed up the professor recognized the name but it was a different person.
"Upon getting caught one mother said 'it's a dog-eat -og world.' There is a major push for students to boost their GPAs by any means necessary," Tovar said.
Among the ascending UC requirements it's difficult to ignore the constant reports on student cheating, which seems to have hit a new high, or low, however you look it.
"It used to be more overt but now it is so prevalent," said Tovar. The policies will come from Tovar's research, which is chiefly composed of random surveys completed by 233 faculty members and 704 SMC students, of whom 56 percent admitted to cheating at least once. "It's underreported, but I will give students credit," Tovar said. The national average is about 75 percent.
"We are focusing on the extent of cheating, but on the positive side. This is more for students' benefit but it ultimately depends on changing the attitude of the student body. It's ultimately going to depend on educating the student body from the beginning and making it explicit from the first day that cheating is not going to be tolerated."
"Currently, if you are caught cheating you are found guilty, you don't get your chance in court. That's absolutely wrong. That's one of things I absolutely do not like about our process right now. Instructors reserve the right to fail a student if they are caught cheating but they need to have proof."
"To avoid this 'he said, she said' there will be a creation of an honor council, composed of equal numbers of faculty and students as a hearing body," said Tovar. "Guilty students would receive the 'scarlet letter' denotation on their transcripts. Students will be able to purge their blemish by "completing an academic integrity seminar for a few hours, write a paper, and learn from the experience."
According to Tovar, while schools that have incorporated an honor policy have seen cheating fall 30 to 40 percent, with more effort from teachers, academic dishonesty can be downplayed. For instance, in-class essays lessen cheating but they require more time and effort to grade than the simple in and out of a Scantron. Roughly 35 percent of SMC faculty are "freeway fliers," part-time teachers at multiple schools, whose salaries do not cover hours contributed beyond specific class times. There are also simple safeguards teachers can implement like using multiple versions of the same exam or mentioning integrity, yet 18 percent of the surveyed teachers administered none.
Whatever policy is drafted needs to be adopted by the student affairs committee and subsequently has to go to the Academic Senate, which includes a seat for the head of every department and one for students.
But will this system work? Will signing a page that says something like 'on my honor' before every test and application make a difference? Do students have the integrity to police themselves?
To deny this problem is to deny reality. "It's more for the benefit of students," Tovar said.
During a test there is currently more emphasis on the occipital than the thinking frontal lobe. An overwhelming majority of students and teachers surveyed believe that more severe punishment will be effective. Perhaps SMC will set a precedent and become a school of atavistic students of virtue.