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Academic (dis)honesty

I often say that the least favorite part of teaching is grading [1,3]. But that’s not true. My least favorite part of teaching is dealing with academic honesty cases [4]. Often, students have reasons for failing to meet standards, whether they feel pressures (internal or external) to succeed, have bad judgement because of lack of sleep, or something else. I’d forgotten, but it seems that I wrote a bit about that issue last semester. I have a bit more to add this semester, mostly about the people who are affected by academic dishonesty.

It strikes me that some students see academic dishonesty as a victimless crime. They do a bit better [5] and no one else is hurt. If they believe that, they would be wrong. First, in presenting work that is not theirs, the students have harmed themselves. That is, they’ve compromised their ethical standards and therefore themselves.

However, if their instructor discovers their action, not only are they likely to experience more direct harm, in the lowered grade or other penalty, but many others can be harmed. One particularly problematic issue is that if students copy from another student, and that student is not aware of that copying, that student gets caught up in the academic honesty process. That may mean that they don’t get a grade at the end of the semester. It certainly means that they have the added stress of dealing with our Committee on Academic Standing. And, if the student who copies does not admit their action, it may also mean that the other student is also convicted. That’s a significant harm.

There are also indirect harms. At the end of this semester, I spent about a dozen hours working on academic honesty cases [6]. In each case, I first had to verify for myself that the there seemed to be sufficient evidence for a violation of academic honesty. Then I had to put materials together to discuss with my chair and a colleague [7]. For my chair, I don’t need a lot of detail; he knows computer science and can interpret two similar programs. He also knows the course. For the Committee on Academic Standing, I have to put together much more detail. And so about half of the twelve hours were spent writing those letters.

Why does all of this matter? Because twelve hours I spent on academic honesty cases was twelve hours I couldn’t spend grading other materials, or writing study guides, or, well, anything. It also took a lot of mental and emotional energy which I then did not have for my other activities.

And, in classes with associated cases, it mean that I had to delay the release of tentative grades. Does that matter? In classes with an optional final [8], it does.

In the past, I’ve told students that they should follow standards of academic honesty because of the penalties they may suffer if they don’t follow those standards. Maybe I should tell them that they should follow standards because of the harm that others may suffer. In an environment which emphasizes self governance, perhaps that may make a difference. We’ll see.

[1] I accept that grading is an important part of my teaching. Grading can provide useful feedback to students so that they can better understand what they have and have not learned and what they need to improve. But good grading takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, particularly when I’m dealing with classes of thirty or more students [2]. I will also admit that I get frustrated when I see that students have not mastered material as well as I would hope.

[2] In a future musing, I’ll consider why teaching CS may bear many similarities to teaching writing.

[3] I have memory favorite parts of teaching, whether it’s teaching class, (particularly the improv that happens in class), seeing a student discover something new and important, such as recursion or that not all authors can be trusted, or working one-on-one with a student who needs some extra coaching.

[4] Or, more particularly, cases in which students have not behaved according to standards of academic honesty.

[5] Or fail to fail.

[6] That’s a direct harm to me. But it’s also an indirect harm to my students. Read on for why.

[7] I consider it responsible to get another opinion before reporting the case to CAS.

[8] I sometimes make the final optional. Students who have shown that they have mastered the material throughout the semester should not need to show their mastery a second time. But students who have struggled early in the semester have a chance to show that they have mastered everything by the end of the semester.

Version 1.0 released 2018-01-01.

Version 1.0.1 of 2018-01-02.