- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2000


Cheating in the classroom isn't just about copying someone's paper or writing answers on your palm. With the Internet, cheating has gone high-tech. With the growing popularity of group studying and projects, new boundaries of what is and what isn't cheating are being debated.

Regardless of the method, students and college and university officials agree that cheating continues to be a major concern.

"There have been more incidents this semester than in the past," said Cheryl Pfoff, chairwoman of the English department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. "We've had three or four incidents this semester, where in previous years we've had that many in one year."

Donald McCabe, professor of management at Rutgers University in New Jersey and a founding board member of the Center for Academic Integrity, surveyed nearly 2,000 college students and 1,000 faculty members from 21 colleges and universities nationwide in 1999. More than 75 percent of students polled admitted to some cheating.

Results are similar to those found in 1990, 1992 and 1995, when almost 80 percent of the 7,000 undergraduate students surveyed reported cheating at least once.

Cheating is a societal issue that begins in the home, said Bernard Whitley, a psychological-sciences professor at Ball State University in Indiana who has studied attitudes toward cheating among college students.

"Children pick up their attitudes about cheating from their parents," Mr. Whitley said. "Their parents may fudge on their taxes and may have bragged to them that they have gotten away with it.

"Some students will say that everyone in the real world, from politicians to big-time athletes, [is] praised for cheating," he said. "They violate some rule or law and they are praised by the rest of society for their work.

Frank Ureno, interim assistant vice president for enrollment at Texas A&M; University-Kingsville, said the Internet has made it difficult to detect cheating. "Unless the writing style is different to what the student has done in the past, you can't tell," he said.

The Web provides an easy way for students to cheat. Hundreds of Web sites offer such material as term papers, class notes and exams. Some offer the material for free.

"The most common form of cheating is plagiarism and most of it occurs over the Web," Mr. Whitley said. "They can just copy, cut and paste something in a matter of minutes," he said. "A lot of students don't even realize that they are cheating."

Juan Flores, an English professor at Del Mar College who teaches two courses on the Internet, said he has had three incidents this semester in which students handed in assignments that contained information copied from the Internet.

The plagiarism was detected by typing in part of the text in a special search engine on the Internet, Mr. Flores said.

Many who study cheating on college and high school campuses said students may feel the need to cheat because of grade pressure.

"The highest amount of cheating tends to be among the students who have poor grades who are trying to pass and students who have good grades who are trying to do better," said Bill Kibler, associate vice president for student affairs at Texas A&M; University.

Experts believe that the reason why people cheat hasn't changed, but the definition of cheating has changed because of people's attitudes about what is and isn't acceptable.

"Crib notes were considered taboo in the '60s and '70s," he said. "Now you can find them in almost any college bookstore."

Mr. McCabe, who has spent more than 20 years researching academic dishonesty among college students, said the idea of group study and group projects has become more acceptable.

"People are encouraged to share ideas and some of the work in a group setting," he said. "Being a team player is very acceptable and is considered a respectable trait to have."

Some students may find cheating acceptable because they have a perception that they are less likely to get caught, Mr. Whitley said.

"There is this perception that they can get away with it and that they won't get caught because schools have more important issues," he said. "There is this perception that there will be little punishment handed down."

Mr. Whitley's research about cheating in colleges shows that women and men equally admitted to academic dishonesty, and business and engineering majors were most likely to cheat compared to other majors.

Research also shows that those who attend schools with honor codes are less likely to cheat than those who don't.

Mr. McCabe conducted surveys in 1990 and 1995 of more than 5,000 students on 14 small- to medium-sized campuses with strong academic honor codes. Fifty-seven percent of undergraduate students reported one or more incidents of cheating, compared with 75 percent overall.

At most universities, students caught cheating on a test are usually given a zero for a grade. For academic dishonesties, such as cheating on a final exam, the student would likely receive an F.

• Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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