This month, students were required to take an academic integrity completion quiz off of the TJHSST Ethics and Integrity Blackboard site. The quiz was meant to reinforce the TJ Honor Code and academic integrity.
The staff of tjTODAY found that most of the questions had obvious answers and that the accompanying PowerPoint was too basic to be effective. In fact, most of us were able to finish the quiz in under a minute.
The questions should have addressed the uncertainties and gray areas surrounding cheating, rather than obvious, basic information.
As students, we’ve seen our peers whip out everything from “old school” notes stashed in desks to smartphones. Students can report cheating confidentially through an Intranet form that was created earlier this year. Still, the addition of the form has not caused the number of reported cheating incidents to go up.
We decided that a more effective way to address integrity problems at Jefferson is to examine the environment from which they are born.
One of our editors remembered from junior year that major exams from different classes were often scheduled for the same day. During junior year specifically, more communication is necessary because there are no cross-discipline curricular teams. If students do not talk to teachers about their workload, something inevitably falls by the wayside. For many, the decision to cheat is not premeditated.
If circumstances like these drive students to cheat, what should be done? Teachers need to step in and play a more active role to help save students from themselves.
First, teachers must handle every exam with the same seriousness. We have noticed that students tend to cheat more often on smaller quizzes because teachers generally pay less attention.
Some of our editors have taken assessments during which the teacher simply left the room. Students are sometimes also allowed to go to the bathroom during assessments. When the teacher is not supervising the students, a student can easily use a phone or reference sheet. We’ve seen students hide notes on flashcards, water bottle labels and shoe soles. One of our editors has even seen a student use their feet to flip pages of a textbook under their desk. Not very discreet. Still, students get away with it because the teacher is seemingly not aware of the offense.
Many teachers have dividers that they put up during major tests. Why shouldn’t they be used during the smaller quizzes as well? Sometimes eyes wander. Even when students do not mean to cheat, if they accidentally see someone else’s answer, they face an ethical dilemma.
In addition, if a teacher sets up a classroom policy to prevent cheating, he needs to make sure students adhere to it. Many teachers allow students to use pre-approved note cards during quizzes. In biology classes, students are able to use them on weekly assessments if the teacher approves the cards on Mondays. However, some students prepare the cards later and use them without approval. If there is a policy in place, the teacher is responsible for enforcing it.
Due to technology, there are more temptations to cheat available. We have noticed this problem in biology and geosystems classes specifically. In fact, two of our editors reported this problem to teachers of these classes, but no procedural changes were made. One of our editors reported a group of students who sat in the back of their history class and used phones during assessments, but nothing changed in that class either.
Some teachers either collect phones or require students to keep them visible at all times during exams. This should be a school-wide policy.
Regulations need to be set in relation to the use of calculators as well. Last year, physics students were caught storing formulas in their calculators to use during tests. As a result, the exams were rewritten so that the problems were non-calculator. Still, students are known to store formulas for other math and science classes. Calculators should be cleared before all assessments.
Teachers should also have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to cheating. Action should be taken swiftly and consistently, and the emphasis should be on punishing cheating individuals. The staff of tjTODAY has witnessed multiple cheating incidents in which nothing changed, even after a student reported the incidents to a teacher. In fact, two of our editors reported the same students cheating in two different classes, and neither teacher took any action.
Why do we sign the TJ Honor Code if we are not making an effort to enforce it? If we want to preserve academic integrity, teachers cannot turn a blind eye.
(This article originally appeared in the February 28, 2013 print edition.)