Earlier this week I found myself reading a post from an educator, in an online forum, that was looking for "tips/tricks/advice/defenses" to use against cheating in an online environment (Edmodo). This educator clearly was looking for an IT solution that would be used in the future in conjunction with the consequence/deterrent that this particular educator labeled "the big fat zero." Lots of IT tips and tricks were provided. As I read through the posted solutions I couldn't help but wonder about what led up to this incident, and what would ultimately be learned from it. I didn't offer up a tech solution to this educator, instead I pushed back a bit. You can probably imagine how well my comment was received.
I haven't always felt this way, but I have come to the realization that we are at least partly responsible for the cheating student. We need to acknowledge the role that we play. Do I condone academic dishonesty? Certainly not! But I do recognize if there is a student in my class that is cheating, I am at least part of the reason why. Firstly, the student was not able to answer the question on their own, or clearly did not have confidence in their abilities to answer the question correctly. Secondly, the climate of integrity in the classroom was lacking. Perhaps the student did not put forth extra effort preparing prior to the assessment, but did I do all that I could to ensure that they would be able to successfully complete the task? Did I motivate the student to put forth extra effort? What is my relationship with this particular student? If the student was struggling, did they see me as someone that would be approachable and willing to help? Did I provide feedback along the way to help the student gauge their ability to meet the standard? I recently was introduced to some research that indicated that the most powerful feedback was comments. Not grades, not grades and comments, but comments written and verbal. Did I take the time to provide meaningful feedback? Is my content accessible and engaging? Do my students believe that I believe in them, and their ability to meet high expectations? How could I change my practices? So, in short I would first start with myself, and my teaching practices. I am not excusing the student's behavior, and certainly there should be consequences for unethical behavior, but I see this as a teachable moment for both of us.
Academic dishonesty is a big deal. Quite frankly, dishonesty in general is a big deal. But, for the purposes of this blog we'll keep it tied to academics. By assigning a grade of zero alone, to this assessment have we have actually impacted the student in a significant enough way as to ultimately change their behavior. Will this encourage the student to work harder, spend more time engaging with the content and deepen their understanding? Will it leave a lasting impression so that the student doesn't make this regrettable choice again? I have my doubts. We need to see these situations as teachable moments. We are in fact, teachers after all. We are not called to teach content in isolation, we teach students (and hopefully learn from them, but that's a blog for another day). One of the aspects of teaching students has to be ethical behavior, how many school missions have you read that include the words "to grow into productive citizens" or something along those lines? This is not some magical process. We need to model, and in some cases explicitly teach ethical behavior.