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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