Cheating Is Bad, but Bad Cheating Is Worse

During my seven years of teaching, one of the things that particularly distressed me was the suspicion that some of my students were cheating. This gut feeling often accompanied my paper grading and was especially severe when the assignment was a “research” paper.

Grading papers was already the least favorite of all of my responsibilities as a teacher. It took a disproportionate amount of time, and it wasn’t confined to the classroom or to the workday, so I often spent much of my evenings and weekends either hunched over a desk scrawling indecipherable comments on students’ essays or curled up in a ball under a desk feeling guilty about not doing the work that I knew I eventually would have to do anyway. But the worst part about grading was that it forced me to acknowledge that I was largely a failure as a writing instructor as I witnessed the same assualts on the English language and crimes against logic on paper after paper after paper.

Adding to my misery were the two or three papers in almost every stack that looked as if they were partially or entirely plagiarized. Each suspected plagiarism added two hours or more to my typical 30 minutes of grading time, which might not seem like a lot, but factor in 25 or 50 or 75 students and the task starts to look interminable.

Anyway, I’m really not writing this in the hope of getting some kind of ex post facto pity from my friends. Really! I was just reminded of this dark moment of my life (the grading, not teaching in general) the other day when I read a blog post called How to Cheat Good, by Alex Halavais, a professor at SUNY Buffalo. (via Boing Boing)

Professor Halavais’s emotional reaction to cheating was uncannily similar to mine:

Rationally or not, what particularly irks me is that it is disrespectful: of me, of their fellow students, of the university, of the institution of learning, and of themselves. And—did I mention—of me? It is particularly irksome when their cheating implies (reminds?) that I am a fool.

That’s right. Their cheating implies that teachers are fools because most students who cheat are too lazy to do it well. To help rectify that problem, Halavais provides a lengthy list of recommendations for plagiarists. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You Google, I Google: How do you think I check suspicious work? … I am pretty good with that Google thingy. And changing two words won’t send me off the trail. So copy from something a bit more obscure. Or—and this is really tricky—try making up your own stuff.
  • Use the word “rediculous.”: This almost magical word will cause any instructor to instantaneously turn off all internal plagiarism detection.
  • Borrow from someone who writes as badly as you do: Don’t do what one of my graduate students did, and steal a text on Korean feminism from someone who wrote slightly better English than he did. I’ll notice the slightly better writing, even before I notice that you have expressed no interest in or knowledge of feminist perspectives in the past.
  • Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text: When I am reading a document in black, Times New Roman, 12pt, and it suddenly changes to blue, Helvetica, 10pt (yes, really), I’m going to guess that something odd may be going on. This seems to happen in about 1% of student work turned in, and periodically makes me feel like becoming a hermit.

Read more of his tips for cheaters, as well as many more suggestions from commenters.

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5 Responses to Cheating Is Bad, but Bad Cheating Is Worse

  1. Debbi says:

    You hit the nail on the head! Oops I used one of those– what-do-ya-call-its, that thing all English teachers hate you to use, Anyway, I agree, with you, although my experience with plagerism is limited to only one incident– a poem about Harriet Tubman. I almost take the Why bother? philosophy. Why not just save everyone the time and ask for an “F?” But Karl, as a parent, don’t you see a correlation between plagerism and lying? There really is not much difference between the the high school student who steals a paper and the four year old who swears he did not touch Mommy’s Mary Kay to make a mustache like Daddy’s. One can argue that the make-up stealing child is infact only four (that really does not sound too good!) but unfortunately as teenagers the lies don’t get much better– just wait!

  2. Olenka says:

    I was perusing Internet with a goal to find answer to my stupid question: Why did I cheat?
    Just recently, I turned in paper to my professor and got a big, fat zero on the front page. My professor wrote: “Olena, I am disappointed”. I cried for two days non-stop. It was a traumatic experience for me to look in his eyes the following classes. I have never cheated before. I can write a paper well if I take time to do so. However, because of the fear to get “B” or “C” that will kill my GPA, I have cheated. Now, I realize that I dig a grave to my GPA and dream to get an “A”. Moreover, his trust to me is destroyed and I feel miserable.
    Is that possible to gain his respect back?

  3. Greg says:

    My favorite is when students use a paper that one of their fellow classmates wrote for me the previous year and expect me not to remember it. I’m not as old and senile as they’d like to believe!

  4. zenouba says:

    when cheaters opt for cheating, they usually have one purpose in mind which is getting an “A” in the exams and so enrolling best institutiond or jobs. they might forgot that they would have nothing to achieve becouse they will absolutely empty minded and so, fealure.

  5. Kyle says:

    In addition to disrespecting fellow students, the university, the institution of learning, the instructor and the student, I think cheating undermines the original work that some scholar(s) painstakingly expressed. As a student who has had original work published for the scientific community, it is disappointing to stumble upon an essay that expresses my work as that of the author. To make matters worse, it’s shoddily written. Most scholars do not have extravagant lifestyles, but they do have their ideas (and books); therefore, they take great pride in them.

    That was a very enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing!

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