On this episode of The Score, we’re speaking with Melissa Ezarik, a contributing editor at Inside Higher Ed, where she manages survey based content for the Student Voice News Hub. She recently wrote a series of articles based on responses to a survey focused on student behaviors and perspectives related to academic integrity. Melissa has been covering higher education since 2005.
Melissa Ezarik (02:17):
Only 10% [of students] say Googling on homework is unacceptable. One student wrote in that small assignments actually should not be of concern to faculty in terms of cheating. Thought that was interesting.
Melissa Ezarik (02:36):
Another surprise to me was getting perspective about low numbers of reports for cheating. Professors are definitely under reporting cheating for a variety of reasons. That includes that they don’t trust the systems in place to manage accusations, or maybe they worry the institution may be too hard on a student, or they may just think that reporting will reflect badly on them as an educator.
Melissa Ezarik (11:30):
I think we saw some write-in comments to that effect, that it’s not fair that the professor might handle it one way for one student, a different way for another student. If you don’t have strong policies in place, just how much a professor has a connection to a particular student, some sort of rapport built already may make a determination whether he or she reports or what the consequence would be, if you did cheat.
Kathryn Baron (12:23):
I think that one big question though is, why do students cheat? I don’t think that your survey asked that directly, but it did ask why student in general might cheat, and I’m wondering if you can talk about that. What are the factors that they say today lead them to cheat, even if they don’t see themselves as a cheater?
Melissa Ezarik (12:47):
Sure. The top response that we found is something that was a contributor to academic cheating, according to students, was pressure to do well, and that’s from family or academic requirements. The second biggest reason was lack of preparation for exams and who’s that on? That’s on the student for that one. And the third was heavier unrealistic course loads, and the fourth was actually the opportunity to cheat. So, “It was there, so I took it.”
Melissa Ezarik (13:18):
One expert that I spoke to framed it as, everyone has their price. It’s stress or family pressure, time constraints. Everyone’s got some sort of breaking point, and most students are able to reach that breaking point over the course of a particular semester, is his thought.
Melissa Ezarik (14:16):
We didn’t ask this directly, but experts noted that there’s a shift from most students going to college to develop the meaningful philosophy of life, and now it’s most students going to college to get a job. So you’ve got that extrinsically motivated focus that sets the scene for more cheating.
Kathryn Baron (14:32):
That’s true. One person I spoke with said college is now transactional, in part because it’s so expensive. “Well, I’m giving you $60,000, and I expect a degree.” That’s the way it goes. And they do want the job. They want a better job. They want a better chance of getting into grad school, that type of thing.
Melissa Ezarik (17:14):
I’ve got another quote from a student that relates to stress that I thought was interesting. The student says, “Stop assigning work as if students are only taking that one class and dedicate their entire life to school. Many students are taking multiple classes on top of having a job, extracurriculars, events, networking, possible illnesses, families and loved ones to take care of. People sometimes have to make compromise and sacrifice a grade in one class to do better in another because there’s only so much time in a day. If people didn’t feel like they have to compromise, perhaps they wouldn’t feel so compelled to cheat or to use shortcuts.”
Melissa Ezarik (19:48):
Well, we asked students first of all how they feel about how cheating accusations are handled on their campus, and the majority at least somewhat agree, actually. I think it’s 8 in 10 that almost someone would agree that it is handled fairly. So, I think that says a lot about them wanting to be aware of what systems are in place for when the accusation is made, so they would find that helpful to know.
Melissa Ezarik (21:34):
UC San Diego, actually, if anyone gets accused, they complete academic integrity seminar that’s on making better ethical decisions. And they actually get assigned a coach of some sort to work through with them what went wrong. How could we prevent this from happening again? And then if no more violations come up, even if they’ve been suspended for it, the suspension gets canceled. So, there’s the idea that you can prove that you do want to be a member of this community, you want to uphold academic integrity, even if you’ve made a mistake.
Melissa Ezarik (24:46):
I think what I heard from my interviews the most is that reports increase a lot once awareness goes up, and in some cases that’s encouraging faculty to actually make a report. But that doesn’t mean that the outcome is that a student is getting a consequence in any way.
Kathryn Baron (25:56):
You were talking about honor codes, and from what I’ve read and heard from folks that again, just like with what is cheating and how to address it; there’s really not a consistent definition of what is a good honor code. And some schools say we have an honor code, but other schools would say, “No, that’s really not, and it’s not going to be effective at all.” Have you heard anything to that effect?
Melissa Ezarik (26:28):
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any template out there, and that’s probably just because there’s some disagreement on what to include in it, perhaps. You have individual teachers having students sign honor codes that are on the syllabus. Some teachers that maybe are more focused on this concept in general and making sure that students truly get what the expectations are of them.
Kathryn Baron (27:19):
Right. You were talking about students saying how easy it is. One student I read, and maybe this was from one of the student comments that you received, “If they didn’t want us to cheat, they shouldn’t make it so easy.” So, I thought that was an interesting way to look at it.
Melissa Ezarik (27:41):
I feel like in general, we see a lot of responses that relate to, “Well, if you weren’t doing this in this way, I wouldn’t be doing this in this way.”
Kathryn Baron (27:50):
So, they’re not really taking responsibility. They’re saying it’s the school’s fault. I don’t know. I mean, that’s what it sounds like in a way. “Make it hard for me, and then I won’t do it.”
Kathryn Baron (28:05):
When you were talking about authentic assessment, I think one thing that came to mind which I believe you also wrote about was; if you’re a professor who’s been using the same exam for 10 years, you are asking for it, I think, because students talk to each other. That’s just the way it is.
Melissa Ezarik (28:23):
Yes, absolutely. One of my experts said that you actually could still do a multiple choice test. That’s better designed to be more authentic. It’s just changing it up and making students think a little bit differently about the way that they may come across their response.
Melissa Ezarik (29:06):
Yes. It’s absolutely a multifaceted problem. Like any behavior, if there’s multiple reasons for it, solving is going to be complicated. And the reasons for cheating are very individualized, even though we see some trends pointing towards some reasons more than others.
Melissa Ezarik (29:21):
I have one other quote from a student I think may be helpful to share, and this relates to professors handling things themselves and what kind of situation that creates. This is a pretty scary quote to read, and it’s just disheartening. That student says, “Professors are not reporting it, but are instead handling it themselves, and this leads to unfair situations where students are punished and get no chance to petition against the allegations. The current way my campus is handling this almost caused me to take my life last fall.” And this is a person who’s a senior now. So, they pointed out that they know what college is like. “It’s unacceptable to punish student for trying to pass classes by working together or using resources outside of class to help with homework. If students need outside material and are spending the time looking for it, maybe it’s a shortcoming of the professor that’s causing it.”
Kathryn Baron (31:07):
Hey, I’m going to put you on the spot for a last question. Do you feel hopeful that colleges and universities are beginning to take this seriously, and really putting more effort and even money into looking at how they can deter students from cheating in the first place and how they can help them with schooling, with their education so that they don’t feel a need to cheat?
Melissa Ezarik (31:39):
Certainly, it’s getting more attention ever since the pandemic started. Everyone is assuming that cheating as easier online, even though it’s possible in either environment. I was disheartened to learn that so few schools have students as part of the process if someone is accused. To me, that just seems like a no-brainer that of course them understanding their peers and being part of that decision making body makes so much sense.
Melissa Ezarik (32:05):
I think it’s one of those issues in higher ed that everyone has to play a role in thinking about and talking about, and it’s truly a campus-wide issue. It’s not just an issue for professors or for deans to be thinking about. The student experience is so challenging these days, and this piece of it can be given more thought for sure.