Academic Integrity in the Times

I’m certain many of you saw this: the New York Times ran four pieces on academic integrity in the last 30 days.  Interesting reading.  I especially recommend Alfie Kohn’s comments in the second article.

1. “To Stop Cheats, Colleges Learn Their Trickery,” by T. Gabriel, NY Times, July 5, 2010.

For educators uncomfortable in the role of anti-cheating enforcer, an online tutorial in plagiarism may prove an elegantly simple technological fix.

That was the finding of a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in January. Students at an unnamed selective college who completed a Web tutorial were shown to plagiarize two-thirds less than students who did not. (The study also found that plagiarism was concentrated among students with lower SAT scores.)

The tutorial “had an outsize impact,” said Thomas S. Dee, a co-author, who is now an economist at the University of Virginia.

“Many instructors don’t want to create this kind of adversarial environment with their students where there is a presumption of guilt,” Dr. Dee said. “Our results suggest a tutorial worked by educating students rather than by frightening them.”

2. “Room for Debate: When Did Cheating Become an Epidemic?” by M. Bauerlein, A. Kohn, A. Daines, M. Pease, NY Times, July 12, 2010.

Alfie Kohn asks,

Rather than counting the number of students who cheat, or figuring out how to catch (or deter) them, I’d prefer to ask two questions that rarely figure in these discussions: What kinds of teaching elicit cheating? And what assumptions and values lead us to define some acts as cheating in the first place?

By the way, I recommend Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

3. “Cutting and Pasting: A Senior Thesis by (Insert Name)” by B. Staples, NY Times, July 12, 2010.

This represents a shift away from the view of education as the process of intellectual engagement through which we learn to think critically and toward the view of education as mere training. In training, you are trying to find the right answer at any cost, not trying to improve your mind.

4. “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age” by T. Gabriel, NY Times, August 1, 2010.

Digital technology makes copying and pasting easy, of course. But that is the least of it. The Internet may also be redefining how students—who came of age with music file-sharing, Wikipedia and Web-linking—understand the concept of authorship and the singularity of any text or image.

“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”

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One Response to Academic Integrity in the Times

  1. John Borrillo says:

    The word “cheating” implies that we are playing games and not engaged in serious academic work. I object. Faculty members continue to search for technical solutions–plagiarism detectors, various incentives schemes–to what are obviously moral and ethical problems. It should bother us less that someone stole something–a crime against property–and more that we have dishonest people attending a school whose mission is to train public leaders.

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