10 July 1998

Student Cheating - Blame The Teacher

One in three college students will happily cheat in exams - and for that we can largely blame their teachers. Such is the unexpected conclusion of a new study conducted at two different public universities in the United States. Results of the research have been accepted for publication in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Economic Education.

"There is a lot of information out in the popular press about cheating in academia, and most of it tends to place the blame on students," says Joe Kerkvliet, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University and the study's principal investigator. "But our research has found that cheating is strongly dependent on what goes on in the classroom. As professors, we can do a lot of things to reduce cheating."

Suggestions include offering multiple versions of the same test (to prevent students sharing questions and answers with friends in other classes), using additional proctors, and giving verbal warnings before each exam. According to Kerkvliet, the latter idea is "surprisingly effective".

Some professors may currently be trying anti-cheating techniques that simply don't work, he adds. Contrary to popular belief, physically separating students does little to guarantee a reduction in devious student ways.

"We tend to focus on one kind of cheating - copying from your neighbour. But there are many forms of cheating: crib notes on students' hands, notes on the bills of their baseball caps, recordings on their headphones.

"And the study didn't begin to look at other classroom work like term papers and reports," Kerkvliet continues. "My sense is that the Internet has really increased the potential for plagiarism. What's really sad is that the papers turned in that are really well-written are the ones that are most suspect.