Increase Meaning, Decrease Cheating

Let me be clear: If a student cheats, he has to own that.

Did you see this today? Almost Half of Incoming Harvard Students Admit Cheating  I read it. I saw it on The Today Show. Cheating is a problem.

But what’s the school’s role in it? The teacher’s? The culture’s?

I’m concerned that our love affair with grades and test scores shows that we value those numbers over actual learning. That’s damaging to an educational system. If the best students in the nation, as Harvard students are so often considered, are cheating, something is wrong.

On a local level, when I asked my students to dream about themselves in my Advanced Composition class, more of them answered that they dreamed of getting an A than of writing meaningful essays. More cared about the final number than the process of creating a powerfully written piece.

But what can we do? How can this change? I know that GPAs and ACT scores are important in the current educational setting, but we must set up a system that rewards internal motivation. We must show the students that there is more than grades.

Colleges can help by putting more emphasis on the class’s taken, the application essays, and the extracurricular activities and less emphasis on the time-efficient, but easily-manipulated-by-cheating numbers.

As for me in the classroom, I try to create meaningful work, work the students want to do. (Quick note: I know that ALL dedicated educators are constantly working on this. Just by trying to do it, doesn’t mean I’m always successful. But the effort does matter.) I also try to offer time within the class to do the bulk of the homework which so many of my math colleagues do by flipping their classes. By giving time in class, I can see the work being done and offer solutions to problems on the spot. I don’t have to worry as much about copying in the hallway–an act I see almost every day. Also, by utilizing GoogleDocs’ Revision History, I can keep tabs on the progress of written work. There are ways to detract cheating.

Mostly, this is the student’s issue. He needs to keep himself in check. She needs to be honest with herself.

But the educational system and I, as the classroom teacher, can do things to help.

Let’s make work meaningful. And by doing so, we’ll decrease cheating.

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