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Academic honesty

This evening, when I could have been writing some musings or an answer key for an exam, or doing some grading, or helping get my students’ MAP paperwork in order [1], or spending time with my family, I instead got to spend my time writing up an academic honesty [2] case. I hate writing up academic honesty cases. It takes a lot of my time [3] and emotional energy. It will take a lot of time for the members of the Committee on Academic Standing to review the materials and to interview the students involved. And it will likely cause those students a lot of stress.

As I’ve told my students, these cases don’t make me angry, they make me sad. I’m sad that students have reached a point in which they feel like they have to cheat in order to succeed. I do my best to make things less high stakes. There’s a there’s more to life than CS clause for every take-home exam in CSC 151 which guarantees you a 70 on the exam if you spend appropriate effort. There’s enough different work in the class that no one exam or assignment should be make-or-break for a student. And, as I think most of my CSC 151 students will tell you, I work hard to answer questions they may have on the take-home exams.

But every two or three semesters, I hit an instance in which students clearly copied. What leads them to do so? I don’t usually hear their stories; the Committee on Academic Standing holds the hearing and only gives me an outcome [4]. But I suspect a number of issues come into place. Some students face incredible pressures to get only A’s. The pressures may be external (e.g., family) or internal. Most of our students are behind on sleep, and lack of sleep can lead to bad decisions. Some students, in feeling pressure to succeed, pressure other students to help them.

Are these good reasons to cheat? Not really. Am I nonetheless sympathetic to students who feel that they have to cheat. Yes. Does that affect whether or not I report? No. The College requires me to report suspected cases or at least to discuss them with the Chair of the Subcommittee on Academic Honesty [6]. As importantly, the people I am training are potentially computing professionals, and professionals who copy code without citing are putting their company and their clients at risk. You can read more about these issues in the CS department academic honesty policy and the incredibly long statement I make students read at the start of each semester.

Where does that leave us? I’m sad that I had to report students. I’m sad that they will end up being even more stressed during week fourteen. I wish that I had been able to go to sleep earlier. And I probably should find another way to talk to students about how damaging academic dishonesty can be.

[1] Don’t worry MAP students! We’ll get it in.

[2] Well, academic dishonesty.

[3] Over two hours this evening just to write up the case and get the documents in order. Some uncounted amount of time before tonight thinking about the issues involved.

[4] Responsible with some associated penalty [5] or Not responsible.

[5] Contrary to what some people have claimed, Grinnell does not expel students for academic dishonesty, at least not in the first case. There’s a graduated set of penalties, from a zero on the assignment and a loss of one letter grade level in the class, to failure in the class, to suspension, to expulsion.

[6] I don’t know if their title has so many capital letters but I figure it never hurts to include them.

Version 1.0 of 2017-05-07.