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Why I will never pursue cheating again (behind-the-enemy-lines.blogspot.com)
691 points by Panos on July 17, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 482 comments



While there's much to be said in favor of more creative assignments that aren't minor variants of last year's assignments, the author has drawn the wrong conclusion from what happened.

22 cheats out of 108 is big - and the real proportion may have been even higher, given that it seemed like he caught only either blatant cheats or conscience-stricken/less brazen cheats (the latter category from when he acted people to own up). And it's a lot of work, and I've been around this process at a couple different institutions and seen how tough it is to see it through to an appropriate conclusion.

However, all this wasted time, and all this aggravation, wouldn't be necessary if all the other professors were doing it too. The only reason they're at 28/108 or higher is that people have obviously been getting away with almost anything.

The author has buckled (understandably) as being the only hard-ass in a environment where everyone else is getting away with it isn't feasible. From his perspective, I can see why he didn't fight this, but if he'd stuck it out for another year or two - and showed the next round of incoming classes just how ugly it will get - he'd have gone back to 'normal' cheating rates rather than 28/108.

The idea that you can always produce assignments that are 'unique flowers' that can't ever be duplicated year by year by cheating students has its own pitfalls. One problem is exactly that these assignments _are_ unique flowers, and might turn out to be systematically too hard or too easy or too vague. An advantage of the rather mechanical, "near-clone of last-years stuff" approach is that you can learn from last year's assignments and tune them onto the target. Faculty shouldn't be dumping the same material without fixes every year, but in many fields it's insane to expect that they have to prepare all new assessment material every year. They just don't get paid enough or get enough time for that.


I made a different conclusion. There are several problems, but the biggest is his approach.

Now, I'm not a teacher, and all those caveats. But in my imagination, my approach would be much less time-consuming. I cribbed this from my high school physics teacher. It involves little detective work and no long drawn out confessions.

When cheating is detected, simply send a note to the student with the following: "I'm aware that you cheated on this assignment. You have received a failing grade on it. The next instance of cheating will be referred to the honor board and you will fail the class." Any student who wished to contest the charge would be referred to the honor board immediately. Contest it with people whose job it is to handle this sort of thing. The policy on cheating would be posted at the beginning of class and strictly enforced.

The reason why this is so much more efficient is because the net time spent compared to a non-cheating assignment is probably negative. This is simply because you no longer have to read or grade the papers that are found to be copied. Since there is no conversation to be had with the student, there's also no extra time spent there. The only marginal cost is if a student wishes to appeal your verdict, but I doubt there will be much of that happening since the consequences would almost certainly be more severe.

This also solves the problem of bad ratings. There's no need to play the hard-ass in this situation, which is probably where the rating trouble comes from. Since the interaction is terse and factual, the students won't have much face-time in which to build resentment. You could even put something like, "I know you can complete this class successfully, which is why I'm not referring you to the honor board on the first offense. Please come to the TA's office hours if you're having trouble on your papers in the future. I look forward to working with you and helping you achieve your goals in this class" at the end of the email to put a positive spin on it. (Although the idea of having ratings come from people with whom the professor is in a somewhat adversarial relationship seems like one that could be improved.)

Anyway, I see where this guy is coming from but I'm not sure his is the right decision. Maybe I'm wrong though because as they say I have not walked a mile in his shoes.


James, I did exactly what you suggested. Every single student came to protest. I believed that things would play out exactly as you are thinking. Unfortunately, they turned out very differently.


How about taking a harder line then? Make your warning at the start of the semester, and to everybody: any reasonable suspicion of cheating results in an immediate referral to the honor board, no protesting or second chances. The first assignment rolls around, a few people are caught cheating, and you spend X hours submitting their cases to the honor board. Let the honor board handle the adjucation of the matter, which is where it belongs, and wastes less of your time. It also lets the department know that they have a problem, since some of them are probably involved with the honor board.

Students hear that peers are getting sent straight to the honor board, and they fall in line. The next assignment that rolls around, almost surely less students will attempt to cheat. If you have to spend Y hours sending more students to the honor board, hopefully Y is less than X. But it sends a loud-and-clear, unmistakable message to the students that cheating is unacceptable. With any luck the students that actually take the class seriously will appreciate your candor on the matter.

I agree that allowing students to actually come in and argue their case to you is a waste of your time. You're right, that's not your job. Send it to the honor board and waste the time of the deans and the department heads, since that's their job. If you let students waste your time by giving them an extra strike before they're out, you can't be surprised when they try to take advantage of it. One strike and you're out tells students that it doesn't matter if ex post facto you think your best friend's grandma's death drove you to do it: cheating is never acceptable.


Huh, interesting. But I got the impression from your article that you typically had a discussion with the student, presented them with the evidence, etc. after they protested to you. That's a little different than my proposal, where in the case of protest you hand it off to the honor board immediately. I.e. the students should know that the only discussion is one where they risk suspension if they don't manage to prove their innocence. Also, from what I read, you actually sent out an email inviting students to come talk with you. Hard to see what other outcome there could be than students coming and taking up a lot of your time.

Think about it in terms of incentives and scarce resources. If the students know they can come and protest to you with no additional consequences, they will certainly do so, guilty or no. Everyone has heard the story of merciful teachers and cops that don't give a ticket if you cry. At worst, they are out two hours, and at best, they may get a higher grade with very little work. Basically, your time has become a commons whose use has no real cost to the individuals taking advantage of it, but from which they believe some value can be extracted.

The economic solution is to make sure the time costs something, so that the students will consider whether there's really enough utility in protesting to make it worth the cost. The cost is that if they protest, they run the risk of suspension in the event they are actually guilty. It should be obvious to students that this will be the likely outcome if they do protest.

Let me know if I'm reading you wrong because I really am curious if students protested even though any protest would result in an immediate referral to the honor board. Also, thanks for fighting the good fight even though it got you screwed in the end. We need more folks like that.

Oh, I didn't mention the one other advantage this approach has. If you quickly and forcefully deal with students who have violated class policies, I think there will be less emotional "splash damage." It's the same way a parent should not draw out a punishment over a long period of time -- make it hard, get it over with, and wipe the slate clean so you can smile at each other the next day.


When I detected 15+ cheating cases, I just asked permission from the Dean's office to notify students over email, and then direct them to the Dean's office for appeals.

So I did that, notified the cheating students they got a -30 (negative the points of the homework) and directed them to the Dean's office for appeals.

Well, it was very difficult to enforce the "talk to the Dean's office if you have a problem with my judgment." When the student comes in my office during office hours, I cannot say "I do not want to talk to you, get out of my office". Yes, I could do it, in theory. Hard to do in practice. Would I physically push the student out of my office?


Of course I would not advocate physically pushing the student out of the office.

> Instead, I sent an email to the class. I just said that there were cases of plagiarism detected and whomever cheated, could come and find me. For the rest, I would report the case . . .

I guess I just read this as an invitation to come and discuss the matter with you. And I understood from this that any who didn't come would be referred. If I were a student and reading this paragraph, I would make damn sure to speak with you about my indiscretions. That is the exact opposite of what I'm proposing, which is that you only refer students to the dean if they do come and speak with you.

Perhaps you meant to convey something different than what I'm getting from the blog post, if so, sorry for misreading.

> When the student comes in my office during office hours . . .

Once again, I've never been a professor, although I did TA for a while when I was in college. That said, I had an expectation that my office hours would be utilized in some way or another by students. I would propose prioritizing any student that wants to ask about something other than their cheating conviction. For students who want to talk about the cheating, just say, "If you really believe you did not cheat, we can discuss the evidence. But that will only happen at an academic integrity board hearing. If they find you innocent, I will regrade your work. Think about it and let me know by email if that's what you want to do." And then just refuse to talk about it.

Again, you're the professional and I'm the backseat driver. You know more about how this works than I do. This is simply how I imagine it would go, and although you've disagreed with me several times I still haven't gotten the impression that you did what I'm proposing.


+1 on the office hours comment.

In fact, I would argue that office hours is NOT the proper venue to discuss these matters anyway. From my experience, the purpose of office hours was to clear doubts and further understanding of the class material. I would've been extremely pissed off if I came to office hours with a legitimate question about the material, only to waste my time waiting on a bunch of people arguing about cheating.


Well, for non-office hours I can always say to the student that they cannot come in, as I have other things to do. There is a legitimate excuse not to even start the conversation.

However, during office hours, any student can come in and discuss class-related topics. I cannot prevent students from entering my office, just because I believe that they will want to discuss their cheating penalty.


In my law school, everyone is graded on a strict curve and honor code violations are handled first by a board of students. Does wonders for reducing cheating.


Is it a departmental problem?

I understand that people will cheat and that as technology changes the game it's potentially harder to catch them and that's ultimately not your job. Does the school use character as one of the attributes when selecting students? Should they maybe be more selective? It just seems like a staggering number of cheats.

You ever collect any statistics on it? Are there certain trends?


This has the problem of false positives, and an assumption of guilt. In my experience (at the Naval Academy, so maybe a little different), honor boards were designed solely to award punishment with no realistic chance of presenting evidence in your defense. I imagine that most schools are less strict, but still expect the professor to have talked the matter through with their students before a formal inquest.


Were you actually involved in the honor board at the Naval Academy? If so, I am wondering: is the honor board really only designed to punish, or were the only cases that made it that far so egregious that guilty is the only likely verdict?

Of course, I think I would only refer students to the honor board if it was blatantly obvious they were cheating, and they opted to refuse my "warning" punishment.


The board was not "designed" to punish, but that was always the practical outcome. Something around 90% of cases resulted in punishment while I was there.

Basically, a group of students is selected to oversee the trial. They are repeatedly instructed that they must issue a guilty verdict if a preponderance of the evidence (51%) points that way. An overseeing officer (captain or admiral) supervises the proceedings and assigns a punishment after a guilty verdict. This combination creates a strong expectation that students will issue a guilty verdict. (If this does not make sense, then you have not been around "real" authority and I cannot succinctly explain.) For juniors or seniors, punishment is typically expulsion and a $100,000 fine to cover training expenses. For underclass, it is typically a six-month probationary period (this is closer to a jail sentence than a normal college probation).

In some respects, the Navy is an exceptional circumstance. Most people would rather have lots of innocent people be punished than have a potential cheat graduate and be placed in control of nuclear weapons. Still, I have seen lots of innocent people punished (or guilty people punished way too severely) to not be skeptical of a system that has any chance of going this direction.

As for personal experience, I was never accused of an honor violation, but I testified at honor hearings for friends. In my opinion, both were unfairly convicted and punished. All midshipman get training on the procedure at least once per semester, and it is severely indoctrinated in our version of boot camp.


Your claim that the author has drawn the wrong conclusion relies on a major assertion for which you have failed to provide support. Specifically: why do you think a 22/108 cheating rate is non-standard for a large US research university's business school? Are there institutions that check such things in any sort of systematic fashion (e.g., TurnItIn run on a substantial portion of the classwork)?

It seems to me that the incentives that Panos describes, such as poor evaluations, funding/salary, disinterested administrators, and awkward one-on-one confrontations are common to many top institutions.


Ah, the starchy HN argument style, lacking only a demand that I provide citations. Unfortunately, you're deploying your pomposity in the service of refuting something I didn't actually write.

I didn't say that 22/108 was "non-standard for a large US research university's business school". I said it was "big". It is big. This doesn't change if the norm at every other business school is 32/108. The OP also thought it was big and was unhappily surprised by it.


pbh brings up solid points. Stating that something is big will always lead to the question "relative to what?"

Your post indicates that you think 28/108 is big relative to what a normal cheating rate would be (as can be seen by your statement "he'd have gone back to 'normal' cheating rates"). How can you establish whether or not something is big relative to a norm when you haven't even established what the norm is?


From the rest of his comment, it seemed reasonable to assume he meant "big" relative to most people's sense of fair play.

I'm having trouble picturing an argument for how a 25% cheating rate would be "small".


Anecdotally, 25% cheating rate seems really low compared to what I observed at my top liberal-arts college. I would've guessed a cheating rate of about 60-70% to be "small", and 90% to be large. On my floor of incoming freshmen, I'd say those of us who had never cheated were in the minority, and in fact many of my floormates expressed incredulity that there were people who could've gotten to college without cheating once.


> However, all this wasted time, and all this aggravation, wouldn't be necessary if all the other professors were doing it too.

This is exactly why the author stated, 'The Nash equilibrium is to let the students cheat and "perform well"'

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhrnFGP4zks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nash_equilibrium


but if he'd stuck it out for another year or two - and showed the next round of incoming classes just how ugly it will get - he'd have gone back to 'normal' cheating rates rather than 28/108.

I don't think this is necessarily true. I can construct arguments either way, but they depend on big ifs. I think it's unreasonable to ask someone to go through a professional grinder for two years because things might get better.


"However, all this wasted time, and all this aggravation, wouldn't be necessary if all the other professors were doing it too."

This is a classic problem in economics: what to do if an entire group of people would be better off doing something, but you doing it alone makes you worse off? In his case, working on cheating on his own results in lower evals and a more contentious class environment. The incentive, as he points out, is not to bother.

I wrote about incentives in a longish post about grade inflation (http://jseliger.com/2011/04/02/grade-inflation-what-grade-in...) that comes to a similar conclusion: instructors are rewarded more for good evals than they are for grading harshly (or, for that matter, pursuing cheating). So we get situations like the one described in this post.


> 22 cheats out of 108 is big

Looks like standard 80/20 to me, nothing surprising.


The 80/20 "rule" arises when quantities are distributed as a power-law with typical indicies [1]. "Incidences of cheating" is not such a quantity.

[1] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Pareto_princi...


Please learn what's actually meant by 80/20 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle - "roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes".


A housemate of mine had a very creative solution: as a teacher he said that he would give anybody who cheated a 0 and that appeals could be filed with the Dean's office to prove they did not cheat. Most importantly, nobody would be told if they had been caught cheating, the zero would just show up on their grades.

The system plays on the student's mind: when they submit the first assignment and cheat their motivation to bother to make the minimal effort to dick around with the next one waivers. Most of the cheaters apparently dropped before the midterms. Any whiners with the balls to claim they had not cheated get to make their case to the Dean and voluntarily submit themselves to the school judicial process, but this was generally unneeded as apparently most cheaters dropped the class before midterms. No whiners in your office, and the reviews of you as a teacher are in before you fail them. Seems like it addresses all your problems.


That's pretty awesome - it's like The Tell-Tale Heart way of dealing with cheaters


I can't speak for college, but I cheated quite a lot in high school. I cheated "better" than the students in this post though, by copying sentence by sentence from various sources, rewriting it to make the cheating non-detectable, and reading over it to make sure the flow was good. It saved me at least 50% of the time compared to writing something from scratch, and the quality was good too.

Do I feel bad about it? Absolutely not.

It's imporant to consider why people cheat before you deem it bad. I cheated because the assignments were a waste of time. Plain and simple, a waste of time. It often felt like something the teacher gave us just so we shouldn't spend our evenings having fun. It wasn't something you were supposed to learn something from, it was something you were supposed to do because you were supposed to do it.

I should point out that that the Norwegian high school system is quite different from the American system. We couldn't choose our subjects, we had to take what the education law said we had to learn. Because of that I had a lot of subjects that I didn't have any interest in whatsoever, the only thing important was the grade I got. When you don't have any reason to study a subject other than to get a high number on a paper, it's natural to cheat. It's borderline impossible to be motivated to do something forced on you.

However, if the subject or course is your own choice, like the case with most university courses, cheating is something different. If the the only value the students get from a class is a grade and not relevant and valuable knowledge, I understand and sympathize with the cheaters.


A waste of time? Not if you learnt from them.

Still, they need to separate "formative" and "summative" assessment. If a piece of assessment is easy to game, it should be "formative" - the marks you get should not go to your final grade, and should only be used as a feedback. If the assessment is hard to game, it should be "summative".

UK universities used to give a final vocal exam, after three years of study. You can't cram for it, there's too much to cover. And it's an exam, so there's a hell of a lot less cheating. Still, it does seem a little extreme.

PhD thesis (and other research-grade work) are another example, but I guess its too hard for 90% of undergrads.

Commercial quality work might be another option, but it won't assess the fundamentals that universities should be teaching.


I would surely learn a lot about the lastest in pop music if I watched MTV five hours a day for a month too, but that doesn't mean that it would be a good use of my time since I have no interest or reason for learning about pop music. A lot of the assignments I got and subsequently cheated on felt just like that.

You actually pointed of something I didn't mention in my previous comment. If you learn something, it shouldn't matter how you learned it. I actually learned the topics and passed the exam with flying colors even though I cheated on a lot of the assignments.


"by copying sentence by sentence from various sources, rewriting it to make the cheating non-detectable, and reading over it to make sure the flow was good. It saved me at least 50% of the time compared to writing something from scratch, and the quality was good too." - with those kind of skills you could become a top-notch journalist for the huffington post.


Copying is only plagiarism if you don't cite/reference your sources.

(I'm being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here)


I remember once doing my assignment witch consisted of nothing but citations. it was perfectly valid by rules of writing such papers. as long as citations are proper. but that school was not very good, anyway.


"Most of us who went to American grade schools can remember long hours of copying articles out of encyclopedias. 'The abode of the penguin is a hard and difficult one.' It was called doing research. Then in college we found that it was also called plagiarism."

-- Mary Claire van Leunen, "A Handbook for Scholars"


Good point. Although, if students are cheating rampantly, which seems likely at your school, then teachers may feel they have to assign more busywork to compensate.


What you describe as "cheating" sounds more like "researching" or "studying". Cite sources for your facts and what you have there is probably a perfectly good paper.


Holy crap. They let so many people get away with copy-paste assignments, and they call themselves a postsecondary institution? That's fucking horrific. Where I'm from, a single sentence similar to one of your sources is marks deducted. A paragraph puts you on academic probation. Anything bigger is a bus-ticket home.


Yeah, I personally couldn't believe he had people copying entire articles into their paper and simply let it slide with a lecture on how to source articles.

I've always tried to agonize over drawing some unique conclusions from a variety of source material. Looks like the more efficient method would have been to just reword the wikipedia article.

All of the stories about education bubbles, unemployed graduates, etc, seem to make a lot more sense when you see data like this.


I think you are right in your comment about education bubbles. Cheating as blatant as this could be a sign that many of the "students" are either unqualified or there for the wrong reasons.


I remember doing some work on an essay with a friend of mine over the phone. There was one particular sentence he came up with that was absolutely stellar. I know it was original because we were working from the same text and discussing it over the phone - I was there when he came up with it.

When he got his essay back, this one sentence was circled in red with the comment "If you're going to plagiarise, be less obvious about it". He wouldn't go back and protest (he was pretty laid back) but I imagine that the rest of his essay didn't quite shine like this sentence did...


This happened to me in English comp. I decided to make the most of the class by really studying style. I turned in three papers utilizing different author's styles in my own way: H.P. Lovecraft, Hunter S. Thompson, and Henry Thoreau. I learned a hell of a lot but was told that I cheated. I told them I would sit after class and write a paragraph or two of each style for them. They said it wasn't necessary as they could 'tell', and that since they couldn't prove I cheated, the highest I could get was a C.

I almost quit college over it. That aside, the amount of cheating in my engineering courses was high. There was only a 10% grad rate within 4 years and 16% total. I think it was the top 10% and cheaters that could graduate.


There certainly is such a thing as being too aggressive in trying to detect cheating. It happened to my dad once but he cleared it up by re-doing the problem from scratch in front of the teacher.

I think it's absolutely critical that any accusation of cheating allow the student to respond, preferably to a different teacher if the original teacher still thinks they were cheating.


really studying style

I want to do this. How did you go about it?


Where I attended college, you get a year's suspension for getting caught copying a sentence without citation. Anything as egregious as this presented would've meant a class full of suspended students.


I'm sure that was the policy, but how often was it enforced? Most universities have draconian policies against cheating that are never enforced, except in the most egregious cases. It's extremely rare for any school to discipline as many people as this; when it does happen, it tends to be national news.


28 students last year (out of about 4,000) were reported. 17 were suspended, 7 got probation, 3 were found not responsible, and 1 had the allegations formally rescinded.

This is roughly consistent year-to-year.


Unless your school is dramatically different from other schools, you've just provided very strong evidence that only a tiny minority of actual violations are pursued.


The "were reported" is key. Who knows how many professors pulled a promising young student aside, gave them a stern lecture, and a second chance.


That's also the equivalent of saying "a single line of source code identical to other source code is copyright infringement". Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes there are limited ways to express obvious ideas, so I don't get how such a hard-line stance helps anything.


> Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

This isn't code, these are written assignments we're discussing. English is pretty damn flexible, and nobody gets suspended for "Abraham Lincoln died in 1865." There's no point invoking degenerate cases to argue against a policy. That's just silly.

When a nontrivial sentence appears both in an essay and in one of the listed sources, the Wikipedia page, or a top Google hit for the subject, you can draw inferences. If you can argue that you just happened to write:

> However, just six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was shot and killed by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

just as it appears on Wikipedia at present, and convince your peers it's more likely than not that you did, then you won't be punished. Not unsurprisingly, such pleas typically (but not always) fail.


Agreed. Anyone caught plagiarizing so blatantly should be expelled immediately. It is simply a waste of time to coddle people who should know better.


Yeah, standards seem to differ a lot.

There's also the whole grade inflation problem: http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/93987

... perhaps a part of the problem is accreditation of higher ed schools?


Where I'm from, a single sentence similar to one of your sources is marks deducted

Sounds like the purpose of the class is to teach people to use a thesaurus.


It is a deterrent. It is often easier to come up with an original sentence then sit around with a thesaurus.


One of the problems here (which I've heard is common to most universities) is the use of student evaluations to evaluate professors. That creates a very unfortunate incentive for profs to try to please their students. Not all students value the best education; some just want a high grade for as little work as possible. Their evaluations are not going to be in line with the goals of the university. By using them as part of the prof evaluation, the school is encouraging behavior it almost certainly doesn't mean to.


At my previous employer (a private college), we had a consulting group come and and discuss strategic planning.

I asked them whether we could justify improving academic programs using ROI. The lead consultant said, "Nowadays, it's all about the amenities," and that we should build a swimming pool.

I think higher ed really is about pleasing the students, parents and alumni, and keeping the money flowing, unfortunately. Bureaucracies just perpetuate themselves.


"Their evaluations are not going to be in line with the goals of the university."

Yes, it seems like the university goals are often to have the most published papers and the most prestigious research department, which is completely at odds with the students who want the best teachers.


Yeah, their really needs to be some independent evaluation outside of the students, I saw many times lecturers have got lots of bad reviews not necessarily because they were bad teachers but because they may have set hard assignments or forced the students to do more work during a lecture.


This +100. Surely the student's review of the teacher should only be one factor used when evaluating the students. A band-aid fix would be to preclude students found cheating of reviewing their teacher (or their review doesn't count), but all in all this systems seems set up to be abused.


How about delaying the release of this information? Students would fill out a review, but it would be locked and unaccessable by the university for a period of 3 years. (The professor ought to have access, if only to gather feedback.)


Given an overall badly damaged classroom dynamic, excluding those found cheating may not have made much difference.


While I sympathize with the instructor and think he should be incentivized to fight cheating, I'm not pleased with the use of services like TurnItIn. Basically, the student gives someone some faceless company a license to whatever they create for perpetuity. Are these companies ever compelled to delete material on request? And who could audit that?


I completely agree with this sentiment. It is difficult for me to express how extremely inappropriate I think it is for a school to transfer ownership of a student's assignment to a third party who uses it strictly for profit. It would already be iffy if turnitin was a nonprofit, but they aren't.

Papers that students legitimately write and no third party ever gains access to, are still inflating their essay counts and therefore making some guy rich.

The courts upheld that it isn't a copyright violation since they decided it was fair use, but I have to say even if it is legal it is morally abhorrent for schools to go along with it. Plagiarism is unavoidable from individuals that are trying to scam their way through school, and something that needs to be combated, but universities are supposed to be bastions of enlightenment not cronies for privately held corporations.

To be clear, I don't see any problem with automatic plagiarism detection. I do see a problem with very significant profits being made due to usage of students work that they cannot possibly opt out of (especially high school students who don't even have the option of transferring schools if they don't want their work being used that way)


So would writing "Copyright (C) 2011 J. Random Student, all rights reserved" on ever essay you hand in make any difference?


You already have a copyright just by writing it. Courts have ruled this is fair use, which means the courts feel this use of content is more valuable to society than writers keeping their rights.

I wonder if laws would change if we were talking about combatting plagiarism in film schools by keeping a database of all films to match against.


If it's fair use, the student keeps copyright, they just can't go after Turnitin etc. for copyright infringement. Lack of infringement != losing copyright. If the professor were to, say, publish an anthology of student papers, this would not be fair use and he'd have to either get permission or risk being sued by the students.

There're various other cases of fair use that make this fairly obvious, eg. when you DVR a TV show, that's fair use, but it doesn't mean that the MPAA has lost copyright over that show and can no longer go after people who share it on Bittorrent.


Yeah, my comment was unclear. I didn't mean to imply the students lost their rights, just that the courts have decided this particular use supersedes their rights under the fair use doctrine.


I am the professor who wrote the blog post.

What you mention was a very big problem for the adoption of services like Turnitin. In fact, when there is a match, there is no way of seeing the "source" of the homework, unless you get a permission from the "owner" of the homework.

Also, students when they submit the assignment to Turnitin, they assign a license to index the content for plagiarism detection purposes, and for nothing else.

And students have the right to remove their assignments from the index, if I understand the language of the agreement correctly.


students when they submit the assignment to Turnitin, they assign a license to index the content for plagiarism detection purposes, and for nothing else.

I thought you said it was integrated into Blackboard, thus not requiring students to directly submit their assignments to Turnitin?


A fellow grad student got blackballed and ultimately kicked out of the program for bringing this up to the chair of the department.


There are many ways for which most of the same benefit can be gotten, such as having the software be paid for by each school, which would host it itself and maintain its own database. Crawling from the web would still be feasible (just with a lot of duplication of effort between universities), and you would still be able to catch students at the same school who copy from each other---and most of the students who copy from others are going to copy from students who attend the same institution.


This professor is a huge part of the problem. He's a tenured professor saying "caring about cheating is counter productive", which to me says "I would rather have an easy life where I don't have to work hard than to protect the reputation of the institution I work for and ensure that students that graduate have learned something along the way".

He complains he had to work almost 44 hours (2 hours * 22 cheaters) and repeatedly moans and bitches about how much time that is, despite being spread over the course of an entire semester. I assume he's been in academia his whole career, because I can't remember a week where I've worked less than 50 hours.

My only solace is to know that this guy is a professor at a business school giving incredibly simplistic homework in excel, and his students are too stupid to do it. I can't think of a better punishment for someone who puts his leisure and student assessments above academic integrity than to have students like that.

Finally, what is the value of his class at all? If he can't tell his students are cheating without globally searching everything with this software, what are they supposedly learning? I would favor just eliminating this class; if you can't tell whether a student took it or not, they didn't learn anything. If you can't quantify the learning experience, it shouldn't carry credit.

This may be my strong bias as a Math major, but I know there is no way I could have cheated in almost any of my classes. If I had copied someone's homework, either the professor would have recognized it right away (since most professors actually knew and cared about the students in their class), or I would have failed all the exams. Do business school students not have exams that they can fail? If not, what are they supposedly learning? I know lots of business schools really drive their students hard to learn skills that they will use later. My opinion of NYU's business school (where the author of this is a tenured professor) is now so low that I will do a bit more diligence on MBA students with a degree from there as I review resumes and gauge job candidates in the future.

Edit: removed something criticized as a personal insult. This comment was modded up to 10, and at the time of this is now modded as 4. There should be some kind of meta-karma for controversial posts, since they inject lively debate instead of just attempting to game the system! That is my biased view anyway.


Justin, I am the professor who wrote the article.

The 44 hours is not a number to show how much extra I had to work. Believe me, a 14-hour day is a pretty common thing for me. Teaching is only part of my overall job (I also have to do research, supervise PhD students, review papers, serve on committees and many other things).

The 44 hours figure is given just as a contrast to the actual time that I spent in class. I would much rather spend these 44 hours on helping students, on creating new assignments, on finding things in the news that are relevant to tomorrow's class and so on. Instead, these 44 hours were literally wasted on the students that should have been the least deserving. (When I had the student crying in my office, I had actually lines of students waiting outside to ask me questions about the material in the class. Most of them ended up leaving, as they could not wait for so long.)

Also blaming NYU/Stern for this is a rather shortsighted approach. I would not be surprised if the situation is identical in many other schools but just nobody has the incentives to fight cheating.

Just a note: My PhD is in computer science. I have a technical background. I code for fun, and I detected cheating in the Excel assignments using my own code.


You're absolutely not alone in this experience, Panos.

A pair of my friends work for online colleges; one for a state college with a pretty good reputation, and another for a for-profit school with a decent reputation. Neither are tenured.

Both of them have had serious issues with student cheating. The one at the state college got support from one of her superiors, and was not penalized for fighting plagiarism, but it was still very time consuming. Another one of her superiors (in previous years) did not support her in any way, and she had to cut back on enforcing academic honesty to help protect her job, save for the most blatant cases.

The other one (at the for-profit college) stopped crusading against cheating when she found out that she'd (effectively) be fired if she continued. Pass rates are a sizable portion of what's used to determine which teachers are given which classes. In one class, more than half of her students should have been failed for academic honesty violations by the halfway point of the year. However, if she did that, her pass rates would have been low enough that it was extremely likely that she would not be given any classes next semester. (Not technically fired, but functionally so.)

So, you are not the only person encountering this, and you're not alone in realizing that fighting cheating can be hazardous to your career. It's a damn shame.


It's not shocking that a for-profit college was more motivated by getting happy graduates through their program than by enforcing academic honesty. But, this speaks to the larger issue of for-profit education as a whole.

As a whole, this seems like an administrative issue, rather than an issue with a single professor. In an environment where departmental heads and academic deans expected, and encouraged professors to report plagiarism - then dealt with it in a fair, consistant manner, this would be a non-issue.

Another big part of what this story illustrates is that individual professors shouldn't be responsible for both detecting and punishing academic dishonesty.


I think it would help if more people understood the time demands of teaching a course (neglecting other faculty duties, just looking at the teaching component). Many people have seen it only from the student side and not the instructor side.

From my experience, teaching a 3 credit course (meeting MWF for one hour each with no labs/recitation) requires the three hours for the course plus the following: 1. an additional 1 to 2 hours per class of prep. time to get yourself situated for that paricular class 2. 0.5 to 1 hours of meeting with your TA regarding grading and what is being covered in the course this week (more if the TA has a recitation session) 3. 3 to 5 office hours for students (of which a majority is not used, but still must be set aside)

All together, teaching a three hour course takes about 10 hours a week on the low end. Dealing with cheating students takes time from every portion of this 10 hours. You must waste time in class addressing the cheating. You must waste time in preparation thinking of ways to stop the cheating. You must waste time talking with your TA about the cheating. You must waste time dealing with students who will admit to "working together" but never "cheating" during your office hours.

The most important part of this, and the part that gets eaten up the most, is the office hours. This is where students should come to delve deeper into a subject or clarify material. Dealing with students during this time sets back students who truly have an interest in the subject and cripples students who have fallen behind (which will most likely lead to more cheating!).

While 44 hours over a semester sounds like nothing to most people, it is actually a significant amount of time wasted for the class.

As an aside, many students think that teaching is a faculty member's first and foremost duty. Depending on the school, this can range from absolutely true to downright false. Most schools have a layout on what they expect from their faculty regarding research, teaching, and service. Most schools weight that in decreasing priority as listed. If a school is well-known for its research, chances are it follows this pattern and teaching is not a priority for the faculty outside of good student evaluations.

Edit: A course at my school lasts for approximately 15 weeks which comes to ~150 hours per semester at 10 hours per week. At 44 hours, dealing with cheating would take 30% of my time spent on the course during the semester.


What about shifting to a teaching model where students review material and watch lectures (MIT OCW, Kahn, or even the professor's own recorded lectures) out of class, and do actual assignments (problem sets, essays) in class -- in an atmosphere that encourages working together so nobody feels "stuck" or gets stressed to the point where they feel like they have to cheat, while still preparing solutions separately? That seems to be direction favored by many of the advocates of reform in higher learning... advocates like Dr. Tae.


I thought of that as well. With this approach you hit another structural problem: activities such as solving problems etc are considered appropriate only for "recitations" (i.e., done by TA's) and not for "lectures" (the part where the professor teaches).

Kind of stupid, I know. But it is really impossible to violate the mandate that my teaching should not be "wasted" on doing assignments in class etc.

And yes, when I tried it, I loved it. The teaching time becomes so much more interesting and stimulating. But I can only practice this a couple of times over the semester, as otherwise I will be seen as "wasting" my time in class.


By whom?


By the administration, which separates the credits for the courses into "recitations" and "lectures". The TA's get paid for the recitations/activities-based hours, the professors for the lectures.


Can they actually stop you from using your lectures in any way you see fit? This, and saying silly things when you at last slip into senility, would seem to me to be the main perks of tenure.


So the root of the problem is a structural flaw in the implementation of undergraduate education and its conflicting requirements with your other university responsibilities?

The system is broken.


I am an honest student. How would you feel about me being in your class? Not every student is at university in order to tick a box on the way to a middle class lifestyle. Some are there to learn for the sake of learning.


Derrida, most of the professors teach because of students like you. Nobody that I know enjoys teaching disinterested or bored students.

Of course, there are professors that fail to teach well, the students get disinterested, then the professor gets even more disinterested and teaches worse etc etc.


I realize you are trying to maximize the quality of education you are providing. I don't think you can use that as an argument against failing students who blatantly cheat.

There's not an easy solution, obviously. You are taking a risk when you do something that some other members of your faculty are not doing. You must realize, they are threatened by your attempt to prevent cheating, because it will become obvious very quickly when you find such high rates of cheating and deal with them appropriately, that they are not doing so. That will raise difficult questions, deans will notice. I think you might find, to your surprise, that there are many other people in the same position as you, but perhaps not as bold as you are. I would wager that that many, many other faculty members hate cheating as much as you, and are disgusted by the blatant plagiarism, but also like you are pressured by the current state of affairs to bury it.

I would encourage you to stick to your original guns, and keep grinding cheaters out of your class. First of all, your reputation will be established very quickly among students. Students who know they have to cheat will avoid you every semester, saddling other professors who are softer on cheating with worse students, and concentrating the best students into your classes. More to the point, students won't try to cheat in your class nearly as much once your reputation is established, so the amount of time you have to deal with it will, I suspect, go down dramatically.

Edit: This is way more congenial than how I actually feel. It's your responsibility, and every other faculty member's, to identify cheating and run those students out of the university. They are stealing from the students who are trying hard and mastering the material, by graduating uneducated and unprepared. When they go out and embarrass themselves, it reflects on every other student with that same university's name on their diploma.

As for the girl crying for 2 hours, who cares? Let her cheating ass go cry in her dorm, I think you have very weird priorities to let her waste your entire office hours (with honest students waiting) with her obvious, transparent attempt to manipulate you emotionally.


I do regret letting the "copy & paste" students go relatively unharmed. I was naive to believe that they will not do it again. They were even more naive to try to cheat again in my own class.

Btw, all students were reported to the administration and have a mark in their transcripts that they cheated. This is communicated to all future employers and is an automatic block to entrance in law schools.

But again: 22 out of 108 is not a problem to be solved by force. It is a deep structural problem that got me thinking about evaluation strategies that are independent of cheating.

Btw, the girl was not crying to manipulate me. She really had a serious nervous breakdown, bringing out all sorts of issues that she had with her life. Apparently her parents kept reprimanding her for not "performing" at the university. There was a long term stress issue and the realization that she was going to fail the class was just the straw that broke the camel's back. But it was a very uncomfortable spectacle: her classmates outside my office looking at her, and other faculty members stopping by and making gestures, trying to figure out what is going on.


"What a lazy coward."

Ouch! This professor is caught between students who don't want to learn and an administration who does not know how to properly measure teacher performance. Give the guy a break; he's in a tough situation.

By the way, insults and personal attacks are not welcome here at Hacker News.


Insults and personal attacks against (external) article authors seem to be treated as less taboo, as they are on topic, and less likely to cause a flame war. Still, it's a bit rude.

It's hardly fair to call the one guy trying to fix the system a coward, just because he decided he had better things to do.

Besides, "No tolerance" is a bad way to beat corruption, as an individual. The best way is to occasionally bring it up. You won't lose as many friends, but some people people will still think that a crackdown might be underway. You might feel stupid, only catching one or two cheats, but it's more effective in the long run than being too hard.

He's not a lazy coward. He's just not a great political player. His boss is a lazy coward, for putting him in a position where he has to know how to be positively Machiavellian in order to improve things.


It hurts me to have to disagree with you because you invoked the He's a tenured professor statement (I have a general bias against tenured professors) and the rest of your argument was right on. I was spitting at my screen until the last few paragraphs of the blog.

I don't trust a college degree from anywhere to prove anything other than that the student was able to finance his/her purchase, regardless of school. I know this will not be taken well by several folks, but it's not a complete disregarding of higher education (take me on my word or call me an idiot, you'll probably be right).

Cheating is a fact of life. When I was in college, the punishment was expulsion. This rarely happened. It was the old "make the punishment so awful that nobody would want to commit the crime", and it fell flat as soon as human beings were put in the picture.

Those who knew how to get away with it almost always got away with it. And even when caught, the book was rarely thrown at them. This "tenured" professor is trying to find a way to separate cheating from passing. I don't know that he'll be successful. But the traditional "Turnitin" approach is working as well as anti-malware software/devices work. It's an arms race. The solution isn't to build better detection or encourage better behavior from users ... it's to make the attack irrelevant.

I'm skeptical that it can be done, but I like the approach. I don't believe this is a Lazy Coward operation (good to edit it out, but I didn't downmod you, I thought your comments were fair). It's a creative, and possibly disruptive, method to teaching.

Edit: Sorry, it's really difficult to write out a reasonable reply without reading it over a few times and making changes.


It amazes me that you cannot see it from his perspective. He tried to catch cheaters and was punished by the school system for it. He earned less money for trying to enforce a no cheating policy. Would you work twice the amount of time for less pay? Most of us probably wouldn't. It seems like a prudent financial decision for him.

The problem seems systemic, he throws his hands in the air and gives up because he cannot do anything alone and is punished. Others either came to the same conclusion or don't know/care cheating is happening to begin with. I don't think I can simply blame him for the calculations he went through in making his decision.


Since you asked, I would refuse to work anywhere that I was expected to stand aside and ignore fraud, or where I was punished for doing what everyone would agree is the right thing, in this case trying to catch and identify cheaters in compliance with the rules of the institution. I would rail against it every day and try to change the system by doing the right thing and calling out other faculty for not doing so, publicly.

It is likely that I would fail, but as I will sometimes announce loudly in the Milo office "I've got something to say! It's better to burn out than fade away!'


>I would refuse to work anywhere that I was expected to stand aside and ignore fraud, or where I was punished for doing what everyone would agree is the right thing (...)

You don't always have that much choice, do you?

>I would rail against it every day and try to change the system by doing the right thing and calling out other faculty for not doing so, publicly.

Yeah.

You will not simply fail, you'll get screwed by the system at the first opportunity. If you really want to "buck the system", cool down and watch some episodes of "The Wire". This series portays exactly and reallisticaly the inner workings of corrupt institutions and what happens to "lone wolves" trying to beat or change the system (spoiler - they get screwed by superiors and peers alike and achieve absolutely nothing).

I'm not saying it's impossible to transform the system from within. But trying to do it single-handedly is fighting a losing battle that is doomed to alienate your coworkers.


I don't think I'd be 'screwed by the system', and no I don't think I'll be taking my lessons from some TV cops and robbers show. Do you have any clue how hilariously bad this advice you are giving is?


"The Wire" is not "some TV cops and robbers show", but a complex narrative that depicts exactly the kind of situtations we're talking about (yes, it's styled as police drama, but it's much more than that).


That's nice. But you're not him. Even you recognize a high likelihood of failure. He doesn't want to fight that losing battle, I cannot blame him.


He earned less money for trying to enforce a no cheating policy.

No, his pay was increased by less than in previous years. He didn't actually earn less.

Would you work twice the amount of time for less pay?

He didn't work twice the time. 32 lecture hours is an indicator of the workload - he spends far more on the course than just contact hours.

The problem seems systemic, he throws his hands in the air and gives up because he cannot do anything alone and is punished.

He still got a pay increase. Not as much as he would have liked, but it's not exactly horrible punishment. In one aspect he's just as guilty as his cheaters - he is more concerned for the big bux at the end than in doing his job properly: "If doing things properly means I get paid less, screw that".

EDIT: it's important to note that he also reports on the changed dynamic of the class, not just the dollars. That being said, it's interesting that the dollars come first.


his pay was increased by less than in previous years. He didn't actually earn less.

If his pay increase was less than inflation, then many people would say he did actually earn less.


It was less than inflation, I am just confirming that :-)


He made less money if you consider opportunity cost. He could have made more by not pursuing the cheating. He also spent a lot more time, lowering the amount he earned divided by the amount of time spent at the job.


I don't know where in the article there was mention of the number of hours he worked in a week.

I've conducted several training sessions in the course of my career, and I can tell you that the time consumed by the actual class/training is a very small portion of the time spent by the one giving it. Preparation time can be 5-20 times as long, depending on the complexity. Now it is true that professors would reuse past materials, however, there is also time going through submissions of attendees, understanding them, and determining a fair grade. I'm not familiar with the US university system, except for what I see in movies/tv programs, so the professor likely had help.

That said, 44 hours spent on overhead that also degrades the experience of everyone involved, and as a result can interfere with the actual learning experience, is indeed worth finding alternative approaches for.

Instituting a system that by its nature is difficult to cheat is a much better approach.


Q: What interferes with learning? A: When the student's don't pay attention to anything going on and do all the assignments by turning in someone else's work.


He is complaining about 44 hours extra work. This is in addition to 32 hours of lecture time and however much time he spends on research.

(Based on his research output, I'd suggest he spends a lot of time on research.)

Further, his complaint seems to be that putting in this extra work resulted in a smaller pay increase (as a result of poor student evaluations), not that it cut into leisure.

Most people complain when they do the right thing and get punished for it.


This comment is complete flamebait. The fact that there isn't an outrage against this poster makes me lose a LOT of faith in the Hacker News community. If you want to be an ass, there are plenty of other places on the internet you can go. On HN, please try to treat everybody with at least a modicum of respect.


You have to put this into perspective. It's easy to condemn someone as "a lazy coward" if he was the exception in an environment where most professors "work hard to protect the reputation of the institution they work for" and "ensure that students that graduate have learned something along the way".

From the tone and from personal experience, I'd guess he has been the exception - in the other direction. Seasoned professors have already learned their lesson and reached the same conclusion he did eventually: doing "the right thing" by going after the cheaters is a losing proposition because (a) it steals resources that could be better spent on non-cheaters and (b) makes all involved parties (students, teachers and administrators) look bad. It may still be a problem for future employers and society at large but demanding from someone to sacrifice his personal well-being for the greater good (when most others don't) is unrealistic.


There are at least two aspects of 'personal well being' to consider here.

One is 'income', the other is 'fulfilling societies expectations'. Nobody want's to be seen as being unethical or not fulfilling their duty. By automatically explaining away their actions and taking a fatalistic viewpoint you give away one of these two pressures, and probably the greater of the two.


I'm a little late to the party, but as a Math major myself I wanted to say that I find your tone disappointing and, at the risk of being hypocritical, more than a little judgemental.

Discussion regarding your first point has already begun, so I shall focus on the latter half of your post.

> If he can't tell his students are cheating without globally searching everything with this software, what are they supposedly learning?

I can't parse an argument from this sentence or the remainder of the paragraph. I would like to point out that the learning experience is being quantified in the form of a percentage-based grading system so I am uncertain of your point. Globally searching the papers is an attempt to discover plagarism -- are you suggesting that he should somehow recognize plagarism without attempting to actually compare his students' essays with each other and outside sources?

Edit: I mean, I'm honestly curious. Please try to elaborate.

Secondly, Many classes don't have in-class exams, including most English classes, some social studies classes, and indeed a certain percentage of classes in almost any field besides mathematics and engineering. Exams are, in my humble opinion, a relatively ineffective way of determining learning in many situations. For a business school class to not have exams is perfectly reasonable.


A math majors can just copy the homework. 90% of it is mechanical, and 10% requires a "twist". You can copy the "twist", and the rest is easy. Or copy it all (in a slightly different format), and just claim that it's the same because it's ... well, the same. Unless you both make a mistake. But it's even easier than copying essays.

Still, the exam will be a problem. But if lots of students cheat, the lecturers will start making exams easier, because so many students struggle. And in Australia, there's a big belief amongst the education policy mandarins that exams are useless because they don't teach anything.

Still, most Math majors know their degree is useless if they don't learn anything, and they chose a brutally hard course with no set career path just to learn, so why bother cheating? But Engineering majors is another story.


A math majors can just copy the homework. 90% of it is mechanical, and 10% requires a "twist".

That may be true in the lower level courses, but around 400 level, the work switches over entirely from calculations to proofs. Proofs are as widely varied and difficult to copy as essays, and are much harder to edit without screwing up unless you really understand them.


I would say the proofs required for an undergrad math degree are "90% mechanical, 10% twist". If you have a general idea what a proof is supposed to look like, it's pretty easy to fill in the details.


There's a continuum, just like in other subjects.

As I've said, many students self-enforce (somewhat - it's a continuum), because a Math degree that you didn't earn is barely worth the paper it's printed on.

With most students self-enforcing, the exams can still be rigorous. The 400-level courses can still be rigorous. And nobody will complain that the exams and 400 levels are too hard, because they still learnt enough to deal with them.

It's not a result of Math being "harder to copy". Math is easier to copy than an essay, because it's just not as unique. The difference is cultural. Most Math students don't want to cheat their way through, and so the professors are under no pressure to be soft.


I don't believe that 90% of majors copy homework. I can say I never saw any cheating at all on 400 level math homework at my university. I graded assignments for Number Theory for several semesters, and I can say I didn't see any cheating there either.

Generally the homework is just meant to give you a good bit of practice, there is no way to pass the class without passing the exams.


There are varying degrees of cheating. There is flat out copying, which this article addresses, and then there are the lesser degrees of cheating.

Having experienced upper, lower, and graduate level courses in math and engineering (as well as taught at the lower level) I can honestly say that the amount of people that directly copy another student's assignments is much higher than most people think. This type of cheating tapers off as you enter the higher levels. On the other hand, I find that the "helping another student out" or "group study" type of cheating probably occurs with a 75%+ frequency among all levels of academics.

The first type (plagiarism) is definitely cheating while the second type (group think) is most likely classified as cheating but never acted against. The fact that you didn't see any cheating in your Number Theory course could simply be due to the fact that the second type of cheating is much more difficult to spot unless you are intimately familiar with the subject material and solution methods.


The 'group study' thing is true, but often explicitly allowed by the professor. In the end the exams should sort it out, since homework is rarely worth more than a token amount of the total grade.


It's only "token" if you score the same amount on all the assessment items. If you pick up a large portion of your marks on a homework component, it's not token for you.

A student gets 80% on a 25% weighted "token" homework component, 60% on a 25% "lab" component (due to copying large portions of someone else's report), and 30% on the 50% exam (there's always a few low apples). They pass with 50%.

The lecturer sees that the exam is too hard, and makes it easier the next year.


25% is not token, that's 1/4th of the course! most math classes i've taken homework has been from .5% to 5% of your grade!

if your homework is 1/4 of your grade in the class, that class is a "pass me" class. in some math classes the prof refuses to acknowledge that homework actually has a measurable effect on your grade, but he will use its presence to round up instead of down (i.e. 89.5 becomes a 90 instead of an 89)


There are some classes where homework is more than 1/4 of the grade. Maybe not good math classes in the US.

Cheating doesn't happen when there's virtually no incentive. I stand by my point that you can cheat in Math homework more easily than equivalent non-Math homework, if you want to.

If 400-level Math coures are really impossible to cheat on, but there are 400-level non-Math courses that are possible to cheat on, I'd just argue that this is because they aren't really equivalent.


I can sympathize with him, as it seems he actually loses money if his student evaluations aren't high enough. The fault would then lie with the institution that doesn't properly asses the teaching prowess of a professor.


Perhaps next semester he should teach 'business ethics' in which he can explain to his students that when confronted with the choice of 'do what you think is right' and 'maximize your income', he went with the latter.


He doesn't lose money, he gets a smaller raise.


Semantics. He didn't get money that he would have received otherwise. I think it's fair to say he lost money.


Getting a raise less than the rate of inflation is losing money. His purchasing power declined.


The article does not make the claim that his raise was lower than the rate of inflation. If it was, then yes, it was effectively losing money.


From the article: "my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation"


Well, I look like an idiot now. That's what I get for not going back to reread an article before making a claim about what it says, I suppose.


Look if you want to level attacks at someone, level them at the administration. They gave this guy the catch-22 that led him to give up.


I saw your comment before it was edited and calling someone to the carpet (in your case by calling him a coward) isn't the kind of name-calling that should be frowned upon here. He is a coward. He comes out and plainly says that it's in his best interest to go along with the incentive structure in front of him instead of standing up for academic integrity.

Let's not let the cultural politeness here get in the way of calling it like it is. "Coward" may be a strong word, but it sometimes does apply.


I don't see how he's a coward, he's coming up with new ways to teach his students that make it so they are not able or less able to cheat. If he was a coward he would just continue to teach in a way that was still easy to cheat. He's even asking for ideas on other ways to prevent cheating.


Perhaps he's come up with some novel ways to deal with the dishonesty of his students. Time will tell.

Preventing cheating ultimately comes down to changing the incentive structures in the university system in America. Allowing students to take revenge on their professors by basing financial rewards and promotions on student evaluations is clearly wrong. The metric by which professors are rewarded should be as independent from what their students think of them as possible. Outside exams by an unbiased third party is one idea, but I'm sure there are others.

What surprised me more than anything was the lack of mention of any sort of organized protest on the part of the professors. The faculty at many colleges throughout the U.S. has protested a number of issues very successfully. You'd think there would be a more unified voice on this matter, but perhaps I'm overlooking an incentive that guides most professors to just not care.


The man has a job. The job states that he will be rewarded based upon customer feedback. If you have a problem with universities who measure their professors by popularity, then take it up with them.


Hi Panos. I was actually a student in your class last fall semester. To alleviate any doubt you may have, the class was known as “Info Tech,” and you had two sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays (2-3:15, 3:30-4:45 pm) in KMEC.

Now I have a couple of problems with your post. Firstly, you attribute your lower evaluation rating of 5.3 for last fall semester solely to your lower tolerance of cheating. However, there is something very wrong with this logic. As you may (or evidently, may not) know, correlation does not imply causation. In other words, your lower overall rating was not necessarily due to your increased surveillance of plagiarism; it could have been due to other factors. As someone who was a student in your class, I can speak for myself and say that I did give you a low rating, and it was NOT because you punished the cheaters—it was far from it. To put it rather simply and bluntly, you were unkind (that’s an extreme euphemism) out of the classroom. Sure, you had your favorites (my best friend being one of them) as most professors do. However, you had, what I perceived to be, an irrational disdain for some of your students, I being one of them. When I asked questions in class, you’d quietly giggle or give me a blank stare as if the question I asked was completely stupid (forgive me, I’m not technologically inclined), which of course discouraged me from participating in class. When I stayed after class to ask you questions I was too shy to ask in class, or to just discuss the subject material in greater depth, you’d answer in a very short, annoyed tone, as if you had more important things to do. My thank you’s went unanswered. My smiles to you were not reciprocated. Sure, it sounds silly, but it was very clear you did not like me. And I had no idea why. Some people noticed, while others in the class also felt like you hated them for no apparent reason. It got to the point where we, as well as others who experienced better treatment, discussed it and concluded you were just racist. Now, I know you and many others reading this post probably think I’m just a pissed off student who didn’t get the grade he wanted and is now bashing his teacher out of revenge. However, that’s really not the case; I just figured I’d give you my honest opinion of you seeing as your perception of your students’ mentality towards you is completely mistaken. I’ll just quickly recount one experience that perfectly illustrates my overall experience with you. For the WiMax assignment (which is what your blog post is based on), after all the students had received your email demanding those who plagiarized to come in to talk to you, naturally everyone, even those who didn’t cheat, felt very uneasy and worried. I, who collaborated with a friend on one small part of the assignment, got worried and came in to see you during office hours. When I arrived, there was one other student waiting in the seating area; she said you weren’t in your office. So we waited for a good 30 minutes until you came strolling in. She then went in to speak with you. About 20 minutes passed until she emerged. You then walked out, saw me, and then said “I’ll be back soon.” 50 MINUTES ELAPSED, and you finally returned. You were munching on a sandwich. As you walked by me, you mumbled “emergency.” So, almost two hours after I had come to your office, I finally was able to speak with you. We went in, you looked up my assignment, and then you said “there’s no problem with your assignment; you’re fine.” So I left. There was no apology.

Now, aside from me having a bad experience with you, what really irks me about your post is your complacence with cheating because it’s not in your self-interest to pursue those who cheated. A true capitalist at heart, I guess. As a student who did not cheat, worked very hard, and still received a relatively low grade in your class, there’s nothing more infuriating. Is it not your job as an educator to make sure those who put in the most effort and demonstrate the highest level of achievement are awarded grades accordingly? Is it not your job to make sure the playing field is level, especially at a school where there is such a high pressure to do well as a result of a strict grading curve policy? I guess you don’t believe so. I mean, after all, you did give my friend, who consistently received a B average on assignments and exams throughout the semester, an overall grade of A (which he was very, very shocked by).

Anyway, that is not to say I did not learn a lot from your class. You were a great teacher inside the classroom. However, teaching evaluations don’t just measure your ability to give good lectures; they are holistic--meaning, they also measure intangibles, such as the professor's willingness to help students, or his attitude. And that, Panos, is where you failed.


"who put in the most effort and demonstrate the highest level of achievement"

I've noticed a growing problem with people equating effort with achievement as the parent does. Just because one "works really hard" doesn't mean that one creates something of value. I'm not sure where this belief arose from, but it doesn't apply in school and it certainly doesn't apply in life.


I agree in general, but remember that we're talking about an MBA program here. Just what "value" is there to be created sitting in class?

The point of schooling is to develop the skills that will help you in the real world. Hard work is one of those skills; it's not outside the realm of plausibility that schools should incent it. (FWIW, cheating - when you don't get caught - is another one of them. Maybe schools should incent cheating and teach you how to not get caught. Oh wait, they do. Mission fucking accomplished. ;-/)


Though I certainly can't speak with authority about what might constitute value in an MBA program, I would think it would be the ability to understand systems and their organization and to think creatively about solutions to complex problems. I'm probably wildly optimistic.


From what I've heard from friends and coworkers who've gone to HBS - the value of the MBA is almost entirely in the network, in getting to know all the other folks who also got into Harvard. (This is perhaps a little bit less valuable at NYU, but the general principle still applies.) Logically, therefore, if you want to maximize value as an MBA program, you should have your students party all day. Which may not be all that far from the current truth.

The classroom aspects of the MBA have been uniformly criticized by the people I know that've gone through them, except for the few idiots who believe every business situation is like a case study and then run their businesses into the ground basing decisions on that. Business is just too complex to reduce to classroom principles. I think Marc Andreesen once wrote on his blog that at the time the executive makes the decision that an HBS case study will eventually be based upon, he has less than 10% of the information that the students who will eventually be critiquing him have.


In the US at least people are constantly saying that hard work should be rewarded, with no mention of whether the effort produces any particular value. The assumption may be that, well, no one works hard to create _no_ value, but indeed there's at least a lot of misguided hard work that people then think deserves some sort of arbitray reward.


You commit a fallacy here because your comment (as well as the one it's in reply to) assumes that work is rewarded proportionally to its value. It isn't. If you have the bargaining power to get paid more, you get paid more regardless of your contributions.

The assumption you're referring to I think has to do with the question of whether it's moral to reward people for working hard (even if inefficiently). I think there are clear situations where it is moral and necessary to do so. Perhaps not always, but at least sometimes.


You commit a fallacy here because your comment (as well as the one it's in reply to) assumes that work is rewarded proportionally to its value.

No, I nor my comment don't assume any such thing. You commit a fallacy by assuming that because I do not think people should expect work to be rewarded in proportion to how hard it is that therefore I think work is rewarded in proportion to how valuable it is. If only.

Work is perhaps more likely to be rewarded based on greater value, but one has to make the case for the reward. Most of the time claiming "It's hard" as the reason will not get you much reward.

If you have the bargaining power to get paid more, you get paid more regardless of your contributions.

No kidding; this is part of my point.

Unfortunately there are cultural tropes that keep people from learning this sooner rather than later.


How to you propose to measure the value of work? I'm certainly not limiting it to financial remuneration. Whatever the value is measured by, it certainly doesn't correlate to effort. Sometimes something of great value takes much effort, sometimes little, but the value cannot be predicted by the effort. Teaching people that it can is a disservice.

In what situations is it a moral necessity to reward people for hard ineffective work? I'm not excluding the possibility, I'd just like to understand what you have in mind.


Measuring the value of work is a hard problem and it's politically loaded, so I don't really have a good answer to the "how" question.

In my biased opinion, it is morally necessary to reward people for how hard they work at least partially when I consider what most work (jobs) consist of, which is economically disenfranchising hard manual labor. If I am younger and/or healthier and/or genetically stronger I'll be able to have higher throughput at those jobs, creating more value. However, I'm not sure that it's moral for people who are older, sicker, or not as genetically gifted to be rewarded less than me for doing essentially the same job. I'm not talking exclusively about monetary renumeration, just general "rewards".

I'm sure not everyone buys into this, but it's what I meant with my earlier comment.


I don't think he's conflating effort with achievement, rather actually doing the work, with earning the grade he got, or rather not getting the grade he should have.


Correlation != causation, but I doubt it wasn't related. You might not have marked him down for his anti-cheating stance (directly), but chasing cheats might have affected his attitude (playing "prison guard" may not have put him in a nice mood), which caused you to mark him down.

Here's a theory - Panos burnt himself out trying to chase the cheats, and deal with the bad-will and tantrums. This left a lot less time and energy to deal with students who had genuine problems. Playing the bad cop is not a good way to build relations, and makes everyone a bit paranoid.

So he turned himself into a bit of a jerk, by chasing cheats, which resulted in the worse assessment by the students.

As for his complacence, would you rather be taught by a hard-assed jerk who cracked down on the cheats, or a nice guy who turned a blind eye? There's no right answer, is there.

It might be good if the lecturer of a subject was not responsible for the summative assessment. Let some other lecturer do the marking, and set the exam. The lecturer could set (and mark) formative assessment, but that wouldn't go to your final grade. Why don't universities do this? They generally treat the lecturer as "King of the class", provided the students don't complain, so it would be seen as an "insult" to bring an outsider in. Like, have you ever seen another lecturer auditing another one's class, so they can offer suggestions about how to improve it?


would you rather be taught by a hard-assed jerk who cracked down on the cheats, or a nice guy who turned a blind eye?

The guy who turns a blind eye will probably be an effective teacher to those willing and wanting to learn.

Removing a cheater from the class does not help them learn more effectively, nor does it help the non-cheaters learn more effectively.

Why waste on policing, what can be spent on teaching.

It is not like the cheaters, when confronted, realized they were losing all sorts of knowledge they could otherwise obtain.

Ethically, I have a bigger problem with a student submitting his creative works to be used in a private corporations database AND charge the student and school for the "service".

It is not only the cheating students that are undermining the credibility of the University and its degrees.

If you want to teach morality, once somebody gets to college age, it may be a bit late for reformation.


Because grades matter a lot and cheaters devalue everyones legitimately-earned grades.


Also, professors will adjust the difficulty of the course to get the right grade curve. If everyone is OK with a 3,000 word essay, bump it up to 5,000 words. Eventually, you will more or less have to cheat if you want to pass.


> what really irks me about your post is your complacence with cheating because it’s not in your self-interest to pursue those who cheated

Why don't you hold the other professors to the same standard? It's not as if the other professors are oblivious to rampant cheating. But what's the point of trying to catch cheaters if it hurts the class dynamic and if those who get caught don't even get suspended? The students are clearly OK with cheating otherwise the cheaters would be ostracized by the other students. The school management clearly doesn't care, since they don't take action against those who are caught red-handed. The teachers who care are punished for it: bad reviews and bad class atmosphere in return for extra hours on top of an already heavy schedule. And yet you don't thank the professor for trying to fight against cheaters (and losing that fight) but you effectively criticize him for having tried in the first place!

> discussed it and concluded you were just racist

A teacher is in a bad mood when a significant portion of the class is exposed as having no academic integrity, doesn't want to teach the class but still, according to your own words was a "great teacher in the classroom" and "gave good lectures". How do you explain his bad mood? Why of course, he must be racist.

> all the students had received your email demanding those who plagiarized to come in to talk to you, naturally everyone, even those who didn’t cheat, felt very uneasy and worried

This exact scenario happened in a class I attended some years back. Guess who felt nervous? Those who knew they cheated on the assignment and those who plagiarized habitually but didn't remember whether they plagiarized in this instance. The students who would never, ever, ever, copy-paste plagiarize did not feel the slightest bit worried. I'm sure you "collaborated" with a friend on a small part of the assignment. Yeah, that's the word all cheaters and plagiarizers use.

> teaching evaluations don’t just measure your ability to give good lectures

If you give a better evaluation to mediocre teachers who smile and say sorry when they're late, then that's exactly the kind of teachers you're going to get instead of the teachers who are great in the classroom and who teach classes where you learned a lot.

Save your post and re-read it a few years from now. You'll probably be able to see it from a different perspective.


all the students had received your email demanding those who plagiarized to come in to talk to you, naturally everyone, even those who didn’t cheat, felt very uneasy and worried

This exact scenario happened in a class I attended some years back. Guess who felt nervous? Those who knew they cheated on the assignment and those who plagiarized habitually but didn't remember whether they plagiarized in this instance. The students who would never, ever, ever, copy-paste plagiarize did not feel the slightest bit worried.

That isn't true at all. I've never cheated once -- from elementary school through grad school -- yet I've been accused of it twice by professors. In one case, I created something so novel and excellent, the professor assumed I had taken it from an obscure book; in another, the professor misunderstood how my software worked and thought it couldn't possibly produce the output I claimed.

If a blanket accusation of plagiarism went out, I would be very concerned that another student might have found a way to copy my work, or that I might have subconsciously reproduced something, or that there might be some other false positive. I would definitely show up to find out what was going on.


You're right, I shouldn't have said "slightest bit worried". That was an overstatement. I stand by the rest of my arguments though.


This type of condescending, defensive reply enlightens no one.

I mean, equating anxiety about being accused of something to actual guilt... that's thoughtcrime. Implying that the GP is so stupid that he/she couldn't distinguish racism from bad mood... that's a straight insult.


Hold on a second! The student accused the professor of racism in the post I replied to. I quote: "It got to the point where we [...] discussed it and concluded you were just racist". To accuse a professor semi-anonymously of racism is completely outrageous, so yes, I ridiculed him for that. Especially when absolutely no evidence of potential racism is provided. Careers are destroyed over baseless accusations of racism, y'know.

Note also that the student is extremely condescending. His opening insinuates that the professor doesn't know the difference between correlation and causation, which is ludicrous. The student concludes with "And that, Panos, is where you failed". Again, unnecessarily condescending.


"One interesting observation: Almost all cheating happened within groups with cultural ties. Koreans copy from Koreans. Indians from Indians. Greeks from Greeks. Jews from Jews. Chinese from Chinese."

Is he racist? How is he able to determine ethnicity and statistically link it to cheating?


Because the software showed the assignment the cheater cribbed from. Either knowing the students, or in most cases their names would give away their ethnicity.


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I do have a problem with that. But in this case the professor said he went to great lengths to avoid false positives and only took action against those students who confessed after being confronted with a mountain of evidence.

In this case the professor stated that collaboration was absolutely prohibited. Cite: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2776039


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If you look at his post carefully, you'll notice he "collaborated" with another student. He knew he broke the rules, and he was terrified he would get caught. He did not.

Personally, I think students should be able to discuss such assignments with each other, but I don't think you've accurately characterized the situation.


What's wrong with just giving people who cheated a bad grade, rather than wasting hours talking to them?


One (not uncommon) scenario is when two identical (or high match) assignments are turned in, and the professor does not know if (1) the students collaborated or (2) one student cheated off of the other. Penalizing both students is clearly wrong if one student did the assignment properly without cheating, and the other student copied the first student's work.

How can the professor determine which student cheated (or if both students cheated), without spending substantially time looking into it and talking to both students?


> Penalizing both students is clearly wrong if one student did the assignment properly without cheating, and the other student copied the first student's work.

I had a professor who would actually give the person who did the work the worse grade, under the justification that you can never get rid of demand, but you could discourage supply. I thought it was a pretty clever solution. If I'd worked my ass off and somebody copying me got a 50% where I got a 0%, I'd be much more careful about what I shared.


> (2) one student cheated off of the other

You might believe that it's morally wrong to penalize the person who did the work, but I would have to disagree with you. Both Cheating and giving others the ability to cheat undermine the credibility of an institution and harm the legitimate efforts of others.


not really. people who do the work are usually pressured to share it, and are ostracized if they don't. I don't really think its fair to punish a victim unless there's some kind of evidence that they played a more insidious role.


Neither student is a victim in the scenario you give. Peer pressure does not make one conspirator innocent.


They will whine. Endlessly.

Then again, they'll do that anyway.


So give them a chance to appeal.


Sure. What I mean is, they'll whine to you anyway, trying to get around the system. And, practically, refusing to talk to them is difficult-to-impossible.


I'm not sure that it should be the professor's job to handle appeals. It should be the same sort of process that schools use to handle appeals for missed tests and work.

You miss a test, you get a zero. You go to the office of the dean with a note or explanation, get them to sign off that you should be allowed to retake, reweight, or whatever else it is that is needed, and then you go to the professor to deal with it.

The same sort of process should probably be put in place for plagarism. The professor flags you, and if you want to appeal, you go to the dean's office, they review the possibly-plagarized paper, and if they feel that the professor was in error, or that the student deserves the benefit of the doubt, they allow some sort of corrective action.


It shouldn't be their job at all, I agree, but the practical consideration is that they'll have a line of complaining students in their office that they can't exactly get rid of.


> But what's the point of trying to catch cheaters if it hurts the class dynamic and if those who get caught don't even get suspended? The students are clearly OK with cheating otherwise the cheaters would be ostracized by the other students. The school management clearly doesn't care, since they don't take action against those who are caught red-handed.

So, what you're saying is, it's too hard, the risks too great -- therefore we shouldn't try?


If 30 out of a 100 students were cheating and annoyed at the anti-cheating measures, his rating would significantly drop. That alone would be a sufficient explanation and is reason to infer causation from correlation, as we humans do every day of our lives to make sense of what is happening. We constantly successfully defy Hume.

You are not accounting for the fact that his ratings dropped, which implies previous classes did not have the kind of experiences you described and rated him low because of it.


>As a student who did not cheat, worked very hard, and still received a relatively low grade in your class, there’s nothing more infuriating.

I have no idea if you were graded fairly or not, I just wish to point out that grades should be based on results, not how hard one worked.


Speaking from personal experience (both as a student and a TA) nothing is worse than ECE professors for bad teaching or ECE students for cheating, neither aspect of this scenario really surprise me.

I think it is sad but telling that the author gave up so quickly on what is (as the OP pointed out) the basic expectations of his job, but it is also telling about the overall quality and current state of ECE departments that cheating is so prevalent. The solution isn't however, to pursue cheaters but to change the environment, but that isn't going to happen if every professor gives up after his or her first kick at the can.

I apologize that this partial rant isn't very constructive but I'm far to tired right now.


Please read the whole article first and then post here. You will see that this teacher actually comes with a reasonable solution to the problem (described at the end of his article). Please don't post without RTFA.


As another poster mentioned, please read the article, the author did not give up so quickly.


Business students, not ECE.


Wait, as I just noticed this: You collaborated with another student? In an individual assignment? In which you had very clear directions not to collaborate with other students?

I am really sorry that I did not catch you. You would have received the penalty that all other students who "collaborated" received, which I guess would have brought your grade to a C-.


I speak as an undergraduate here, so I realise that there may be some things about your position that I can't really appreciate properly.

I also think that if you made it very clear that NO collaboration was allowed then it is true, this student cheated.

However, I would say that a no collaboration rule is something you may want to be wary of if you're keen to have a good class ethos. I have always found that classes where some level of conferring between students has seemed to bring the best out of the assigned task. Direct copying and working together is obviously outside this, here I am for instance talking about doing your work at a computer next to someone doing the same work - and discussing the task with them as you go through. The very best lecturers I've had, whose coursework I have learned the most from, have been the ones who allowed and encouraged this practice.

The end result is a class ethos and atmosphere where people learn from one another and take an active interest in the subject matter. Another result is that people can become more competitive among themselves, especially if the coursework is creative enough to allow some 'flair' to take place. (For instance in a programming task 20% of the marks are often given for extensions). A side effect of this competition is that students will not tolerate other students stealing from them. They certainly won't tolerate copying from previous years solutions. Quite apart from this intolerance of cheaters the sense of competition allows a sense of personal pride, whereby students want to hand in a good piece of original work.


I would say that a no collaboration rule is something you may want to be wary of if you're keen to have a good class ethos.

I learned about this sort of thing in a roundabout way. I did my degree in philosophy, and everyone in the department actively encouraged students to be talking to each other both in and out of class, bouncing ideas off each other, etc., and it worked out quite well. We all learned to get along with each other, and we all learned a lot more than we would have individually.

Meanwhile, I had friends who were over in the various sciences, and who would talk about how that sort of thing could never happen in their classes because of strict policies against students "collaborating". One professor (and I actually got this confirmed, rather than just believing the anecdote) went so far as to state that if a student came to her -- the professor -- for something as simple as pointers to journals (not individual articles -- journals) which covered particular sub-fields, she'd bring them up on academic charges.

Depressingly, I found out later that my school's science departments were not unique in this attitude; this level of hostility toward collegiality seems to be a common part of studying the sciences in many places.


"I, who collaborated with a friend on one small part of the assignment,"

So you admit you cheated and then you turn around and say "this guy is a racist"? LOL. I guess I could make some more observations from my own experiences here, but that would make me "racist" too I guess...


Each university and individual course has its own collaboration guidelines. Collaborating with a friend on a part of the assignment could be completely kosher. Not enough information to judge.


From the syllabus and the assignment description: "Students may not work together on graded assignment unless the instructor gives express permission. Collaborating on graded assignments with students from other sections, is a violation of the Stern Honor Code. Similarly, getting help to complete the graded assignments from students that attended the class in the past is also a violation of the Stern Honor Code."

I explicitly prohibited students from working together on individual assignments. There were plenty of group projects for doing so, but for the individual assignments I wanted the students to work alone.

The student clearly violated the Stern Honor Code, and he is openly admitting that.


Let me start by indicating some logical flaws in the timing of the events: The office hours for the class were from 12.30 to 1.30, Monday and Wednesday. The class was starting at 2pm. According to your account, I showed up at 1pm, being 30 mins "late". Then the first student came in at 1pm and came out at 1.20pm? Then it took me another 50 minutes while I was running around? So I came to talk to you at 2.10pm, when I was supposed to be in the class? What time did I show up in class? 2.30, and half an hour late?

I do remember the incident but you are greatly exaggerating the timing. The first student was waiting, I showed up at 12.30 and she was out at 12.50. Then I did run down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. Sorry, my blood sugar was running low, the line of students was getting longer, and I could not go and teach at 2pm for 3 hours straight without food. (Usually I was getting lunch at 1.30pm but with this line of students, things were not looking good.) At 1pm, I was back, we discussed the case and I continued the discussion with the remaining of the students in line.

You were waiting for two hours mainly because you were so worried that you showed up outside my office at 11am, a full hour and a half before the beginning of the office hours. Expecting me to be always in my office, and at your disposal, is understandable from the point of view of an undergraduate. But you may need to learn that professors have other tasks they need to accomplish during their workday.

Btw, I thought that the you got the joke about the "emergency" (that I had to grab something to eat), by obviously seeing me walking in front of you with a sandwich in my mouth. You can blame it to my bad attempt at humor.

Now that the timing issue is resolved, let me get back to the core of the argument, which I actually addressed in the post. It is the fact that I felt mostly sorry about: The fact that the cheating cases really changed my mood and attitude towards teaching this class, and this also affected the class dynamics. What you felt as unfriendliness was the direct causation of the cheating cases. It is very difficult to feel like hanging out with students when feeling that a very significant fraction of the class is actively trying to cheat. This the part that I said that I hated the most: the very different dynamics in class.

This is the part for which I should apologize: For now offering you the same experience as I offered to the students in prior semesters. Go and ask students that took my class in prior semesters. Or even check my ratings in prior semesters. I did not suddenly become an arrogant bastard.

PS: About the issue of a "true capitalist," yes I am a libertarian at heart. And I do believe that people respond to incentives. And I would strongly encourage you to read the article until the end.


I don't think being pissed at 28/108 students is a valid excuse for acting pissed at everyone. That is a major professional flaw and a post on how you plan to control your emotion may be appreciated by future students.

I have had professors that had me write huge essays and then proceeded to just put a huge ass check and never really read past the first paragraph. If I plagiarized and cited my frustration with all those other professors just glossing over hours and hours of my work, would you accept that excuse?

I guess what I am tryin to say is that your 80 students who did not cheat have as much right to be pissed at you as your right to be pissed at the 28 students that did cheat.

As for the evals, I always found them to be kind of a joke and would agree that the better grades you assigned, better your ratings would be. As for me, I was too lazy to bubble in stuff.


I see your point. But consider the following: these numbers are for the students that admitted cheating. There was a significant number of other assignments for which I suspected cheating but I did not have enough evidence. So, I erred on the side of having false negatives in the accusations, rather than false positives.

Now, if you are teaching a class where you have some suspicion that half of the students have cheated, one way or another, the attitude changes. I wish I could be a cold, rational, emotionless professional, and ignore this feeling altogether. Unfortunately, I am a human. And I felt that I am teaching a class full of kids that come just for the grade, and not for learning.

And I am kind of disappointed that nyustern still demonstrates this grade-seeking attitude: He learned in the class, he appreciated my attitude in the lectures but his main complaint was that I was not approachable outside the class, and outside office hours? And that, out of all things, did not return his smiles? Hint: at 5pm, after 11 hours of work, 3 hours of lecturing, I am tired, mentally exhausted and I want to go and get some rest.


I felt that I am teaching a class full of kids that come just for the grade, and not for learning.

From reading your blog post and your comments here, I got the impression that you cared more about your pay raise than about the students learning.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I could have misinterpreted whats been said and that you were probably a victim of circumstance, but you blame the guy for demonstrating a grade-seeking attitude while you yourself demonstrate a they're all cheaters, who are not worth my time and I don't want them to rate me lower in my evaluation money-over-doing your job attitude - I think he deserves the same benefit of a doubt as you do.

Your comments here seem very whiney and bitter and you show no sign of sympathy to the students who didn't cheat.

FWIW, the guy didn't sound very grade-seeking to me.


I got a different impression from the blog post. Being a teacher does not mean you have to do charity. Everybody needs to get some food on their table. I can relate to that being rewarded less because of something you feel you were not responsible, makes you feel upset. However, I didn't get the impression that it's all he cares about. It was just one paragraph among many after all.


Similarly the part where the student cared most about the grade was only one paragraph among many after all.

I'm more arguing that the professor should treat his students under the same standards he wants to be treated and from the article AND his comments here (reading the article alone gave me a similar impression as what you wrote, kind of), he seems to be quick to blame the students without accepting his own shortcomings (not entirely true - he does acknowledge some and I do agree with how he intends on tackling cheating in the future: by changing the homework format to a more cheat-resistant form). I know I was a bit harsh in my comment, but I do get the sense that the prof is bitter and unapologetic for most of his own mistakes.

Still, I wish him luck in the next semester. I imagine the new homework format should help alleviate a lot of the problems he had and avoid this in the future.


Everyone is arguing over a flawed education system, who are any of else to judge?


I got the impression that you cared more about your pay raise than about the students learning.

I get the impression that most people care more about their compensation than about <insert bullshit feelgood metric>. Money is an important thing in the modern world, and I guarantee that 99.99% of people in the workforce do their work solely for the money. Stop paying them, they leave. So it's natural that this professor would want a pay raise, too. Everyone does.


Jesus. Thank you.

My wife just finished a grueling, thankless year for bullshit pay as a visiting professor at a local branch of a state college. She poured her heart into it, ended up with health problems from lack of sleep and irregular access to food (not that she'd admit that, but I'm on the outside and could see it clearly), and didn't get her contract extended because she was so perturbed at people cheating their way through class instead of sitting the f* down and learning some really simple physics that she couldn't bear it. Couldn't sleep, really. (She's kind of an idealist.)

I loved Panos's post for this very reason, knowing the human side of academia as nyustern and GP obviously don't. This attitude that people should teach for the love of the field and that wanting to be paid for it is venal - that's sheer poison.

The triviality of the pay is just the last droplet of spittle.


This is a classic False Dichotomy fallacy. There is a massive difference between "working for free" and "got a payrise that didn't quite meet inflation". This tenured professor isn't complaining that he no longer draws a salary.

Yes, most people won't work for free (note that there are heaps of charity workers, though, more than .01%) but it's not about "working for free"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Watch this video - it makes the point that money is indeed a prime motivator... until you have enough to keep you fed and housed. Then it changes - and not only is your 99.99% number meaningless, but straight out monetary rewards can reduce performance.


Yeah - the tenured professor is complaining that his management talks big but when it comes to showing actual appreciation, they complain that his evaluation figures are off. It's not the money - it's the fact that when it comes to real appreciation, they show what they really think, which is that doing something about cheating is unpopular and they don't really want to do it.

tl;dr: it's the respect, not the money.


My impression was that it was just another (small) data point in the long list of negative incentives for chasing down cheaters. Most of it seemed focused on the disproportionate amount of time it took to enforce the rules, and demonstrating how blatant the cheaters are about it.


Absolutely correct. The compensation part was just one of the many data points, but a point that many people can relate to. A couple of thousand dollars per year would not make a difference in my life. It is mainly a signal of appreciation for the work.


Fair nuff.

Though each time you point out your former student's grade seeking tendencies, you are just highlighting the disconnect between you and your students. Many of us would love the utopian dream of going to class to learn without worrying about grades, but at the end of the day, grades matter. May be a lot, even.

It is why you care about folks plagiarizing. It is why your former student cares about his grades.

Again, I don't think you would take kindly to a student who plagiarized complain that you are still stuck up about that one incident when the student has demonstrated he's learned a buncha stuff from your class that is as reflective of him as the plagiarizing.


It's good that you've found a career that will tolerate your unapologetic selfishness, whining and indifference. All of these things will surely limit your success outside academia.


This guy's a cheater


I don't like most police either, but that doesn't make me a criminal. It's a matter of disliking people with bad manners. Scheduling important office hours and taking a break in the middle is bad manners. Not returning smiles is bad manners. Believe it or not, living in a world with pleasant friendly people is actually nicer than having an NYU MBA, or a high paying job. So when I see people trying to justify their unpleasantness I don't like it.


I don't think being pissed at 28/108 students is a valid excuse for acting pissed at everyone. That is a major professional flaw and a post on how you plan to control your emotion may be appreciated by future students.

FYI professionals are humans first and professionals second. If think that professionals can easily turn off how they are feeling and always act properly, then I conclude that you have little understanding of humans and little experience of how professionals act.

Rather than see this as a flaw, I see this self-awareness as something to compliment the professor on. OF COURSE spending so much time dealing with unpleasantness towards students is going to affect any human's mood towards the class. That's human nature. But now that the professor is armed with an awareness of this fact, it will be easier to address the underlying cause.

I know that you do not agree with me. But hopefully after you have a few decades of experience in a professional environment, and possibly experience as a spouse and parent as well, you'll learn the truth of what I say.


FYI professionals are humans first and professionals second. If think that professionals can easily turn off how they are feeling and always act properly, then I conclude that you have little understanding of humans and little experience of how professionals act.

You've got that exactly backwards. Behaving professionally means turning off emotion and acting appropriately. Anyone whose job involves dealing with people has to do it, from grocery store cashiers and waitresses to doctors and lawyers.

It's expected, and literally millions of people do it successfully every day.


It goes both ways. Are you willing to listen to the many excuses for why each student may have plagiarized and potentially extend the same they-are-human-too sympathies?


>Are you willing to listen to the many excuses for why each student may have plagiarized and potentially extend the same they-are-human-too sympathies?

Unless their reason for cheating is "I don't care about my studies" and the way you extend your sympathies is by getting them kicked out, your argument is bullshit.

OK, the professor sucked. You know what? Some do, thats life, and you suck it up. The academic policy doesn't say "you have a right to a teacher you love a whole huggy bunch", but it does say "don't fucking cheat".


I understand why the students cheat. However it is possible to be in their positions and not cheat. I don't want to have co-workers who cheat. I therefore would like to see the book thrown at them so that they learn not to cheat.

If they truly had no choice about cheating, then I'd show more sympathy. But they do. By contrast we truly don't get to choose how we as humans are emotionally wired.


> By contrast we truly don't get to choose how we as humans are emotionally wired.

What a lame excuse. He still had as much of a choice in being a dick as the students had in cheating.

Even under his own account of the office-hours incident, he was very inconsiderate and doesn't seem to understand it. If you have office hours, know there will be many students showing up on this particular day, and yet you aren't prepared with food, compound that by not bothering to explain that you need to eat now, that's a dick move, without excuse and explains the evaluations. His fault, not the students.


If you look at any of us during snapshots of our worst moments, you'll find a lot to criticize. If you are caught on the spot, you seldom make the response you wish.

The fact that the professor remembered that specific incident strongly suggests that this was one of those moments that he'd like to have over. The fact that he has come up with a strategy to avoid the problem suggests that there will be future improvement. I see a lot to applaud here.


For the love of God, man! What a trivial fucking complaint. I guarantee there have been times at your job when you weren't in peak form.

How can you possibly say that one case of leaving the office for maybe 20 minutes during office hours explains an overall 1 point drop in evaluation averages? Many here are so quick to pile on the prof, am I the only one that read this and was shocked at the amount of cheating going on??


Likewise, I know professors who under similar situation do not react like the professor in this discussion.

Also I don't understand why the same emotional wiring that can explain the professor's behavior cannot potentially explain the cheating student's behavior?


How so a similar situation?

You have known many professors who are going through reporting a fifth of their class to the deans for cheating? You know how they feel and act during that event? Really?

I firmly disbelieve. I spent 9 years in a university setting, knew a lot of professors, and I personally knew exactly nobody who went through that. And from what I know of human nature, and the likely emotions that someone in that position would feel, I very strongly suspect that your judgement of how they would react is completely wrong.


Can't help if you choose to twist my use of the word "similar" into "same".

I've been through multiple stop-te-cheating lectures and each time, the professors went out of their way to appreciate the non-cheats and minimize negative impact on the innocent due to the actions of the guilty minority.


Anti-cheating lectures aren't similar. The thing that caused problems here was a mass of effort spent going against specific students. Was that also the case with your professors?


Indeed. The stress associated with individual confrontations is orders of magnitudes higher than the stress associated with giving a general anti-cheating lecture.


For what its worth, in the one class I've had where the professor did catch a fifth of the students cheating in the first midterm (and immediately handed everyone Fs), his mood towards the rest of the class changed similarly.


"Look what they made me do" is such a pathetic excuse.


I think you are reading, look at what they made me do into a situation better described by look at the impact of my emotional reaction to this course of action.

The first paints you as a helpless victim of circumstances. The second one takes responsibility for ones poor actions, and charts a course to do better in the future.

There is a world of difference between the two.


  >>  That is a major professional flaw and a post on how you plan to control your emotion may be appreciated by future students.
I think he is readily admitting this is a major flaw, and he plans on controlling his emotions in the future by not obsessing about cheating. This is probably not the ideal response, but it is very human, and you have to give him props for admitting his weaknesses.


What this, and indeed the whole monologue, emphasises for me is that the teachers should probably not be involved in the process of disciplining students. It's wasting their time and decreasing their effectiveness.

Create a position (or probably department) for quality control. Automatically send "you plagiarised, warning" letters to the student and the person who paid for the course if the submitted work receives a score above X threshold for plagiarism (this threshold to be chosen by an inter-university body and preferably standardised across universities).

Obviously a student would be able to appeal and have proper analysis done by a department member. A second warning without appeal would get a student a P grade for "admitted plagiarism".

This way the teacher just teaches, just marks the work submitted and the administrative duty of notifying students that their plagiarism has been spotted is separated and codified.


Yes, this is probably the correct thing to do. Unfortunately, most universities are too cash-strapped for such a thing.


They're paying uni professors/lecturers to do admin work that they could pay a fraction of the same amount to have done. I know that in practice it's more complex than this - for example here it only works because the lecturer is not actually being paid by the hour; they're still under-utilising their lecturers.


> you have to give him props for admitting his weaknesses.

Um, no. No props for simply admitting his weaknesses.

Props are for succeeding in controlling them, and for having shown that one actually does more than just going "look at these weaknesses in me these students are triggering in me with their terrible behaviours".

Props for just admitting weaknesses has a good chance of making people go complacent and "look, I'm just not good at XYZ and therefore I have to be an asshole", instead of working to improve.


Judging someone on their strengths and weakness are probably done best after we've walked a mile in their shoes.

This would be appropriate to anyone and everyone who is using a judgement here.


Imagine yourself living in a small colony of 109 individuals, 108 plus yourself. At least 25%, or one in four, want to kill you, and you don't know who they are.

Would you act friendly, trusting, kind and natural around everyone because up to 75% of them do not deserve your fear and suspicion?

It is perhaps a bit of an extreme thought experiment, but I think it illustrates handily how the human mind reacts in this kind of situation.


In non-life-or-death situations, people endure quite a large amount of discomfort to achieve other goals. But a high-enough level of discomfort kills people. Does this mean the ones enduring small amounts are irrational?

Reducto-ad-absurdum is a proof only when it takes into account everything in the argument. In life-or-death examples, other normally-included portions are dropped, making the argument something else entirely. It's just a straw-man attempt, not a valid point.


It's not a straw-man. I have attempted to refute nothing. I was merely asking my parent to consider how he might behave in such a situation.

I used a different situation, it is true, but only because I have found being on the instructional end of cheating feels very different than you might imagine, so I guessed my parent was not familiar with it.


You attempted to refute the claim that people should control themselves better in such situations. And you did so very clearly, by inferring that spreading the mood to the 75% was perfectly logical.

As a student who has not cheated, but has had to sit through countless lectures about cheating, and a few where large portions of the class did, I ask you and (other?) teachers this question: to whom are you teaching? The ones who are learning, or the ones who are cheating?

I understand that you're stuck with both, but either find motivation in the successes or consider another line of work - it's part of the job. Otherwise you're screwing the ones who did the right thing.


He's not saying it's logical. He's saying it's inevitable based on how people are wired.


And therefore we shouldn't control ourselves better?


People have limits. I don't know enough about the situation to know if he was under the kind of load that would cause most people to act differently, but I suspect that is the case.


No one wants to kill anyone here.

I am all for using analogies to reassess my views, but the degree of comparison should be similar for the analogy to work. I can't even process for a second how cheating is anything like threatening to kill someone.


Have you ever talked to a group in which more than a quarter were actively hostile and disinterested? It poisons the room. It's not "logical" that it should do that, but it is an empirical fact that it does.


The cheaters to non cheaters ration should be 0/108. If 80 of the students are allowing 28 other students to cheat, I'd be definitely pissed off at them.


First off, many of the details you cited are inaccurate. However, its pointless to argue over such things. I was not aware of your health condition, but given the pattern of treatment given to me and a handful of others, I was left to assume you were acting as usual. Anyway, my post was to make you aware of a few other reasons as to why you received a low evaluation score. Blaming the students wholly is unjust and there are a plethora of other reasons as to why they may have viewed you in a bad light, as I've elucidated a few already. Thanks for your response and best of luck handling this issue in the coming terms.


Again: read the article until the end. I do not blame the students.

Students respond to incentives. If I give them opportunities to cheat and remain undetected, they will cheat. I do the same as a human. If I were getting a 50% increase in my salary for detecting cheating so aggressively, next year I would have tried to detect cheating even when there is none.

What I truly blame in the article is the structure of the homeworks and the overall student evaluation approach. Which is something that I use. And I criticize my approach of trying to detect cheating post factum, instead of building projects and homeworks in which cheating is just meaningless.

Just tell me: Could anyone cheat and copy the presentation on augmented reality by your fellow classmates? It was simply stunning and they fully deserved the 10 points extra that you and your fellow classmates assigned to them. That is an evaluation strategy, where nobody could cheat because nobody could cheat your own instincts for detecting and recognizing quality.


Students respond to incentives. If I give them opportunities to cheat and remain undetected, they will cheat. I do the same as a human. If I were getting a 50% increase in my salary for detecting cheating so aggressively, next year I would have tried to detect cheating even when there is none.

People do respond to incentives. That is an intellectual fact, and should be taken into account when designing systems. But to say that a given individual always should or always will is a moral absurdity. It is tantamount to justifying all criminal action.

If your moral axiom is "I am most important", selfishness is rational behavior. But that is only if that is your axiom. If it's "everyone is equally important" or even "other people are most important" things will look quite different.

It comes down to how you relate to the rest of humanity -- as an enemy, an equal, or a friend.


You've mentioned incentives a number of times -- I'm glad you bring them up and would like a better understanding here. I fully believe incentives affect us much more than most people appear to think.

However -- So I understand that when the system encourages certain behavior, that certain behavior is very likely to arise regardless of how logical, ethical, or correct the behavior seems. For example, many students have a very unhealthy focus on grades and living up to expectations, teachers on evaluations, and administrators on high enrollment numbers, etc.

However, this doesn't mean that the incentives can't and shouldn't be circumvented. For example, if one is put in a place where performance-goals are encouraged (a focus on grades), I sincerely believe part of the teacher's role is to do their best to encourage a learning-focus and discourage performance-goals.

So this applies equally to a teacher's behaviors -- when a teacher is encouraged one way or another based on evaluations, it is the job of the administrators to either destroy whatever causes that encouragement, or in some way encourage a learning-outcome focus instead. I wonder, do you feel anything is in place to do that? And what could be?


> If I were getting a 50% increase in my salary for detecting cheating so aggressively, next year I would have tried to detect cheating even when there is none.

Wow. While a 50% salary increase is quite substantial, admitting that you'd hypothetically frame your students in order to get it is ... well it's definitely below cheating in my book.


He's not saying he would frame students - he's acknowledging that he would respond to the incentive by following it aggressively. This is how humans act. You're just reading into this because you have a negative opinion of the guy.


This is a much better attitude than the one I read from your other posts. Changing the homework structure, as described in the article, I think is also a reasonable solution. Congrats.


OK, here's something that I don't get. Why do you care that students are cheating? In the end, the only people they are harming is themselves - leave them to it, I say... You are there to teach them, if they decline to learn, hey it's not your problem.


"In the end, the only people they are harming is themselves "

No they're not. Grades are important in moving on in academia and moving on one's career ultimately. Cheaters are hurting other students by out-competing them on graduate entry exams and job applications. They hurt their prospective employers by not learning and out-competing competent students for jobs, (possibly becoming one of those jerks you read about on TDWTF.) And, they hurt their school's reputation by lowering the average quality of the graduate. Cheater's hurt everyone else in the system.


This is only true if you think that good employers are hiring on the basis of grades. You know what, I've hired a half dozen or so programmers, and I've done interviews with about 100, and not once have I ever looked at their grades or their faculty. I don't think I'm unusual in that respect.

I think employers using grades as a basis for a hiring decision is every bit as silly as professors worrying about their students cheating, precisely because you can cheat for grades. Don't do that.


You're failing to think things through. Employers only base their hiring decisions on grades for recent graduates, but nearly all employers base their hiring decision on the student's degree and the institution it comes from. Good grades help with that. There is also the issue of graduate school which certainly does take grades into account.


Anyone who disagrees isn't thinking? Please. I've been in interview loops for years at different companies. We discuss every candidate's demonstrated problem-solving and design abilities, and culture fit for the ones we don't rule out quickly. Nobody ever brings up the reputation of any school they went to. We just don't care at all. Allegedly somebody out there does, but I have yet to see it happen.


"Anyone who disagrees isn't thinking?"

I didn't say that. But the whole world is not the Bay Area. I've known folks for whom this was an issue.


Edit: (A few examples)

My brother went to West Point and got a degree in CS. At West Point people with higher grades get first pick the corps they go into. People with exceptionally low grades get saddled with chem-corp or transpo.

I have a friend who is a librarian. Librarianship has a huge bias towards degrees and a qualified individual without a degree will be routinely passed over for an unqualified individual with a high level degree, even if that person is antagonistic to the project.

I have another friend who is a school teacher, his academic credentials are checked whenever he has to change jobs and they are the major limiter in his ability work for better schools.

The people on this forum mostly belong to an exceptional segment of an exceptional industry. I agree that academic credentials really shouldn't matter as much as more objective evaluations of ability, but for most of the country, they do and not realizing this implies a certain myopia and failure to think outside of one immediate condition.


You're failing to think things through

Really?

Employers only base their hiring decisions on grades for recent graduates, but nearly all employers base their hiring decision on the student's degree and the institution it comes from.

False, I am a walking talking counter-example, but it's the same for all of the companies at which I have sat on recruitment interview boards, and also true for every company that has ever hired me. Nobody has ever requested to see my University transcripts (in fact I've only had one employer even verify that I have a degree). Grades just aren't a consideration. Your ability to respond to questions that we ask, your history of code for open source projects, sample code that you present, your overall demeanour/character - these things are looked at very closely.

I'm curious as to how you explain the very best tech employers recruiting before students have even graduated? Whilst I agree that there are employers out there that do care about grades, the people that are actually the most able to honestly obtain good grades are probably not terribly interested in working for them. I know I wasn't.


"I am a walking talking counter-example"

A single counter example is not a trend. Your experience is not the entire industry and the tech industry is just a small portion of jobs available to college graduates across the nation. Many, many industries care about degrees and how well you did. Just try to get a job at a major law firm without one. I've had friends apply for jobs as AAs and their grades came up. The tech industry is the exception, not the norm.

So, grades matter. They just didn't for you.


>Grades just aren't a consideration.

This is just flat out wrong. Not all companies use grades, or care about the institution you graduated from. But there are entire industries where your main ticket for admittance is your pedigree. Cheaters water down the degree affecting everyone who didn't cheat.


Employers in software regularly use grades to do entry level hiring. In some fields (law), your JD grades follow you around for the first 5-7 years of your career.


What you are pointing out is not the major damage from cheating. Yes, there is a serious moral problem going on, and the student is not learning the material that they are supposedly paying for. However, the major problem is that they are making it unfair for those that don't cheat. A lot of grades are based on "a curve" so cheaters can screw everyone else in a short term with immediate consequences.

Also, over time, such cheating leads to a disaster. Assignments start to become harder since obviously students don't have problems with them, those that really try to be honest are finding it is more difficult to do well, while they see cheaters zoom right by them, getting As and Bs.

Not all classes are viewed as core classes that one needs to understand or they'll fail some future test during their interview. There are lots of requirements, and elective classes which end up contributing to the final GPA score. So again, it is not just about students cheating themselves, as much as screwing everyone else.

Yes, in real life, often cheaters, manipulators, and liers do get ahead, but I don't think we should become complacent, and at least try to somewhat push back against dishonesty in the academic world.


but given the pattern of treatment given to me and a handful of others, I was left to assume you were acting as usual

Perhaps much of the "pattern of treatment" that you observed could be equally explained? When we interact with someone in a bad mood, we tend to assume it's because of us, but it's often likely to be external factors. Having taught before, and held office hours, I can tell you how absolutely exhausting it can be. Maintaining a fair demeanor gets increasingly more difficult.

Also consider how a professor feels when meeting students outside of office hours, and the student has not made a prior appointment. How would you feel if the professor showed up at your home and said they had to hold lecture now? It's obviously not the same thing, but it may give you an indication of how it feels.


> About the issue of a "true capitalist," yes I am a libertarian at heart. And I do believe that people respond to incentives.

Libertarian, maximum personal liberty. If you were a libertarian, you wouldn't care about the cheating. Let the little bastards screw themselves.

Libertarian doctrine (such as it is) says nothing about incentives.

Getting worked up about the cheating, you assume society (or at least your class room) should be merit-based. Pretty much the opposite of libertarianism.

A clever teacher would figure out a way for students to police each other. I've seen it work to great effect. No one grades harder than a peer.

Edit: I was being a dick, comment about whining removed.


"A clever teacher would figure out a way for students to police each other. I've seen it work to great effect. No one grades harder than a peer."

I could not agree with you more. This assignment, in which students get to teach "emerging technologies" to each other, and grade each other, is the highlight of my class. The whole point that I wanted to make with this post is that cheating is something that needs to be structurally avoided, not something to be detected and penalized.

Btw, touché on the libertarian point.


I need to apologise. I just RTFA. I really like your "future" section, the public projects, the peer reviews, the competitions. Exactly right. You are several steps ahead of me.


> Libertarian, maximum personal liberty. If you were a libertarian, you wouldn't care about the cheating.

Not when there is an existing agreement in place otherwise, that being the one between the honest students, the school, and the teacher calling for the teacher to fairly assess performance and grade accordingly. Unless the policy of the school on cheating is "whatever, no problem" (which doesn't seem to be the case), then the libertarian position is to stick to the contract he signed on for. Or is the new libertarian position something more like: honoring contracts is for suckers, screw everyone who hasn't caught on to it yet.


I don't miss dealing with tenured professors.


  As you may (or evidently, may not) know, correlation does not imply causation.
"Evidently, may not" - don't be a dick. Would you say that to his face?


Sounds like you should talk to the Dean. Publicly stating that you won't pursue cheaters no matter how blatant probably isn't something your school will enjoy having in the press, and it sounds like there might be a few other issues which, if documentable, could be a something your school may want to sort out. It also gives everybody a chance to explain their side.


I have the proposed solution at the end of the article. Please read that part as it is at the very heart of the point that I want to make.


I appreciate what you are trying to do but as a student I was consistently frustrated by peer presentations because I felt the quality of my education suffered. Likewise, while I'd be thrilled if somebody presented me with a high-quality video that would help improve my education, I would resent paying tuition to sit in a classroom and watch a recording that I could be watching from the comfort of my home in my off-hours. We attend school to learn material and context yes, but also for the experience and dialog of getting to ask questions to a world expert. That is what makes the education more valuable than reading a book. I am sad that you have chosen this as an element of your solution. However, if you publish that video or others online, please give us a link to it, it sounds wonderful.

Having students do individual research projects and then presenting can also be very hard on the students because one badly done presentation, if the material is never retaught, can create gaps in a student's education. This is particularly difficult for classes which are part of a sequence, where this lack of knowledge will impact a later class. You are creating work for yourself too, as the lectures which you teach which build upon these principles will frequently have to be adjusted to cover material which was not adequately expressed, and make it harder for you to recycle and perfect your slides.

Additionally, students in classes based on rotating presentations tend to specialize in what they presented. This gives them an unusual advantage on the test: the optimally localized behavior for a class on a curve is to learn the material, convey as little as possible while making the class feel well-informed, and then ace it on the test, thus lowering the curve. If you do insist on doing this, you should have the class' average success on the exam reflect in some way on the presenters.

This is the solution that I know http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2774695 I posted it on your website as well. I respect your desire to not have your class be fearful of you. Perhaps you could trade with another professor: you address his cheaters and he addresses yours.


One thing you don't address in the article that I would like to hear more about is how you handled cheating in previous semesters? Do you think it was just as prevalent, but you simply weren't aware because of no automated processing? Or were you teaching classes where cheaters were much less likely (such as an upper level research course)?

I think the comparison would add a lot of valuable info to the debate.


Ah correct. I should have mentioned that.

I was detecting some cheating in Excel assignments, but I was only pursuing the very obvious cases. At most a couple of cheating cases per semester.

For essays, it was pretty much impossible without the use of Turnitin, which I used for the first time in the Fall 2010 semester.


A bit too meta for a comment maybe, but ah well.

You're getting downvoted quite a bit in the comments in this thread I see, even for this one which seems very factual and without any reason to downvote. I guess it's because the average age of the audience of HN has gravitated downwards over the last year or two, and that many readers are still students who identify much more naturally with your students than with yourself; causing you to start with a disadvantage in the pathos department, so to speak.

I guess it's the same dynamic that is causing the discussion on the business-type articles to be much more, well, anti-business nowadays.

Anyway, just to say that I feel sorry for you for having to work in a system that is set up in such a way (by no individual's fault, btw) that those with the best intentions are destined for failure. It reminds me of my experiences with doctors in a hospital I've been interacting with a lot lately, who share your fate - they all mean very well but the deck is stacked against them in the form of a dysfunctional system they have to work in. My wife is a professor too and I recognize your dilemmas all too well; I've posted about it here in the past, but back in those days I still got upvoted for it ;)


Essays are inherently problematic in most fields, because they're effectively always at least partially graded on the quality of writing, which doesn't have any connection with how well something was learned (which should have a connection with grade). Some profs separate it out better than others, but students usually have only vague or zero knowledge about who falls where, so the default approach is that, regardless of what the prof states, writing quality matters. Copying from someone who is a better writer than you is a sure-fire way to sound better, which usually leads to a disproportionately-higher grade than an equivalent amount of copying simply the information.

If I write extremely poorly, the pain of reading through it taints what data exists. The irritation lowers the perception, which lowers the grade. It's a pretty well known phenomenon, lots of studies supporting it, probably most classically known as: sitting in a hard chair makes you more "hard" in your dealings with people.

Note that your example with the presentations only supports the belief that the delivery of the proof-of-learning matters. Not that there's a way to fix it, of course - awesome results are awesome, and should be encouraged. It's simply that I wish more professors were (more acutely?) aware of it, so it would (hopefully) have less impact. I would think that there would be a bit less cheating if delivery didn't matter.


While writing in and of itself is not connected to field knowledge. You really need to be a good writer to be an effective communicator.

One of the university degrees I did (effectively an arts degree) involved doing a lot of essay writing as part of the major. While I don7t really use the field knowledge I studied in the degree I credit my reasonably ok writing ability to all essays I wrote - which I have put to good use in writing technical reports and user documentation that no one else wanted to write because it was seen as beneath them.

Even with the ability to catch copy-pasters with tools such as turn it in, there is always private essay/thesis writers you can hire (there was an article from one of these writers sometime last year).

I just have to trust that despite a fancy degree, the cheaters get caught out in the place where it really matters - the workplace.


I completely agree, it's a skill everyone should have. But it has no relation to any kind of proof that you've learned something, outside of communication courses. Despite this, it still impacts grades everywhere. That's a pretty definite disconnect.

Not that I think "standardized" tests are any better. Just that increased awareness of this kind of effect on perception might decrease its impact.


For reference, the story about the essay writer is here:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Shadow-Scholar/125329/


As someone who was a student in your class, I can speak for myself and say that I did give you a low rating

What the HECK is that sort of system for? Students rating teachers and those ratings have an effect on the teacher's annual review?

I hope I'm wrong but if that's how it works in that particular school there's no chance for professional integrity if the teacher has to keep the students happy. A teacher should always be in a position where he has an unchallengeable authority over students (with regard to the class, of course), and thus being able to be harsh when necessary without having to self-correlate his behaviour in fear of being financially punished. Otherwise it'll be screaming for A's for everyone.


> those ratings have an effect on the teacher's annual review?

Yes. And with adjuncts (folks brought in to teach one or two courses per semester), getting low scores on the ratings means you don't get your contract renewed for the following semester.

For tenure-tracked teachers, your ratings are included in the things that they look at for tenure review.

> and thus being able to be harsh when necessary without having to self-correlate his behaviour in fear of being financially punished

You can only do that after you're achieved tenure.


By your own admission, you are "not technologically inclined", so what is it that makes you think you achieved anything remotely like "the highest level of achievement"? You might think you did a good job, but not only are you obviously going to be biased, but you're probably totally unqualified to make that assessment in the first place.

Your post just sounds like someone who was bad at the class and wants to blame someone else.


What I got from his post wasn't that he deserved a better grade, but more willingness by the professor to field his questions. If other students felt this way, I really can't trust the author's claim that his low evaluation score was solely due to the fault of his students. Seems pretty unfair...

The cheating, although not excusable, could very well be partially blamed on the professor.


I don't understand some of the negative responses directed to the professor (both in this case and in others; they seem to represent a popular sentiment). Why isn't blaming professors for cheaters analogous to blaming rape victims for being insufficiently vigilant against rape?


Because professors are in a position of authority over their students, and part of their job is to evaluate the students. Thus preventing or detecting cheating (for example, by changing the structure of the assignments, or using various plagiarism-detection tools) is legitimately the professor's responsibility (though not solely theirs; the school and the department are responsible for setting policies, and handling violations after the professor detects them; and of course the individual students bear the ultimately responsibility to not cheat!)


"Why isn't blaming professors for cheaters analogous to blaming rape victims for being insufficiently vigilant against rape?"

I don't think the analogy holds well. The point is that a professor is supposed to help his/her students when they have questions. If they don't do this, they increase the probability of cheating occurring. It's less of "blaming" and more "noting" that this happens. If the professor is partially ignoring this duty, he/she is partly to blame. (I'm not saying that happened here, just explaining what I think @reason's logic is).


All we have at this point is the word of someone who admits technological disinclination, says he received a poor grade, and publicly accuses Panos of racism. There's no real evidence here that any other student felt this way, nor that there was any substantial number of them (he doesn't even provide a number).

Panos has provided documentation, reasonable theories, refrained from naming students, and put his own reputation on the line. "nyustern" has simply whined about perceived slights, thrown anonymous accusations of racism, and vaguely claimed that other unnamed and unnumbered students felt the same way.

nyustern is free to voice his thoughts and feelings, but I don't think he should be free to anonymously throw serious accusations at Panos with no evidence.

There might be a serious personality conflict here, it's also possible Panos was a jerk. But at this point we have only the inherently biased word of a purported student who feels they didn't get the grade they deserved.


Ha. Your shit got dismantled.


Some of this might have been better expressed in the evaluations.


I think it's completely fair to respond to a public blog post here. The professor invited the response when he accused his students of giving him a poor rating for the wrong reasons. If I was a student of his, I would probably be offended.


Computer science undergrad here, final year in a very nice public university. For a long time now I've observed how business majors (my roommates) go on unpunished for years of blatant cheating. It has made me completely lose faith in the system. In computer science, cheating is not such a simple proposition. Our university CS department has a no-bullshit cheating policy: first offense results in failing grade, suspension for one semester, and mark on your transcript. Second offense results in expulsion from the school of Computer Science. I've seen this punishment applied in person many times; I know the dean isn't bluffing when he says he'll do it. Also, the school CS department uses a modified version of MOSS: http://theory.stanford.edu/~aiken/moss/

to detect the cheating. Maybe you can circumvent it if you're smart enough. Personally I have better things to do with my time.

Business majors, on the other hand, already have a reputation as the "bullshit major". You curriculum is a joke. You study for exams the day before. You party on finals week while the rest of us study. It's the major you go to when you want the easy ticket through life. And the blatant cheating they get away with just serves to rub it in the face of all the majors who actually have to gasp work for their degree.

More reading here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/education/edlife/edl-17bus...

When my roommates are done with college, they'll be screwed. I'm not disputing that. They have a degree that won't be worth the paper it's printed on, in a heavily oversubscribed major (25% of all US undergrads are business majors), with no marketable skills, and a tendency towards laziness and dishonesty.

Why do Business schools let this kind of stuff go on? I've talked to people in other schools, hell even business majors themselves, and they all acknowledge it. Don't people realize that they're just screwing themselves over in the long-term while accumulating the animosity and disdain of their peers? It's crazy, self-destructive, sad, wasteful, and it's ruining lives.

The entire system is broken. Cheating is just a symptom.


I would be careful generalizing the business school at your university.

I went to Purdue. I started as a Physics major and switched to computer science. I had several friends who started as an engineering or science major and then switched to other majors.

The academic standards in the Physics program were significantly higher than in CS, and liberal arts was a joke. There is a reason for this more than just Physics > CS > Liberal Arts:

Let's say you're a quality student who has decided against a private college for whatever reason (e.g. you don't want 6 figures in student debt) in Indiana:

If you want to major in liberal arts, you go to Indiana U.

If you want to major in CS and you don't mind the medium increase in cost, you go to the University of Illinois

If you want to major in Physics, you go to Purdue.

So there is some selection bias here. I don't know much about business schools, so I don't know if your generalization is valid or not. This is just something I've noticed in my own narrow experience.


The takeaway of applying aikido-like redirection techniques (don't try to fight cheating head-on, but instead change the problems so cheating is meaningless) is a generally applicable life lesson.


Hi Panos, another NYU Stern student here.

All I have to say is THANK YOU. The sense of entitlement in Stern classes at the undergraduate level is ridiculous. I'm glad to see someone cracking down on cheating at my university. Even though I know how prevalent cheating at Stern is, it was still shocking to hear some of the numbers (1 in 5 being admitted cheaters).

I'd like to add that as a student who genuinely enjoys learning (in certain topics that I'm interested in, of course), those "creative" or "open ended" assignments that you mentioned are way more fun as a student than the typical stuff you get in an intro Info Tech class.

I took Info Tech last year with another professor and absolutely hated it. The professor was clearly "checked out" and working on other projects. It certainly does nothing to help the atmosphere of Stern (if you don't go to work at a big financial firm, you're worthless) if the IT intro class is so boring and bland (when there's so much interesting shit going on right now in IT!).

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


If universities faced de-registration for allowing plagiarism to go on, it would dry up in an instant. Create a national ombudsman. Take calls from disgruntled lecturers and the students who can't stand working 10X as hard as their peers to get the busy-work done. If the university can't clean itself up, it loses the right to profit from federal teaching loans.

Disgruntled students could abuse a complaints system, but there's tonnes of ways for them to create trouble already, so I doubt that's a big downside.


I worked for 5 semesters as an undergrad teaching assistant in the CS department of my university. We had generally 1 to 2 cases of cheating per semester in classes of up to 150 students and ~10 assignments. We identified them using Moss[1] which we ran over all submitted assignments. This plagiarism rate now pales in comparison to the rate the OP has seen.

I wonder why there's such a huge gap between my experience and this professor's; undergrad vs. graduate school? CS vs. business school? Moss vs. Turnitin? Arizona vs. New York?

1. http://theory.stanford.edu/~aiken/moss/


My guess? CS vs business school. You can't bullshit a compiler.

An engineer pal of mine eventually went back for an MBA at a top-tier business school. He said that in 2 years, he learned exactly one thing that he wouldn't have figured out on his own with a little thought. (It was the law of comparative advantage, which blew my mind as well.) The rest was building a rolodex and gaining skill in presenting smoothly.

His experience made me pretty suspicious of the intellectual content business schools. Given that, cheating makes a twisted sort of sense. And of course, if one plans to go on to create mortgage-backed securities or asset-stripping leveraged buyouts, one probably has an ends-justify-the-means attitude by the time graduate school rolls around.


I'm one of those people who want to genuinely learn yet was obsessed with having a perfect GPA. Here's something I experienced ...

Many years ago, when I first started grad school in CS, I wanted to learn graphics programming and enrolled in a course cross-listed between undergrads and grad students. I got the first assignment and was shocked at the amount of code needed to be written (and I consider myself to be a strong hacker!). I only got 80% of the functions working and got a lame mark for the assignment. Then assignment 2 comes along - even more complex and code-heavy than the first! During this time, I happened to go to the undergrad lab for something. What do I see? Multiple groups of undergrads (fours and five students per computer) with what seemed to be like copies of the assignments from the previous year. I subsequently verified that the prof had been using the same assignments every year. It was also a reality check for the amount of plagarism that happens in CS labs (during my undergrad days, I thought it was extremely rare). I was pretty disgusted by the state of affairs and ended up dropping this particular course. My loss.


After reading this thread (more than once, now... it about doubled while I was asleep), I just have to say thank you to Panos. Obviously you've hit on a topic that everyone finds relevant and of merit to discuss. Unfortunately, you're encountering a lot of unconstructive negative feedback and emotional responses. In reality, I think very few of the responders truly understand what being a professor is like mentally and emotionally, and (understandably) only equate it to the three hours a week they saw their professors back in college.

You've identified a very real and very serious problem, and come up with some ways to beat it. You tried doing things the 'normal' and 'right' way (e.g. to pursue cheaters) and found the system to be a total failure in this regard. People read your title, however, and think you're giving up. They started skimming and didn't make it to the end where you explain that you aren't pursuing cheating because you are going to change your assignments to prevent it entirely. This isn't a matter of criticism - it's a matter of applause.

Simply by reading a lot of the comments here, I'm particularly bothered by people's attitudes and understanding (or lack thereof) for your situation. Your capacity thus far to proceed with calm conversation has been impressive, and I hope all the negative feedback doesn't get under your skin. I know that having thick skin is part of being a teacher (though should it, really?), but we're all human on the inside - something most people never think about the teachers they've met.


That was one disturbing article, on so many levels.

I cannot even imagine that someone caught doing this wouldn't be instantly suspended from school and possibly expelled. Why on earth are you in college if you want to cheat?

Even worse is a teacher that thinks it's "not worth pursuing".

That said, I do like his ideas of changing the assignments to deter cheating, but that doesn't make it right.

With such creativity to try to "fix" cheating, why wasn't one of his suggestions to have the teacher evaluations exclude scores from students that were caught cheating? This would stop the mis-aligned incentives that caused him to find a way to not report cheaters.


It seems like the professor tried to personally deal the problem on a case-by-case basis; this will always end up being more work for him in the long run. What he should have done is just immediately hand the case off to the proper authorities and let them decide the case. However, I'm assuming from the post that the council at this particular college is considered to be a last resort option; other colleges have committees that are dedicated to dealing with cheating and it's standard procedure amongst faculty to forward all cases to them immediately.


Welcome to the future where the stupid with "credentials" will be ruling you.

While you're busy doing actual work, building something, they're building networks of support in your employer's structure to enable them to rise.

So when you explain something to them and get a blank look or questions that make it clear they haven't understood anything, you'll know why.

But hey, they have a Business Degree. They win, not you.

Me, bitter? maniacal laughter


Median base salary for a Stern school graduate is only $60K:

http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/rankings/undergraduate_...

I made more than that straight out of college, and now make much more than that. So no, they didn't win. Technical skills pay if you're good at them.


That's nyu undergrad business majors. MBA is 150k on average.

http://www.stern.nyu.edu/OCD/Recruiters/PlacementReports/ind...


Total compensation. Only $100K base salary. From the salary survey posted here a couple days ago, a number of HN readers are doing better.

Also, remember that that includes an average of 5 years work experience. How much do engineers with 7 years of work experience, or 5 years and a master's degree, make?


Not sure why the distinction base/bonus matters. What counts is the total one makes at the end, no matter how it's divided.

Re: 150k, outside of the Valley & NYC, significantly less.


Right, and total compensation for skilled software engineers is easily more than $150K. So in an apples-to-apples comparison, the techies don't come out so bad.

The bulk of the NYU grads cited in the statistics above were working in the Northeast (presumably NYC), so again, comparing them to Silicon Valley engineers is totally apples-to-apples. If anything, it's unfair to the Silicon Valley folks, as cost of living is higher in Manhattan than SV.


"Right, and total compensation for skilled software engineers is easily more than $150K"

[citation needed] 150+ is still rather unusual, as far as I know. Glassdoor.com says that, for example, at Fog Creek (a company that is quite famous and brags about how well it pays its engineers; and has offices in NYC) the one engineer who filled in his salary makes between 92k and 100k. That's a long way off from 150k, and I'm highly skeptical that even 'skilled' softwared engineers will can easily make more than 150 as an employee.

(EDIT: Median software engineer salary in NYC is 80k according to glassdoor.com.)


Salary survey here on Hacker News 4 days ago:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2763932

(When I looked at it last, there were actually a lot fewer responses in the <$60K and $60-100K range...maybe all the students and junior devs responded over the weekend.) This is for base salary, so it's comparable with the $100K number. There are roughly 700 respondents that make over $100K base in the poll, and close to 200 that make $150K+ base, which I would consider a fairly decent-sized chunk.

The citation in the poll says that StackExchange's top end is about $200K.


Yes, I saw that survey, but I don't see why it's base salary only; the more logical reading of it is total compensation, and I think many people filled it in as such.

150k+ is the 93th percentile in that survey, and the whole survey is I think biased towards the upper end. But even without that, calling the 93th percentile something that a merely skilled developer can "easily" make is a stretch, to put it mildly.

All data contradicts it - not just this poll, glassdoor.com, other informal surveys, but also e.g. the bureau of labor statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos303.htm)

Don't be fooled by people reporting ranges and then taking the top end. By that standard, if you go work for a Fortune 500 company people make 'up to 15 million' if that's what the CEO makes. Professional basketball players don't make 'up to 50 million a year', there are maybe a few who do that, but that doesn't make it attainable for the regular ones, or even the 90th percentile.


Man, I would've felt so much better about my answer on that survey if I'd assumed it was talking total compensation. :-)

I suppose a lot depends on your definition of "easily". Yes, the poll is biased towards the high end - because it's on Hacker News, and typically people who aren't passionate about programming don't visit here. But what's the question that readers of this comment thread are asking? My guess is it's whether they can be making $150K+ after being out in the real world for 7 years or so.

And I don't think that's all that unreasonable. They're already part of the self-selecting group that the poll is being drawn from. We know from other HN polls that HN skews young: I don't remember offhand the proportion of readers that are over 30, but I believe it was only 15-20%. If we assume that experience and salary are pretty sharply correlated, that's a pretty large chunk of the older crowd that are raking in the big bucks. It's not a lottery ticket; it's something that a good number of the people you're talking with have achieved.


If I went at it full-time, I would have made more than that for my casual job I held on the side at university.


On Wall Street it's common to have a $60k base and make your "real" money which may be 7-figures in bonuses.


Yeah, that's true, but in Silicon Valley it's common to have a $60K base (actually more like $100K, but Wall Street is really more like $80-90K) and then make your "real" money as 7-8 figures of equity.

If you're going to look at the top of the financial industry (who are probably not NYU students, sorry), you've got to compare them to the top of the tech industry, the guys who found successful startups.


I have no idea why everyone has gone off on a tangent about salary. It's not extraordinary for people with lower salaries to rule people who out-earn them (ever hear of Hollywood?). It isn't about money, it's about corporate power.


I am surprised no one brought up the pervasive cheating within ethnic lines. From my anecdotal evidence, just graduating from a private school in Philadelphia in IT, the majority of ethnic students would simply pass assignments and essays to one another from term to term. It was extremely demoralizing seeing these students at graduation standing for the academic honors, e.g., cum laude and magna cum laude, and get applauded for their fake accolades.

Additionally, has anyone thought that people cheat because of financial reasons? I know at my alma mater people were given a grant up to 15 thousand, half of tuition, if they maintained a grade point average over a 3.0.


I haven't seen it personally within ethnic lines, but when I as a student at the University of Washington, the files of previous assignments and tests kept by the fraternities were legendary.


Actually, that's not what he said - what he said was that cheating happened in the same ethnic groups, but he didn't say that it happened more in certain groups than in others.

Which is not to say that one couldn't make such distinctions, I think - but blogging about that would be sure career-suicide.


It is interesting that so many people think that Panos should have taken a hard line. Panos seems to have had few options (and I applaud the approach he ultimately chose for the reasons he gave), but that is only if you constrain yourself to the current system, which is grade based. Removing the grades from the system is an option, but few consider it, and there is much evidence from the people that have stopped using grades that it nets great results. My PhD experience, since it inherently was not graded, was a data point for myself --- everyday was a day of glory, pursuing my passions; and I could dive deeper into what a professor said, or ignore other things that I wasn't yet ready to hear, without a second thought about earning a grade. I learned a ton, more than at any period of my earlier life (now I learn, as in gaining understanding, more per day than during my PhD), and I attended some "good" schools. Using grades has poor psychological side effects, one of which is to groom people for employment, as opposed to preparing them to start companies; another is to drive self consciousness and fear of mistakes (which are horrible side effects to have associated with learning); competitiveness; and focus on pleasing others to the extent of deceiving them. I think many people in their 30s or 40s realize what a waste of life those years of earning grades was (but won't admit it) --- now they probably use the skills gained from passing tests more than they use the knowledge that they accumulated.


I taught middle school science for a few years and totally revamped the grading system, an experiment that worked well. I made sure that the grades were a simple and objective measurement of the mastery of the learning objectives instead of what they often are: a paycheck-like incentive or a means of manipulating student behavior.

(By the way, I used to work in Karlsruhe.)


"My PhD experience, " <snip> "--- everyday was a day of glory, pursuing my passions;"

Holy smokes, that's the first time I heard anyone describe their PhD experience with positive words; and not just any, either. Congratulations.


Don Norman has written on this. Here is his preamble to In Defense of Cheating:

"No, I am not in favor of deception, trickery, fraud, or swindle. What I wish to change are the curriculum and examination practices of our school systems that insist on unaided work, arbitrary learning of irrelevant and uninteresting facts. I'd like to move them toward an emphasis on understanding, on knowing how to get to an answer rather than knowing the answer, and on cooperation rather than isolation. Cheating that involves deceit is, of course wrong, but we should examine the school practices that lead to cheating: change the practices, and the deceit will naturally diminish."

http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/in_defense_of_cheating.html


I think an easy solution would be to immediately show the TurnItIn results to the student when they submit. They are then given a chance to resubmit if it picks up plagiarism. The first time they'll probably keep tweaking the content until it passes but they'll soon get bored of it (and the time it consumes) and start writing their own papers.


No, they won't. They will just keep tweaking until it passes. Eventually, they will learn to tweak first, but that will simply make it impossible to ask them to write their own ideas.


Here's a radical idea:

Get rid of grades.

Let's think about the consequences of that for a minute. You still pay for college. There are still classes. There is still homework. Exams are unnecessary. Do away with prerequisites. In this system, everybody in class is there because they want to learn. It is the only motivating force.

And what do we lose? Companies might look at grades for determining how well suited a possible employee is for a job, but it seems to me that other qualifying material such as previous jobs, skills, extracurricular activities, and projects are equally important. And besides, you wouldn't want to hire someone only based on their grades, you would want to interview them first.

Anything else? It might be a worthwhile trade off.


No, you'd still want exams as a focusing tool. But they'd be corrected, not graded. (and depending on your stance on pedagogy, they might be timed, closed book, or they might be take-home. )

Remember also to include advanced studies in your list. It was 'common but unconfirmed knowledge' that students from UCSC (where they have a 'narrative evaluation'+Pass/Fail option) would be passed over by medical schools since you couldn't reduce a student down to a GPA for the first-pass of application cuts.

I'm actually rabidly anti-grading, but I think it also has to start much, much earlier. I've literally gotten into shouting matches with (undergraduate) students who couldn't conceive of how they could function in school without grades. I found it even harder to explain to people how it could work than explaining how homeschooling/unschooling works.


Yes, radical teachers often refuse to grade students, because it reduces the quality of education. But many are forced to stop. Few have sufficient power to go against the institution.

(Not only do schools have their function to produce professionals who'll jump through hoops on command for a letter. But also some particularly career-oriented students may complain that this makes it harder for them to outrank other students. Students don't have that much power, but these students help the school build a case against the offending teacher.)


As a CS professor with a lot of concern about cheating in general, one sentence stood out to me:

> One of the offenders was actually a repeat offender from the prior assignment and was also dismissed from the class.

This tells me that this professor who posted the blog entry may not quite understand the problem.

Ethics aside, students cheat because they believe that there is a positive utility in doing so. That is, they believe the expected likelihood of cheating is better than the expected likelihood of turning in their assignment cheat-free, even for a zero. Ultimately the only way to curb cheating is to make the utility negative. And not only negative: it has to be so obviously and publicly negative that it shatters the students' own rosy visions of cheating and getting away with it.

So what did he do wrong here? He allowed a student to cheat not once but twice, and then the only punishment was to fail him. Let us presume that turning in a zero twice, plus average work for the rest, will land you an F. If there is even an infinitesimal chance of cheating and getting away with it, this tells a desperate student that the net utility of cheating on two assignments is positive. If you need three zeros to land an F, you still only need a small probability of getting away with it. And so on.

Basically he slapped the students on the hands. He's part of the problem.

My recommendation to his institution would be as follows: a minor offense (as ultimately decided by an Honor Court, not the faculty member) would be course failure. A major first offense would be course failure plus community service. A second offense would be dismissal from the University with no readmission. And whenever a student is failed or dismissed, the department lets their students know that such an event occurred (with no details). Students should be made aware of how often they get caught as a group.

Then there was this sentence:

> Students would come to my office and deny everything.

It sounds to me that he was handling cheating on his own. This has two very high negatives. First, it sucked up enormous time on his part when there's a perfectly good institutional mechanism (the Honor Court or whatnot). Second, punishing such cases on his own opens him up to direct liability. Faculty can and are sued by students for doing such things. One of the purposes of an honor court is to have his institution take the liability since they made the decision. He should have simply written the students up, submitted to the honor court, and wiped his hands clean.


Once the author decides that the academic standard allows copying and pasting, it ceases to become cheating - and he has joined those for whom the term "academic honesty" has lost all meaning. Seriously, when 44 hours over the course of a semester is too much work to uphold a minimum standard, the issue is not confined to students and the author has no moral high ground because they have abandoned the tough part of their job and are doing the grading equivalent of cutting and pasting.


I think you seriously underestimate the emotional toll it takes on a person to go through 44 hours of "I know you cheated" with dozens of students. Merely calling that "work" - as if it's equal to prepping for lecture - is not fair.

I think you also ignore the chilling effect this had on the class itself. It's quite possible that the students who did not cheat experienced a worse class because of the change in atmosphere.


I had to do this once, when I TA'd. It's a seriously hard talk to have.


If you are molly-coddling the students, then I suppose it could take a lot of time. An email with the Turnitin report would take about five minutes - which is about how long it takes for my spouse who teaches courses online to handle plagiarism.

Setting the expectation for academic honesty in the syllabus and directing students to university policies is more than enough. In any event, it should just be handled privately. There's no reason to jump up and down and hold your breath in front of the class.


scott_s is right. Enforcing cheating policies isn't as impersonal as enforcing parking laws. You can't just leave a citation behind and let the students and administration handle it. The professor will be involved.

There's also the aspect of a student being falsely accused of cheating. I was unfortunate enough to have experienced this during my college career. A fellow student, whom I didn't know outside of class, copied my answers exactly on a German exam. I don't know why he did this, because there were only 15 students in the class and the professor knew us all fairly well. To think the professor wasn't going to notice was a stupid assumption on his part.

I was called in to her office and shown the two tests. The answers were the same down to the punctuation even. It was clear the other guy was very bad at cheating and probably did it out of desperation. I was initially shocked and feared I was going to fail the class despite my innocence. She had to refer the incident to the honor board due to university policy. When I left her office I was so furious that I looked up where the other student lived because I wanted to fight him. But I took a walk, cooled off and decided against it.

I was ultimately cleared by the board and there were no marks on my record. After the proceedings were over, the professor apologized to me and said that she never believed for a moment that I had cheated, or that I had helped him cheat. She pleaded with dean to avoid sending the matter to the honor board, but she had to follow policy.

She said she never had any cheating incidents in the past, and that it was personally distressing for her to handle the situation. It was definitely stressful for me as well.


What your case shows is that the due process worked. If the professor had called you into the office and said, "Instead of handing this over to the honor court, I am going to deduct 30% from your score," that would have been far more unfair and built far more ill will.

To put it another way, a professor should focus on teaching and let those tasked with investigating cheating and listening to excuses sort it out.

And yes it can and should be as impersonal as a parking ticket. Cheating is a simple violation, and it behooves a teacher to forgo emotional investment in each case. Avoiding interrogations and Perry Masonesque cross-examinations would seem like a good way to avoid such an investment. When 1:5 students in a 100 person course is doing so, reporting cheating is a purely administrative matter of the same sort as turning in low grades for poor students - which hopefully is something the author still does not find to be too much bother.


Professors often are involved in the official process. Often they have to provide evidence at a hearing. They don't just throw the case over the administrator wall.


It is not a matter of throwing it over the wall. Administration can conduct the Spanish Inquisition more effectively than the professor.

A Turnitin report as cited in the article would be about as much evidence as would be needed. Particularly when Turnitin is the institution's official means for combating plagiarism...not to mention the level of matches described in the article would make it appear open and shut.

Yes, it might require some involvement from the professor - but the implications of complaining that such involvement is too much work is the basis of my criticism of the author's position.


As for confronting students, different schools have different expectations. As others here have pointed out, this school may expect professors to try to work out cheating issues locally first. I can't say.

Regarding your second point, if any one thing becomes a trend in a class, you bring it up with the class.


I doubt any school has a policy which does not allow every incident of cheating to be reported and handled through established due process procedures. Administration may prefer molly-coddling of the ATM's, but the written policy will almost certainly not require only reporting the third offense.

As for your second point, preaching to the choir is a waste of time and just makes them uncomfortable (as this case points out), the come to Jesus talk is a one on one affair.


Why do you assume that everyone who shows up to class is "the choir"?


In the example from the article, 80% of the class was presumably not cheating - so even if only half the class shows up for lectures the scolding will not be applicable to the majority of the students. Of course, if there is any correlation between lecture attendance and academic integrity (which one might suspect to be the case) then the majority becomes greater. In other words, the ill consequences cited in the article may well be a part of the author's choice of scolding the innocent along with the guilty. Seriously, at the point students are sitting in a university classroom - they all know what blatant cheating is and have either decided to do their own work or cut and paste. Going over basic citation requirements in class is more appropriate for junior-high school English.


What I don't get is why he spent all that time on it. Catch someone cheating turn them in, no need for the in office histrionics, or long winded lectures about how to site sources.


Because the cost of being wrong[1] or of leaving doubt of guilt could well be a lawsuit or administrative action. A student who gets expelled or suspended for cheating loses a lot of money and has a very, very serious black mark that'll follow them for years. This (a) is not something you want to inflict incorrectly[1], and (b) makes the unconfessed student desperate enough to lash out in a lot of ways.

[1] - If your method is 99.9% accurate, you've got a 50% chance of a false positive after 700 submissions, which for a 100 person class is a milestone you could hit in your second semester.


I suspect that, a student who gets expelled for cheating has certainly gone through administrative due process well beyond the professor's office, and had ample opportunity to explain the 99% match to uncited sources.

By your logic, one could make the case that academic standards should never be upheld - 700 submissions is arbitrary and could just as easily be 7000 or 7,000,000 and the same rationale would apply.


At every university I have been attended(not that many) a report of academic dishonesty went to some sort of university investigation process to cover any sort of professor malfeasant(and university CYA). Therefore the professor should do his due diligence but beyond a shadow of a doubt isn't necessary.


Suppose it's a 12 week term: 45 / (12 * 32) = 11% If it's a 14 week term, 45 / (14 * 32) = 10%

So at best, you're looking at 10% unpaid overtime for a job that already requires a lot (maybe up to 100%) unpaid overtime.

FYI, I get paid to teach 17-20 hours a week, but with prep time and marking it ends up taking about 30-40 hours a week.


"One interesting observation: Almost all cheating happened within ethnic lines. Koreans copy from Koreans. Indians from Indians. Greeks from Greeks. Jews from Jews. Chinese from Chinese."

...or maybe it's just that people copy from their friends?


And their friends are generally within ethnic lines. In engineering school right now. You would have to be blind, or incredibly naive to not see that a majority (I cannot say how great) have their closest ring of friends from the same ethnic backgrounds.

Especially the Koreans. Most tight-knit group I know.


"Instead of the usual evaluations that were in the region of 6.0 to 6.5 out of seven, this time my ratings went down by almost a point: 5.3 out of 7.0."

Way to bias ratings. Students caught cheating should certainly not be rating the professor who caught them. I won't say "problem solved", but that would make a fine start.


From the sound of it his honest students probably rated him lower because he wasted a lot of lecture on his forays into cheater cheater chicken eater land. I know I would have, lectures about how many people cheated on the last assignment would bore the crap out of me.


Catching copying is a O(n^2 * m) algorithm (n = no. of kids, m = length of assignment). Fuck that shit, no grad student or prof has that kind of time.

If by any chance you hire 2 TAs and if they got to catch plagiarism, they're cooked since they can't distribute work and have to go through each submission. No point in doing that.

And I am an Indian undergrad and I've seen this ethic cheating first hand - it is fucking disgusting and destroys the educational experience for everyone in the class because the honest guys are competing individually against the efforts of a 5 - 6 person team.

PROFESSORS and TAs : If you see a group of same-race people sitting together in an exam, fucking break that group up ASAP.


This is why I dropped out of college. The other kids ruined it for me: while I was trying to actually do my assignments, everyone else was copying-and-pasting it, getting straight As, and partying late into the night. Nobody ever got caught cheating, but my C work certainly got me a lot of Cs.

In retrospect, most of my friends from college are still unemployed.


This article made me cringe as I remembered how incompetent the M.Sc. interns from schools like this were over my summers. 4.0 GPA engineering Masters students barely worth the cubical they took up, let alone any stipend. Group think; hive mind; worthless.

Additive sum, I think academia is doomed. It's done a worse job adapting than politics and religion, equally baroque and antiquated fields. I long for something like Ars Digita or Kahn Academy to become the norm. We need to push education out to the individual and get rid of the institutionalized cookie cutter bullshit.

People either want to enhance their understanding of the world or they don't. A credential or piece of paper doesn't do that, and that's all the vast majority of people in education are going for. We need to cut down to the root and find ways to instill genuine thirst for knowledge and then let people pursue that in much less rigid ways at their own pace.

--

As an anecdote: I went to The Citadel. We had an honor code. Lie, cheat, steal -- you're gone. The honor court is run by students. Regularly, they'd expel close friends. Point being, you can hold people to standards if you hold people to standards.

My GPA was dismal but I can say sure as shit I never cheated or plagiarized to earn it. Only people who know what the school was all about would even account for this, which is kind of depressing.


>I was also lectured by some senior professors that "I should change my assignments from year to year". (Thanks for the suggestion, buddy, this is exactly how I detected the cheaters.)

what? how can there be cheaters to detect if the assignment is completely different?


It explains in the article that he changed certain elements of the assignment so that it was obvious when someone turned in the old version.


My guess is that the OP was a bit imprecise, and that he kept some assignments the same as previous years. If 3 assignments are same-same-different, and a student gets grades A-A-F, that could be what they call a 'tell' :)


On second reading, the OP was being sarcastic, and derisively noting that if he changed his assignments, he never would have caught the cheaters in the first place. So he rejects one form of making cheating useless (making traditional assignments, but changing them up each year) and embraces another (choosing different types of assignments that are structurally not cheatable).


I believe the intended reading is that he does "change" them, by adjusting the font, etc, as mentioned just earlier. His colleague was suggesting that he write entirely new assignments each year.

The author misunderstood what his colleague meant (Or at least, only does a half-measure), which is why he says that "He is" changing them.


(I am the blog post author).

No the suggestion was not to create entirely new assignments every year. This is problematic, not because it takes time, but because is it hard to "debug" the assignment, and make it to be not too hard, not too easy, and not ambiguous. You cannot know this before actually giving the assignment out to students.

The senior professor was just suggesting to change the numbers, or small elements of the assignment. A thing that I was doing already.


At the school i'm going to right now (actually the other big school in nyc...), cheating in the CS department is a huge issue. Big enough that the main focus of orientation seemed to be about how if you got caught even on just weekly assignments, you'd get kicked out pretty fast. Was a bit more than I was expecting.

I later found out the reason for this, the high population of foreign students. I'm generally not one to stereotype, but to have thought otherwise was to simply be living under a rock. It was pretty obvious that they tended to work together in fairly large groups or between several groups on their assignments and projects, and that the rest of us who were not were at a significant disadvantage. And while generally, I didn't /really/ care, as my grades tended to be good enough, and I am not the type to shoot for the A+, it really did make doing the assignments on my own very frustrating when I would get stuck. Spending all that extra time to figure it out on my own just wasn't as satisfying when I knew the class average for the assignments would just be artificially high anyways.

But in the end, i'm really going to grad school to learn, and not so much for amazing grades. It just would be nice to not be penalized for doing my own work.


I went to a school in Virginia and while they spoke a good deal about what the penalties for cheating were the actual punishment was much tamer than what the student handbook would have you believe. Out of all the cheaters that I've met, and people speak pretty freely when inebriated, not one of them was ever kicked out of school.

The professors knew who the cheaters were and the cheaters knew what they were doing but when it actually came time to present the evidence to the academic review board the accused had a lame, but valid, excuse or tried the emotional appeal (death in family, drug abuse, child abuse).


I have taught (as a PhD student) similar material and this is no surprise to me. But then, is it realistic to expect undergrads to turn out a thoughtful piece on LTE and 4G comms? If it is a technical comparison, sure, but even if you don't plagiarise your sources what are you really doing? You're going to read some articles on the internet, form an opinion, and rewrite that stuff in your own words. So long as they are learning, what's the difference?


Why not have the grade of papers be multiplied by the inverse of the plagiarism score? For example, your first author would get a maximum of a 3% grade on his paper. Of course there are false positives to think of as well, but this would force the authors into more and more original content.

The very first assignment I did in college was my own, some code I wrote for a programming class. I turned it in, but my friend was in the class didn't do his assignment. I figured it was a basic enough problem and I really just turned in the assignment for him. We both got slaps on the wrist, but I never blatantly plagiarized again. I'm not saying I've never reused a sentence from another document on occasion, but usually it was either cited or more unconscious.

The big bummer in college was exactly what he talks about though: the propensity for students in some sort of group to help each other out. The fraternities and athletes were always the worst offenders. For the general eds, everyone in class knew that so and so had a copy of this professors test which he barely changes from year to year, or this fraternity keeps all their papers from previous classes categorized(!) so other members can use them, and that sort of stuff.


Because Turnitin is pretty terrible software and there are a lot of false-positives. I remember having to "explain myself" for an essay I wrote where what was copied was direct, cited quotes. It uses word pairs sometimes and will highlight any uncommon phrasing that someone may have used in the past.


I'd really rather not have my grade depend on a completely non-transparent tool that I have completely no access to nor can refute its accusations.


If I was him I would at least write a letter to the department of Academic Affairs (or whoever handles cheating) informing them of the way he was penalized for reporting students. They, if anyone, are the ones with an incentive to fix that problem.


Great tale, and I like the approaches he suggest at the end that make cheating impractical. Hopefully, as a tenured professor, he can serve the likely storm of pressure he will get from his university for publishing this.


My observation hanging out with friends of different nationalities was that foreigners are a lot more susceptible to plagiarizing than someone who went through the American HS system. Almost all my Indian friends who came here just for college ran into some kinda trouble with plagiarizing. The last time I got into trouble for it was in 6th grade when an entire assignment was scrapped because given the few online resources for the topic, almost everyone had the same paper. This was late 90s and the teacher gave us am earful about how we cannot be doing this and the seriousness of the offense. Sometimes I feel my counterparts in other parts of the world don't get this lesson until their first offense at an American college. Good percentage of my friends who got caught end up going to med school or getting degrees far more advanced than mine leading me to rule out that plagiarism is a strong indicator of longterm failure.


Here's a better solution: let students plagiarize all they want. When they are about to get their degree, do an en masse review of all incidents of plagiarism for the student and, if it's egregious and beyond doubt, retroactively fail them for everything. The university keeps their tuition dues and the student gets what they're due.


And then the university loses all that tuition handling the lawsuits from the families of all those failed students, and due to the age of the cases/faculty leaving/etc., the case becomes hard to win for the university. Losing all around, unfortunately.


Unfortunately, you're probably right. The "shucks, if it weren't for you meddling professors I would have graduated" version is unlikely to happen in the real world.


When I TA'd, I took a hard line on any cheating I detected. Basically it was a 2-strikes approach.

I didn't use turnitin or other mechanisms. I figure, if someone is smart enough to cheat well enough that it's not detectable, it's okay to pass that person. It's not "great", but it's not unleashing a total disaster onto the world.

The cheating I detected was usually because those students were moronic. I am not talking "slightly different". I'm talking, copy-pasted from prior semesters, with 1 modification: the name. Or copy-pasted from the other person in the class with 1 modification.


You think that's bad? I had a pair of assignments for which the output of `diff -u` was less than 10 lines long.


I don't know where this guy works but there was a zero tolerance policy on cheating and plagiarism were I went to university. Heck my CEGEP had the same policy too. There's an independent review board to investigate then discipline students so that professors and TAs can focus on teaching. Students automatically fail the course and are required to take an ethics course the next semester and retake the course regardless if it was core or an elective.

EDIT: I just read where he teaches. I'm still surprised there's no policy or that the policy isn't enforced.


"I decided that it makes no sense to fight it. The incentive structures simply do not reward such efforts. The Nash equilibrium is to let the students cheat and "perform well"; in exchange, I get back great evaluations." (The Professor) As an honest student this is a cowardly response and makes me loose faith in the entire system. Who gives a shit about a degree if it's just a piece of paper. I was never there to tick the box on my way to a middle class lifestyle anyway.


There are a lot of comments, and most of the constructive things I've wanted to say have already been said.

Panos, I think your conclusion is the correct one - and you should stand by it. I came to a similar conclusion (different setting) about cheating, and whether it's worth it to pursue it. In more than just teaching, switching strategies is often more effective than enforcing the original strategy.

I hear you're a good lecturer - take pride in that. There aren't many, really.


Even as a student, I sympathize with this professor. I've seen how pervasive cheating can be in an academic environment. It's frustrating to know that while one classmate (or myself) is spending hours perfecting an assignment, another is copying/plagiarizing their assignment. It makes the learning experience very stressful. And it's self-perpetuating, as this frustration become the factor that leads more students to cheat. By graduation, you end up with a bunch of students who have just copy and pasted their way through school, who have forgotten how to learn, and who are not prepared.

This article really shines light on why cheating is still so pervasive despite how it damages the learning process. For students, the risk tends to be low while the reward is high. For teachers, the process of eliminating cheating is draining and is often met with negative feedback.

This only leads me to think that cheating will continue to infect our education, until there is a fundamental change in the rewards/feedback system (for students and teachers) in our academic system.


The original post has disappeared. Here's the google cache:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:zlciYW0...


How about making a game out of it. A game where cheating is permitted but punishment is administered with more granularity. Let the students know that all assignments are submitted to TurnItIn. Let them also have a look at what you see on TII. Whenever a student's plagiarism threshold is above 50%, their actual score gets docked by 1-(percentage plagiarized). So if a student submits an A paper (say, 93%), but it turns out it was 70% plagiarized, the new grade with cheating penalty becomes .93*(1-.7) = 28%. Smart students will quickly realize that any cheating will at least cut their possible grade in half.

I'm not sure this will work, but people have strange behavioral motivations and incentives. It reminds me of the daycare that wanted parents to not pick up their kids late (as employees had to remain to watch the children). Their solution was to impose a penalty for any extra time over the scheduled pickup time. On the surface, you would think this helped, but instead it had the opposite effect. Parents now understood that it was OK to leave their kids longer because they were being charged for it, whereas before there was a social stigma of arriving late and inconveniencing the daycare center.

With students, it's possible that making plagiarism acceptable on the surface with well-defined penalties may have the desired (and opposite) effect of reducing total cheating.

Also, couldn't the grading structure be established in such a way that it is impossible to pass the class without knowing the material demonstrated through exams? If the only (or most significant) portion of the grade comes through reports and take-home, cheater-friendly exercises, then the grade structure would seem to be broken. Cheating on the homework should only hurt the students, since they won't be able to cheat on the tests, and obviously haven't learned the material enough to do the homework on their own.


Jeez, is it so hard to do your own damn homework? Maybe the prof should just let things get messy until it becomes more work to cheat than to just do it legit and maybe actually get some value out of school.

But I guess school is now just a status thing that you do to satisfy other people instead of yourself (or so everyone says), so why should anyone care about doing it honestly?


The post seems to be down. Here's the google cache:

https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:zlciYW...


" Suggestions to change completely the assignments from year to year are appealing on the first sight but they cause others types of problems: It is very difficult to know in advance if an assignment is going to be too easy, too hard, or too ambiguous. Even small-scale testing with TA's and other faculty does not help. You need to "test" the new assignment by giving it to students. If it is a good one, you want to keep it. "

I've often heard that from professors in the US, but in my university in France we had a rule forbidding professors from reusing exams and things were fine... Now one thing though, exams were made so that the average is around 10 or 12 out of 20... In cases where the gaussian curve was centered too low, the teachers would decide to grade out of 22 or 24 points...

I have to say though that the idea of using public project, competitions and peer reviewed projects is a very good idea and worked well when I was a student...


And in other news, I have first-hand reports from a professor in France using the same exam since the 1980's, each year using copies of the original version formatted with a typewriter.

My university has a lot of rules too, and the majority are worthless.


Well it also depends of the university... École d'Ingénieurs (Engineering Schools, it's a bit different from the american system) tend to be stricter about that while universities in France are less strict.

I know for a fact that no exam were reused because the previous years exams were available at the library for students who wanted to study... Since most of the exams were open book, with a world problem to solve in about 3 hours, they were actually fun to study from.


I am currently a university student, and last semester I took an international economics course. As most first lectures go I expected to sit down and listen to the professor tell us what we would be learning throughout the year and what books to buy. But this was quite different, I and many other students in the class experienced a wide range of emotions from panic to excitement. This was a peer based learning course (Myself and the majority of the class did not know this and several people went on their computers and changed courses), for those of you who do not know peer based learning involves students basically teaching themselves the material and then teaching their peers their findings. This was the best course I have yet to take, I learned not only a lot about international economics but how to better my ability at teaching myself what I need to know. In this course we were given three problems throughout the term that we were to be solved in groups, the problems themselves were very vague and indirect yet through researching and presenting our findings in small groups and then in individually completed essays we became knowledgeable in international economics. A bit more on topic was the fact that our essays were to be written individually (and submitted through turnitin) yet all of our research was done in a group setting. This furthered my ability to take information from various sources (mainly the internet) and formulate my own opinion and use proper citation where needed. For me this style of learning was very awkward at first but the reward for sticking with it was great.

Another course I took that term was statistics for economics, for some of the assignments the data used for the questions were chosen by the students themselves (limited to a specific time frame to prevent plagiarism). In the end I think the professor and TAs only checked our formulas rather than our answers because of the time it would have taken to find the correct solution for each problem but this is an interesting way to combat plagiarism.


I would love to see a "citation graph" of the papers in turnitin's database.

I had a professor in college who had used the exact same test for 10 years. It was so well known that a "key" had been cobbled together over the years with all of the correct answers and you could readily get n-generation photocopies of this "key".

Only a few of us declined this tempting document, wanting to actually learn the material. It eventually became known that the test itself was a copy of a test from another professor at another school.

Later in my grad program, we received quite a bit of instruction from professors who were clearly just using the slides that came with the textbook as their lecture material.

I've always wondered if one could trace assignments and exams and answers through some very large citation graph...even better over time, seeing how one ancient paper has provided passing grades for generations of students.


I worked at Turnitin for a good while, and the numbers we were seeing were eye-popping. I make no attestations w/r/t this particular story, but we'd see 40% or more clearly plagiarized content at every institution we'd demo for. I was shocked, but then, I'm old and my education predates much of the Internet.


I have mixed feelings here. On the one hand, I congratulate the effort you spent tackling the problem.

On the other, I'm really disappointed you aren't sticking with it. Never mind anything else, isn't it your obligation to protect your honest students? I appreciate that your colleagues aren't supportive, but that doesn't change your obligations.

And I suspect it's a short-sighted view. Word gets around, in a couple of semesters you'll drive the cheaters out, and probably attract more honest students who are tired of them.

Finally, I question the value of a course that doesn't generate core skills susceptible of demonstration. I've got an MBA, and I learned a lot getting it. But most of my courses were finance and accounting. I took only a couple of strategy and accounting courses, when I was sure that the qualitative material would be handled with rigor, and in some framework that prevented the vague concepts and buzzwords from dominating the conversation. Every time I probed the "soft" courses by less rigorous teachers, I came away convinced they really weren't teaching much that would last. And I'm afraid it's my opinion that most MBA coursework is of this limited value. It is _possible_ to rigorously study qualitative subjects, but it requires considerable discipline.

If your students aren't distinguishably improved by the end of the course, just what was the point of the course? If you aren't enforcing the discipline of the honor code, why would you be expected to enforce the discipline of field? By all means, go after the cheaters -- and go after the fundamental questions of why it's even possible to cheat in your course.

For all those misgivings, I have to credit you for bringing up the issue. There is a lot of rot in our academies, and they urgently need people to demand more of the students. You've already tolerated a lot of controversy to come to this point. But don't stop now, and don't stop with students. Demand more of yourself until your course is something that changes your students in ways that can't be faked.


That was an interesting read, and from my experience (both as a student and from teaching a class) is that plagiarism is a big problem.

Thinking a bit more about it, I think that plagiarism is in big parts a symptom of another, bigger problem: making education a competition.

Think about it: would stundents cheat so much if it wasn't for the pressure of getting good grades?

The pressure comes from parents, peers, from the students themselves and from the fear that they won't get a job with bad grades.

Grades serve multiple purposes as well: they give the students a feedback how well they performed, they determine pass/fail, and they tell a possible employer how well the student performed.

Maybe detangling these purposes in some way (though I don't have a good idea how) might be a good way at reducing some of the pressure, and alleviate the pressure for good grades and thus cheating somehow?


Fascinating read... sort of rings bells in my head along the lines of DRM/piracy cold war.

Reading the article and see the greater and greater extents the students were going through to cheat and the arms-race occurring between the teacher and the students, he leads you to his ultimate conclusion: the game has to change.

You can see the writing on the wall as you read through. Written "brain dump" style assignments, unless changed every year, aren't going to yield great results. Interactive, group-driven projects, competitions and discussions are all things that are much harder to plagiarize, are more fun and will (hopefully) teach the students more.

Not to mention more fun to teach.

I have a lot of teachers in my family (midwest) and none of them glow when they talk about teaching... they describe it like a war of attrition between the teachers, the students and the administration... like there is some clock ticking away slowly in the background and everyone is going through the motions just trying to outlast everyone else. I am talking about 2 separate generations here, like 40 years apart saying the same thing.

I can't imagine a shittier experience.

On the other hand, I am friends with a few (younger) teachers out here in the west that are rabid about how exciting their class is and how much fun they have.

The common denominator here is that the ones having a blast frequently do highly engaging and custom events in the classroom like re-enacting scenes from a play in drama on-the-fly or the poly-sci teacher segregated his class for a week while teaching about separate-but-equal.

Those are micro-examples, but what I'm getting at is that the teachers that recognize that the game has changed are still having a great time teaching.

Just like /cgi-bin shopping carts and "DO NOT HIT 'Purchase' TWICE!" buttons are dead on the web, so is the schooling experience of yester-year. If school wants to stay relevant, it has to compete with the allure of these extremely fast lives we live now. People cashing in $100,000,000 companies at 22 makes it tough to argue why your kid should stay in school until he's 73 so he can make $80k as an architect.

I wouldn't want to go to school now, a lot of things seem in flux. Notice how popular the "Why go to college?!" conversation is now adays?

I think in 10-15 years it will be much different/more effective with a different outlook though; that'll be a more engaging and compelling experience I hope.


Notice how popular the "Why go to college?!" conversation is now adays?

I can assure you that conversation (in the context you mean) is not happening all over, but rather limited to a small subset of Internet echo chambers.

My kids still get the same rhetoric from all directions. Unfortunately, that rhetoric doesn't include a cost/value justification. Education is an investment and a means to an end, but most people don't see it that way.


Notice how popular the "Why go to college?!" conversation is now adays?

'people' cashing in 100M companies is as common a career path as "NFL Athlete". It works for a very few, special people, but not the broader population.


I know this is an indirect solution, but why even have papers in a business course anyway? I was a business undergrad, and after all of the lower-level BS classes, it was all about projects and discussions in class, not paper writing. Any long-form writing I had to do was in-class writing essays and stuff on exams, where you can't copy paste.

I know a lot of the CS people on here look down on business education, but the real value in it is not learning specific facts like "what is WiMax" but instead being able to work on a team to create something and being able to communicate and discuss business problems intelligently.

The team projects and case study discussions is really where I learned things. Traditional assignments in a business course don't really make a lot of sense.


The essay was about doing a Porter's Five Forces analysis of the wireless industry, as the new 4G technologies enter the market. The WiMax question was just a "warm up" easy question, so that students that do not know what WiMax is can start learning about the concept, before doing the 5-forces analysis.

This was the reason that, initially, I did not bother penalizing the copy & paste behavior for these questions. But, unfortunately, this was just a signal of a deeper problem with the student. After going through unharmed in the first assignment, the student cheated again in the second, Excel-based assignment.


I think that it would be productive to reframe the usage of plagiarism-detection services such as Turnitin away from a "gotcha" on cheating towards teaching students to properly cite their academic work. For example, I have heard of professors requiring their students to print out the originality reports themselves and turn them in with the assignment in order to promote accountability.

In addition, the turnitin service itself has its own quirks. I remember when we used it back in high school, it would pick up direct quotes even if they were in quotation marks and use those matching strings to contribute to the total "originality score."


I have had many courses in which the answers to the homework are given prior to the homework assignment. The assignment is large enough that copying the answers would take about an hour. Most students feel that if they are going to spend that much time faking it, they might as well do the assignment. Furthermore, biweekly quizzes clearly highlight a lack of understanding. Not doing the homework (or just copying the answers) is a rough road to go down, when averages midterm scores are in the low 60s (and yet some kids ace the midterm). Those who copy the homework do badly in the course. It's just that simple.


As a student, I have no complaints about weekly quizzes. I attend university because it gives a structured environment to learn new material and quizzes help keep me focused on what I know and what I only think I know. But extending the time it takes to finish graded homework assignments? It's a waste of my time. I'd rather relax, work at a part-time job, learn a new programming language, or work on some project. Busywork is not why I decided to go to university; the internet provides a free avenue to learn everything I would in university (undergraduate). I pay for the classes, the structure.

(Clarifications. To stay enrolled, I have to maintain high grades, which means homework is an obligation. And yes, I have other motives for attending uni beyond someone telling me what I should learn next. There's the value of a degree outshining being self-taught and how close to 99% of students from my highschool take higher education. University is part of the culture here.)


These are weekly homework assignments. 5 hours on average. It's not too bad.


It sounds like the course marking scheme is broken.

In my engineering courses (both as a student and TA), assignments were worth very little, or sometimes not handed in at all, and were instead a tool for the student to learn the coursework. Marks were largely based on quizzes, midterms and finals (usually worth 80 to 90% of the course grade). It's not an ideal solution, as there are skills that cannot be tested in these conditions, but it eliminates the need to spend time on detecting cheating on assignments. Of course, it is important to prevent cheating during examinations, but this is a much more tractable problem.


Having to write an essay for which copy/paste from the internet could be construed as a valid answer sounds mind-numbingly boring. Your job is to express the same information as your sources, but with different wording.


What do you mean? Copy/paste from the internet was not a valid answer.

Pretty much any question can be answered by copy/paste from the internet. That doesn't mean it would be a good or acceptable answer.


This wasn't a class in Rhetorica ad Herennium, it was a business school class. Copy/paste is a combination of two actions and not an answer to any question (except maybe, how do you precisely move text from one file to another?). If you think that the Internet contains to answer to all questions, that's amazing. However, it may contain answers to the questions Professor Panos asked. If it does, what is wrong with properly presenting those answers? I might point out that my profession is perhaps the only one for which plagiarism is a virtue, and failure to use precedents is usually foolhardy--it ain't called boilerplate for nothing. But I didn't want to hijack the thread.


If you think that the Internet contains to answer to all questions, that's amazing.

I don't. I think that the internet contains information that can be used to assemble an answer, for pretty much any undergraduate question you can think of. (That assembly can be done using copy/paste, if you are lazy, and that will generally result in the answer being in substandard language. But it would still have all the relevant information and it would be hard to disentangle a copy/pasted answer from whether someone is just a poor writer.)


Copy/paste is not an "answer," it is a tool used for document creation. There's nothing wrong with it in the least, as long as sources are documented.


From the post: "My role is to educate and teach, not to enforce honest behavior. This is a university, not a kindergarten."

In my opinion this is one of the primary issues with a lot of teachers: I don't believe a teacher's job is specifically to narrowly teach the subject matter at hand, but more broadly teach the student whatever it takes to assist the student in succeeding in life, and especially within their given field. This would include cheating. Ignoring cheaters is contrary to this purpose.


I'm a university teacher myself. I typically teach a hundred students every semester. Don't you think it's a bit too much to expect me to do whatever it takes to assure each and every of my student, including cheaters, to succeed in life? That's noble, but too much for any individual.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this:

What I mean is: You do what you can within your means and within the reasonable timeframes given to you by the course, and not necessarily carry the complete burden of their success on your shoulders. In my opinion it's the responsibility of everyone -- parents, peers, the community, teachers, administrators, and whoever else -- to teach, and foster the learning environment in such a way that maximizes the chance of success to the younger citizens of this world. If you view the responsibility as being shared between all, the pressure naturally significantly decreases as you know you directly can't be blamed if things don't work out for your students. It's a complex system.

At the simplest level, don't people attend school to assist them in being successful in life? Assist them in growing and developing into whatever they want to be? If that's so, and being that teachers are the most important parts of the school environment (other than the students themselves), isn't one of the teacher's primary jobs to assist in this success? Because teachers spend so much time with students, they naturally have tremendous (though varying degrees of) influence. If a teacher is lazy, naturally students will be encouraged to be lazy. If a teacher acts like it's OK to cheat, naturally students will be more likely to think it's OK to cheat.

There are bigger questions at hand than the direct and concrete subject matter of an individual university course, and in a lot of cases I believe these questions are just as important, if not more important. Most importantly, keeping these larger questions in mind assist students in staying properly focused and motivated, and thus increasing chance of achievement.

So yes, I do believe you should do what you can to bring success to your students.


It's amazing how much we expect from teachers.


I responded with this to hpguy who also responded to my comment (a university teacher):

I would love to hear your thoughts on this:

What I mean is: You do what you can within your means and within the reasonable timeframes given to you by the course, and not necessarily carry the complete burden of their success on your shoulders. In my opinion it's the responsibility of everyone -- parents, peers, the community, teachers, administrators, and whoever else -- to teach, and foster the learning environment in such a way that maximizes the chance of success to the younger citizens of this world. If you view the responsibility as being shared between all, the pressure naturally significantly decreases as you know you directly can't be blamed if things don't work out for your students. It's a complex system.

At the simplest level, don't people attend school to assist them in being successful in life? Assist them in growing and developing into whatever they want to be? If that's so, and being that teachers are the most important parts of the school environment, isn't one of the teacher's primary jobs to assist in this success? Because teachers spend so much time with students, they naturally have tremendous (though varying degrees of) influence. If a teacher is lazy, naturally students will be encouraged to be lazy. If a teacher acts like it's OK to cheat, naturally students will be more likely to think it's OK to cheat.

There are bigger questions at hand than the direct and concrete subject matter of an individual university course, and in a lot of cases I believe these questions are just as important, if not more important. Most importantly, keeping these larger questions in mind assist students in staying properly focused and motivated, and thus increasing chance of achievement.

So yes, I do believe you should do what you can to bring success to your students.


I totally agree about teaching being everyone's responsibility. This idea has been lost in this country for some reason. Teachers have been saddled with more and more responsibility. Its no longer enough to teach the material, it has to be made exciting. The teacher is expected to coddle each student (and their parents!) to cajole them into putting in any real effort. Somehow the responsibility for a students success has been transferred completely to the teacher.

I think students in this country respond to this, and thus internalize this dynamic. If they get a bad grade, it must have been because the teacher was boring, or the subject wasn't interesting. This idea is pretty unique to this country from my understanding. The sense of entitlement is just astounding.

>isn't one of the teacher's primary jobs to assist in this success?

Ideally, this would be true. I just think its an unfair burden on a teacher to be expected to accomplish this, no matter how ill prepared or unfocused a student is. I believe the student has to come to class prepared to learn. The teacher cannot be expected to mold an unwilling child into a willing one.

The situation changes even more at university. The professor's main job isn't teacher. He can no longer be completely focused on helping each student succeed. He's there to impart his knowledge and experience. Its up to the student to get as much out of it as they're willing. Somehow the growing responsibility of teachers in a K-12 setting has crept up into university as well. Probably because the students and parents carry that expectation along with them. We're no longer seeing the students as adults who are there because they want to (I guess this is actually true these days with social pressures making college an extension of high school). Simply put, the burden is just too much for a teacher of possibly hundreds of students. The coddling and babying has to come from elsewhere.


I completely agree that students themselves should be responsible for their learning, even in high school. The sad truth is that most high school and even university students don't take responsibility for their learning. In that aspect I believe they're still children (as I was in uni), seeking and requiring pedagogical environments rather than andragogical. (why this is, is another troubling matter).

So let's assume for a moment that students, as they should, take that responsibility. What then is the role of the professor?

Even here, my belief is that it's still the professors duty to seek to create the ideal learning environment for each student (or the majority). This includes trying to maximize learning outcomes by making the course as interesting as they can. Wherever possible, this includes learning about each student, learning where they are mentally in their journey (through personal time, tests, projects), and wherever it benefits the student, be open to that change wherever it makes sense.

At research universities I agree professors have a dual duty. However, I disagree that these duties are and should be separate, and rather often (again, not always) should and can be reciprocal and build off of one another.

> The situation changes even more at university. The professor's main job isn't teacher. > He's there to impart his knowledge and experience.

Studies show over and over again that knowledge isn't "imparted". You can have a professor stand at the front of the class and talk for 50 minutes about what he knows. Is that "teaching", even if 0/100 of the students are listening, or if 0/100 can comprehend what the teacher is saying? Why is the focus on lecturing, or "imparting knowledge", rather than on enabling learning? I believe this shift in mindset would change nearly everything. Anyway, I sat through numerous classes like described above, and the amount I learned from the lectures ranged from nothing to very little. I agree I would've learned more if I would have taken responsibility for my learning, however I fear I would've faster quit or changed schools/courses than go to another one of their classes because of the incredible inefficiency of it. Teaching/lecturing can be worth while, even for an autodidact, however not unless the teacher deeply cares about learning outcomes in addition to lecturing.

One last point: Students/parents pay ridiculous sums and go into ridiculous debt for a university education. You have to understand that saying that the professors (the core of the university experience) main job isn't teaching is something very hard to grasp for both students and parents. Perhaps for a good reason?


A little tangential, but I think this post outlines another argument for the "higher education bubble." Is 40k a year worth learning how to effectively plagiarize?


As a very random anecdote, I attended NYU myself ages ago and while I was not a business student, I did take classes at Stern.

Unless things have changed, the amount of cheating in Stern is astronomical compared to courses from the other schools within NYU: Of course there were cheating problems elsewhere, but nowhere else was it done as brazenly or as part of the shared culture of the student body.


In grad school, a couple of times I proctored exams for my major professor. Every time I caught students cheating (copying off of note sheets or old exams from other students), collected the "cheat sheets" and explained the situation to my major professor. Not once were those pursued and I think all the students passed the classes. Pretty frustrating.


So what can be done to change the incentives so a different Nash equilibrium is selected? Would it be possible to change the professor ranking rules so that the reviews of cheaters do not count for the average rating? A bounty per cheater caught? These both have their own poor incentives, of course, but brainstorming has to start somewhere.


one of the real problems in current testing is that it requires very little of the students creativity or originality. right from school you are told there is one answer to a question and one explanation that is better than others. your job as a student ( you are told) is to know that answer or to remember/understand that explanation. how different do you think students answers will be from each other?

Asking students not to open a browser to hunt for information is akin to not opening text books. not going to happen. when you are asking for an proven explanation the best you can expect is modified regurgitation of a know existing explanation. there are times when this is not as straightforward as it seems and there is effort required to do so.

the person really getting the short straw is the student. after paying a hundred grand, to sit in a class, they spend time understanding others opinions, instead of coming up with an original/fresh understanding of the problem.

'studying' or working on problems as a group is not going to go away. working as a group is the best way to stay motivated and focused when you are have 20 + course credits a semester. the best classes i have been in are those where the instructor divides the class into work groups and them adjusts the score by the individual members scores based on their contribution to a group ( much more real word scenario)

the authors efforts to creatively test the students and his success in dong so underscores my point. the system has the wrong incentives. more so for the students by not testing for their ability ,creativity, skills and understanding.

i really do feel for the author. i feel his pain and dissapointment and i hope things get better for him and his class. there are more uncaring/misguided teachers than bad/hopeless students.and i hope this teacher does not turn that dark corner. and we all know , there needs to be just one great teacher to set a student in the right path. good luck .


Hopefully this is a similar view to other students here, but I would drop the class/change professors (even if that meant going into a larger class). Being in an environment where cheating is allowed is not somewhere that I want to be, much less learn in. I would feel like my honest work was just seen as equal to the cheaters'.


Blogger:Page Not Found..! Have you removed article? I was curious that the article drew so much of attention..!


Yes, I had to remove the article from my own blog.


Sounds like colleges, especially with this type of software doing most of the work, should implement a 'Cheating Officer', perhaps one for each department. It could be a grad student and it would save the regular teaching staff from bad reviews and would keep students on their toes.


[deleted]


There's a key element you seem to have overlooked: he's teaching in a business school.

What are his students supposed to be able to do, eventually? Navigating around the limits of legality to maximize profit; understand, exploit and tweak incentives (the ones they're subjected to, and the one they impose onto others) to get a maximum result out of a minimal investment; bullshitting their way out of avoidable or unrewarding workload; getting as much personal credit as possible, deserved or not, in corporate political games; etc.

They're not expected to value hard work, patience, friendship and fair play; it's their future job to commit as much "aggressive optimization" (which might be called cheating indeed, and would be bad in many other contexts) as they can get away with. These are the rules of the game; you're welcome to dislike them, but then, pick another game.

I believe the author had the choice between embracing these values, or go and teach somewhere else. He's here to maximize the school's bottom line, by juicing out as much money as possible in tuition fees, after all.


It makes sense as long as he not published it.

Why? The university should not pursue cheating. It hurts the credibility. All the teachers do so. On your own, it makes no sense to waste your time, others will take care of. Once announced, the news spreads and everyone losses.


Crikey. I failed my degree because I'm lazy and hate lectures and exams (and see them as a perverse way to test someone's ability to actually do something), but I feel less bad knowing that so many people who passed were cheats. Fuck dishonesty man.


isn't this why you have closed book exams?


Open-book, open-notes exams are harder to cheat on. There's no point to smuggling in notes when you can carry them in openly.


When I was in college, people would go to the "bathroom" during the middle of the exam, and then they'd actually wander outside, call their roommate, and have them read off the formulas needed from their textbooks. The invention of cell phones was a huge boon to cheaters.


Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but what's wrong with cheating? Isn't using other people's code, as in open-source, "cheating"? Isn't Google cheating just because it created a fancy clone of FB + Twitter? Wasn't Plotinus cheating because he borrowed one of Plato's main ideas and just fancied it up a little? Wasn't all Western Medieval philosophy cheating because it was barely a commentary to Aristotle and then later to Plato and Plotinus?

I know I'm exaggerating, a little, I'm just trying to make a point. Schooling other people and forcing them not to "cheat" just for the sake of, well, schooling, doesn't have any benefits and it's nothing like what happens in real life. We're all trying to build things on the shoulders of giants.


The point of these assignments, in case you don't realize, is not to write something new or groundbreaking, it's to give students experience in doing research and writing. What they write about exactly isn't that relevant, it's the process of going through it. And by skipping that, the whole point is lost.

Not sure if I'm feeding a troll here, but the amount of 'why do I have to read this book, I will never need what's in it anyway'-style failure to understand the purpose of deliberate practice is high so you may actually believe yourself that your argument makes sense.


That was my point: the class isn't about writing. The class isn't about getting experience in writing. If you want to do that, there are much better alternatives. This class was about content (I used the term "Answers" in my posts). When it comes to content, the required skill set is finding the answer, compiling the answer, assembling the answer, putting a team together to collaborate to find the answer, etc. Learn writing somewhere else. The fault is thinking that writing is the only way to express these skills. Writing has certain formal conventions, such as citing sources. A failure to cite sources is considered plagiarism. Content is different. Facts cannot be copyrighted, and this class was about content and those facts. With respect to facts, the conventions are different. It makes no sense to pretend to teach students to write when you are trying to teach them content. We do it in academia because except for medical school, law school--where writing papers is relatively uncommon, compared to other disciplines--we don't know another way to do it. But don't call this cheating. Failure to document sources, OK. Academic dishonesty if there's a misrepresentation, OK. Providing the professor with the content he asked for in business school? That's not OK??


Students, this is why many great employers don't put much weight on the Education section of your CV.

(Cheaters, you should be figuring out how to crib a nice github account, not how to pass exams.)


Make the papers public and have a dob in the cheaters hotline. Perhaps even offer tools and software. The game then changes because the school will be forced to be transparent.


This was my dissertation back in '92. Thought you'd get a kick out of it. It was fun ... dice/red cups/randomization. I totally agree with your position and loved your New assignments. Good luck and congratulations on your tenured position. Sunny Mathews Title: ASSESSMENT OF ACADEMIC DISHONESTY IN A COMMUNITY COLLEGE: AN APPLICATION OF THE RANDOMIZED RESPONSE TECHNIQUE Author(s): MATHEWS, SARAE SUSAN Degree: ED.D. Year: 1992 Pages: 00088 Institution: UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI; 0125 Advisor: Supervisor: GILBERT CUEVAS Source: DAI, 54, no. 01A, (1992): 0067 Abstract: The purpose of this study was to estimate the extent to which cheating behaviors occur among mathematic students at a community college. The study was conducted at the Kendall Campus of Miami-Dade Community College, during the Winter term, 1992.

A pilot study compared the reported rate of cheating among 47 upper-level mathematics students and 46 mathematically underprepared students using direct questioning and the randomized response technique. The forced alternative randomized response technique was employed to assess attitudes held about cheating and to estimate reported rates of cheating among 298 community college mathematics students. Factors related to cheating such as age, gender, birthplace, religiosity, membership in a religious organization, involvement in extracurricular activities, and self-perception of honesty were also explored. Hypotheses were tested using chi square tests of independence, frequency distributions, z-tests for significance, and a randomized response formula.

The estimated percent of mathematics students who report that they cheated while attending M-DCC was 31%. The forced alternative randomized response technique was found to have utility in a group setting. Direct questioning underestimated the reported rate of cheating; however, differences were not statistically significant.

Upper-level mathematics students reported they cheated at the same rate as mathematically underprepared students. Calculus students were less likely to report someone for cheating. Males, students under 25 years old, and students born abroad also agreed that reporting cheating was worse than actually cheating. Students who reported they had cheated were more likely to be formally affiliated with a religious organization. Reported rate of cheating was inversely related to self-perception of honesty. Students over 25 years of age were the least likely to cheat.

Recommendations included: further investigation of the randomized response technique, particularly where the actual incidence of the sensitive behavior can be determined and compared with the estimated proportions; a comparison of cheating behaviors and attitudes among younger students and older students; and research to clarify the relationship between cheating and religiosity.


Why not just use impromptu in-class essays/tests for 100% of the grade? Anything that allows students to paraphrase references, etc., is not really a test of understanding.


The weirdest thing in all of this is the relation between artificially boosted grades and increased pay for the teacher. This also appears to be the root of the problem.


It would be interesting to know the reason for the article having been removed, as I would've liked to re-read it, having only more or less skimmed it yesterday.


I am completely aghast.

This professor is considering only what path will avoid the most hassle and difficulty for himself. Any duty he might owe honest students, fellow faculty, or even society at large doesn't seem to figure into it. He seems to see no problem at all with effectively selling high grades to cheaters, so long as there's no risk or hassle involved for him.

And because he gets to use a term like Nash Equilibrium to describe it, he's not even ashamed.

Profoundly dishonorable.


He works for the University. If the employer is not interested in rewarding him (or even penalizing him) for doing something that not only is stressful but that takes tons of time away from his useful work, why should he?

An example of what you are doing in your job for coworkers and society at large while being penalized for it by your employer would be appropriate here.


If the employer is not interested in rewarding him (or even penalizing him) for doing something that not only is stressful but that takes tons of time away from his useful work, why should he?

Because it is the right and honorable thing to do in his position. If doing the right thing were always easy and profitable, we'd have no need for morals.

There are lots of situations where people are encouraged and rewarded for doing the wrong thing in their line of work.

There are state prosecutors whose compensation depends on how many criminals they successfully prosecute, so they take cases where the law is obviously unjust but they can win (when using their discretion to safeguard justice is supposed to be part of the job).

There are salesmen whose compensation depends entirely on how many units they are able to sell, so they lie to customers.

There are soldiers who are ordered to engage in immoral acts. It is an essential part of their duty to refuse those orders, but that decision certainly does not come without stress and cost.

I worked in defense contracting, and sometimes served as an engineering liason to various national defense organizations. There was occasionally immense social pressure on me to make our products look better than they were . . . but--and never mind that it would have been in my employer's interest--that would have been wrong.

I could go on. The point is this: in most circumstances in life, there are ways to make money or make life less stressful by doing the wrong thing. You can argue that that's the fault of the people at the top of the system -- they've set up the incentives wrong. I agree; having a just society literally means that the incentives point toward right behavior. But that is their problem, not yours. Your duty is to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances.

Academia has a role in both teaching and certifying knowledge, and is paid by students for the certification, not by industry for its accuracy. There is certainly moral hazard in that, and it deserves a systemic fix. That is no excuse for succumbing to it, for throwing up one's hands, blaming the system, and unleashing remorseless cheaters on fellow faculty and society.


This is a common misconception. The professor is there to perform research, only incidentally to teach. It's not his responsibility to police students. It's the responsibility of the entire system to have policies in place that effectively prosecute cheating. When that system fails it is not his moral obligation to carry that burden himself.


I disagree. The incidentiality of the teaching doesn't enter into it. As long as he is giving grades, he has a responsibility to make a reasonable effort to detect and deter cheating.

(I do think the strategy he described -- spending two hours per student trying to force a confession -- is unreasonable. Detection, notification, and escalation to school enforcement is a reasonable approach. Giving up and blaming the system is not.)

I agree that it is the responsibility of the school to have systems in place that provide the right incentives. But it is also the responsibility of the professors to defend the academic integrity of the school as much as they are involved with it.

Moral responsibility does not always add up to 100%.


>he has a responsibility to make a reasonable effort to detect and deter cheating. I can agree with this. But in the face of an administration that is bent on turning a blind eye, or even punishing the teacher, he has no obligation to carry the burden of defending the integrity of the institution himself. Putting a reasonable effort into detecting cheating is his responsibility. It is not his responsibility to ensure that the students are properly prosecuted.


I don't know about that. There's still the rest of society to consider. Which is to say, there's still his personal professional integrity.

I guess it depends on the circumstance. If the school knowingly encourages cheating for profit, I would think integrity demands playing whistleblower. In fact, I'd apply that to any organization knowningly doing something shady -- bring it to light or accept guilt as an accomplice.

If the school believes in academic integrity, but the compensation for teachers results in perverse incentives, it is important to do the right thing anyway--defend the academic integrity of the school, work on fixing the system, and in the mean time put social pressure on other teachers to do the right thing until the system is fixed.

I agree that it's not the professor's responsibility to pursue the matter beyond his influence at the school. If there's an office of academic honesty, but it's lax, the best he can do is lobby to improve it. But inasmuch as professors have absolute control over the grades they distribute, I do think they have a responsibility to be fair with them.

I can see leaving an institution over a lack of academic honesty. I can see working to reform or improve one. I can see failing a student for cheating, but washing your hands of it when the school does nothing further. What I cannot see is saying to society at large, "On my reputation as an expert, this student can do calculus," when you aren't sure it's true, for the sake of a less stressful workplace and a higher salary.


I'm finding it hard to find fault with your argument. I think where our differences lie is that I don't believe its a moral imperative for someone to risk their livelihood to whistle-blow against something that is fundamentally someone else's responsibility. If the janitor at an investment bank overhears fraud being discussed, I don't believe the janitor has a moral responsibility to expose that fraud if it risks his own livelihood.

Similarly for a teacher who puts in a commendable effort to weed out cheaters only to be essentially punished for it by the administration. It's his job to make note of cheaters, but the responsibility for doling out consequences is a cooperative effort between the professor and the administration. If the administration isn't doing their job, and exposing this risks his own career and livelihood (for a professor publicly going against his administrations this might actually be the case), I don't think he has this responsibility.


I can understand that, though I certainly disagree.

I can respect a principle of proportionality -- I don't think it makes sense to risk a life life to stop a petty theft. But I absolutely cannot agree with the line of thinking that says because something is one person's moral responsibility, it isn't another's. To my way of thinking, any evil you know about is your responsibility to fight. Or at least not cooperate with. Personal cost doesn't enter into it.

I think sometimes life doesn't offer you a middle ground between heroism and cowardice.


Nonsense. At the end of TFA he lists the ways he is going to effectively combat the problem at the source, as opposed to the previously wasteful and costly way he tried before.


No, he doesn't argue that he's going to effectively combat the problem. He lists a few categories of assignments in which he thinks the incentive to cheat will be reduced, only one of which actually makes it harder. And he says he doesn't think he can teach everything effectively that way.

I am all for embracing structurally cheat-proof methods, but his focus is on personal efficiency first.


With prompt given for the assignment, I'm hardly surprised by the amount of plagiarism.


Seriously. I hated classes that had stupid assignments. Personally, I opted not to do them at all because I didn't want to cheat. I was fine accepting a B in a class to avoid these assignments. Eventually, this bit me in the butt when applying for grad schools (not severely, but reduced funding), so I totally understand why people would copy them to keep their grades from falling.


He used TurnItIn? That website that commits copyright infringement? Yeah, stopped reading after I saw that.


Do you have some sources for this?


What bothers me about this episode is that it highlights what is wrong with education in America and confirms what many think about academia as being too insular. What is the “cheating” that Professor Panos complains of? In many of the cases the cheating was not the mindless copying of math problems from someone seated nearby. Instead, the professor asked questions which the students were to research and submit an answer in the form of an essay. The class was a class in real-world business, not an exercise in rhetoric. Presumably, essay writing skills, to the extent that they are needed at all, are taught elsewhere. The job of the students is to perform research and find the answer or answers to the question. Professor Panos complains that the “cheating” students’ methodology was, “research, copy, paste.” There is no comment as to whether the cheating students submitted correct answers. The failure to document sources is considered plagiarism in academia, journalism and other fields. Not so much in business. In business, what is important is the answer. If McKinsey has done a study for company X on an issue and company Y has now commissioned McKinsey for the same study, does Professor Panos believe that McKinsey won’t use the earlier study–or any other study done by someone else which they can get their hands on–to answer the question? I’m not picking on McKinsey–all consultants work this way. There is nothing wrong with it, and not having to reinvent the wheel is a clear benefit to the client. If I have a question to answer and a colleague has already comprehensively answered it, whether he be Korean, a fraternity brother or a sorority sister–where is the harm in saying, “I am indebted to my colleague who has answered this.” The fact that I serendipitously found an answer is not a negative in the business world. Not giving credit to a colleague is a whole other issue. The Internet is a research tool and there is nothing wrong with using it wisely. What’s more–and since this is not about writing essays–is the goal here to have twenty-something business students give their personal opinions, opinions that the business world tends to discount greatly; or is the goal to have them find useful answers and compile the same appropriately? Having been asked numerous times in real life, “where did you get this from?” being able to say, “someone has already looked at this and this is the conclusion they came up with” has always been helpful. On more than one occasion, it saved the day.

These were not math or language tests. The Spanish word for test is “examen” but if all I have done is copied the answer from my neighbor during a test I will not have made any progress in learning the language. Cheating is penalized because the student is cheating himself out of the opportunity to learn. I do not see how students who do research on the Internet and compile that research in answering a question have cheated. If you want to demand more rigorous citations from your students, demand them. If a fraternity brother has answered the question, give him credit. Improve on his work if you can. These are real world skills, and to the extent that business school insists on archaic essay writing the students are being done a disservice.


There is a skill called "critical thinking", another called "report writing", and it seems for this course "comprehension of a market, and competing technologies within this market".

Copy paste demonstrates or develops none of these, other than "report composition", and possibly "identifying worthwhile sources".

If you think consultants, such as McKinsey, require the later skills only, and NOT the former, you are rather misguided.


Copy/paste is not an answer, it's a method; a tool. I've worked a lot with consultants. I'm not picking on McKinsey, and when I hire them I want them to check precedents. I want them to look at their (and others) past projects and see if there's anything relevant to my problem. If they find an answer that someone else has come up with that solves my problem, and it's not a trade secret, copyrighted or otherwise off-limits, I'm thrilled. There is all too much reinvention of the wheel. I still see this as a failure to document sources, not "cheating." One of my points is that the exercise of writing papers should not be the only way to learn. Take a macro view of things: some have written that with respect to Turnitin that they are horrified at 40% of the papers are plagiarized. Really? These papers for the most part are not word-for-word copied (though I admit that some are). Do you really think that hundreds of thousands of high school students have original insights about Salinger's Catcher in the Rye? Or that there is similar originality in readings of Aristotle's On the Parts of Animals? In a way it's reassuring that statistically these papers tend to converge. Of course, whether it is worthwhile to include Salinger in a curriculum is another story. As far as original insights, my guess is that Jerry's troubles at summer camp (bed wetting) might have contributed in some way to his oeuvre. Haven't seen a college paper about it, though.


Good god you people are sure full of yourselves sometimes. You're telling me that if you put in extra effort in your daily jobs and got kicked in the ribs for it more than once... that you'd continue to do it and wouldn't be upset about it? Armchair ivory-towerists. I'm just aghast at the paragraphs of criticism I'm reading here for people that I can just imagine being upset with wasted and unappreciated effort.


"Cheating" is a meaningless concept once you reach college in my opinion. Either students are learning or they're not. They're (usually) paying money to be there and the only applicable metric is if the skills they acquire while chasing down the degree are worth the money they or their parents spend. To that end, I was impressed with the OP's thoughts on deterring this sort of behavior in the future. Because really, the only person suffering from this behavior is the student. By altering the coursework to make the motives for copying virtually meaningless the professor's goal is accomplished with a minimum amount of effort.


the only person suffering from this behavior is the student

You really think so?

The more diplomas you give to students who learned nothing, the more the rest of the world will pick up on it and refuse to hire anyone from your University.


I couldn't agree more. There are a few schools ("good" ones!) that we get a fair number of applicants from where I've learned to just ignore applicants' GPAs when evaluating them, because they're inflated to the point of being useless. The candidates might still get an interview, but it's now hinging entirely on the quality of their cover letter and whatever extracurricular things they've posted to GitHub/Google Code/Kiln/whatever. In other words, their godawful expensive Ivy League education is now literally worth less, to me, than some of the much smaller, cheaper tech colleges whose GPAs I've found are actually at least vaguely reflective of the students' abilities.

People such as your parent post make my life easier, I guess: when in doubt, I can get lazy and throw the résumé in the trash. Otherwise, I think that it's way past time for universities to start caring about grade inflation, whether it comes from widespread cheating or from lazy professors.


Also, the more unqualified people get through college, the less a college diploma means. I wouldn't say that cheating is the only reason for the problems with the college diploma in the U.S., but it's a substantial contributor. The 20% cheating rate observed by this professor is fairly normal across the entire country and a lot of unqualified students get through by cheating.


Also, the more unqualified people get through college, the less jobs there are for non-degree holders. Why would you hire a school leaver, when there's plenty of degree holders lining up for the job?

So the diploma is worth more, for the students who just scrape by. Unless diplomas start to lose all credibility.


> "... the only person suffering from this behavior is the student."

Actually, everyone suffers. Fellow students suffer, as some are compelled to cheat to compete because their peers do. Alumni suffer as students grades lose their value and the university is seen as less rigorous. Similarly for academia as a whole. Finally, society has to deal with whole cohorts that have been formally rewarded for making poor ethical choices.


Others will suffer if the students continue the practice in their later accounting, legal testimony, health and safety practices, and business partnerships.

Do you think after succeeding with cheating through college, they can turn it off like a switch when the stakes are higher?


Full disclosure: I am a college dropout - so take this with a grain of salt.

At the very least, it matters, if only a little, to the reputation of the institution. If they start turning out plagiarizing idiots, eventually they become unable to charge as much for that education.


Yes, the student is the only one suffering. Going to school and not learning anything is pointless and the diploma by itself is worthless in the long run.

Unless it turns into a complete party place, the university will do just fine and employers don't really care what your grades are and how you got them.


... until they get a job writing for an online info-database, and their idea of creating new content consists of copying wholesale competitor's pages.


I did not cheat in school. I wanted to prove things to myself and to learn. However the basic premise of opposition to cheating here is incorrect:

"habitual plagiarism ... can have very serious consequences in their professional life"

This is something academics believe because it justifies their policies, but it isn't true, at least in entrepreneurship. Those who can "cheat" without violating the trust of those who matter or facing legal consequences are those who succeed. Those who play by all the rules bitch on HN about "stolen ideas" and cutthroat business practices instead of synthesizing ideas and looking for unfair advantages.

Cheat if it suits you, learn what you want to learn, get the credentials you need, cover your ass, and build the life you want. Life is not a your grade, but neither is it the opinion of a professor over what you should be doing with your time - copying or writing.


I disagree with your conclusion. Cheating is about taking the easy way, which rarely works in the real world, unless you are comfortable riding (and perhaps crossing) the legal/ethical boundaries we, as a society, have decided on.

I would never hire someone for my startup who came to me and said, "I cheated through college, so I know how to be cutthroat in business." If you don't have the personal integrity to manage yourself, why would I ever think you would manage something of mine?


I don't know what it is with you US Americans and "cheating"... but it seems to be a very touchy subject in your culture, almost like violating someone's honors. I never understood that.


When you cheat you violate an agreement everyone has made either explicitly or implicitly. When you violate an code of behaviour to your benefit, others may suffer. It shouldn't be very difficult to understand that causing someone else to suffer for your own gain is "touchy" at best.


It is totally a question of honor. It is utterly dishonorable to cheat, and egregiously so at the levels described in the aforementioned blog.

The goal of the scholastic experience is so that you, the student, learns something.

If the school turns out people who didn't learn, they are producing worthlessness.

It is a lie to say that you have a degree, when you really have a collection of credits that you cheated through. The degree is worthless and should be sent back.


You are exaggerating by 200% and leading it ad absurdum.

"Cheating" for me means getting one or two hints at an exam and with the exam situation being what it is, those hints typically only really help to jog your memory if you did study. It does not mean downright plagiarizing your thesis and 90% of your studies.

But US Americans seem to be offended even at the idea of getting or sharing a single hint during an exam. Here in Europe you could easily loose "street cred" and be forever labeled as the worst kind of "nerd" if you did NOT at least try to help a fellow student on purpose. Again, I am not talking about writing 100% of homework for you but sharing a hint or a small piece of help during an exam.

Funnily, we had a few very, very high profile cases of plagiarized doctorates amongst politicians here in Germany. Their degree was taken away from them of course.


No.

I assure you, what you describe is considered cheating, but the cheating that usually takes place is far more comprehensive.


"Cheating" may mean that for you, but it's not what it means for most people, and certainly not for "Americans" in general. Panos is pretty clear in his post about what was going on. This wasn't "hints" or anything close.

20-95% of the content in some of these papers was being copied straight off the web without even a citation. It's plagiarism, just like the high-profile cases you recently had. How is that not cheating?


As a student I pay thousands of dollars to earn a degree from a respectable institution. When students cheat and get away with it like in the OP's article, it dilutes the value of my degree.


Not only that, it can also wreck the classes. If the response to rampant cheating is "oh, the course was too hard", then the standards to which students are held will fall.


Just out of curiosity, where are you from and how is cheating regarded there?


I am Austrian and studied in Austria. Cheating is not really considered special or extra-ordinary in any way here.

Pupils in school would try it, also students later on might try to... generally it is the duty of the teacher or professor to keep students from cheating here and 95% of the time they are very successful at it. The remaining 5% are considered fair game by the students.

Most tests (as in over 90%) do not allow you to use books or any other material; sometimes students would try to hide notes or get an answer from a fellow student but ultimately with the teacher watching and the situation in the class room being really quiet, in most cases there is hardly anything you can really do or find out anyway but maybe you can get one or two hints tops.

Also, most exams (at least where I studied) did not have multiple choice tests instead you would have to write a proper answer and apply knowledge. So at best someone could whisper a clue or hint you in the right direction

In case you got caught talking/cheating you might get one or two warnings and then your test is taken away from you and maybe also from the person you were talking to, depending on course and professor.

The difference for me is: amongst students, it is not a "crime" here.. you are trying to help your fellow colleagues mostly "against" the teacher and while still covering your own ass. It would be considered rather offending NOT to help on purpose when you have the chance to.

Another difference might be: I did not have to pay upwards of 100k to get a decent education. So maybe studying is more a "commodity" here in Euroland.


The American perspective tends to be that you are the system (decentralism), not that it is you versus the system (authoritarianism).

Unfortunately America has also become infested by the idea that punishment creates virtuous people, especially among those with an authoritarian bent. Attempts to outlaw decentralism fail, so they pack all the authoritarianism into those cases where centralized intervention is needed. Hence the rise of zero-tolerance policies for everything. That's how we reach the point where a university opens up a can of ass-whip for a essay that forgot a pair of quotation marks (you can't swing a dead cat in the English department without hitting a sanctimonious liberal).


It is violating honor, the honor of the institution and everyone who is sacrificing their time and treasure to advance your education.

The rules governing cheating are even sometimes called "Honor Codes".

Finally, from a Christian perspective, putting your name on work you did not complete is a form of lying and is immoral.


I really hope that the downvotes aren't from people who dislike this poster's Christian perspective.

I suspect that the HN majority is atheist, but it's still no excuse.


Disregarding any particular poster's religious affiliations, understanding "Christian" values can shed a great deal of light on the foundations of American culture. I think it's an excellent point at any rate.


I suspect that the HN majority is atheist

Really? I get a sense that there's some outspoken atheists here, but I don't see it as a majority.

I guess that would make an interesting poll.


Because the cheater gets out the other end of the degree course with a degree they didn't earn. And then they start competing for the same jobs as me.


Its funny how almost all of this hard work put into cheating, copying, changing, editing etc. leads to one line on your resume, the GPA. A good GPA gets your resume short-listed at the very least but someone who never earned the GPA is extremely easy to catch in an interview, especially for CS majors. A little digging into that project you got an 'A' for and it all comes tumbling down like a house of cards. All it achieves in the end, is a waste of the interviewer or recruiter's time.


Why is this and my replies (with detailed descriptions) being downvoted? It was an honest question about cultural differences.


Panos, I wrote you a long response on your blog.


[deleted]


I wish this was true, but it actually also hurts all the students who aren't cheating in the course since their classmates are receiving better marks than them while spending less time. Which tragically creates a strong incentive for other students to join in. In some courses this can be an epidemic and you have a significant fraction of the students cheating and getting better marks than the students who are actually learning.

When curves come in to play it means the honest students are getting lower scores than the dishonest ones even though they are learning more. This can suck in a lot of fields where grades matter.

The refrain that it only hurts the cheater needs to stop being something people say when this topic comes up. It is a serious problem that is undermining learning in our classrooms and it needs to be addressed, it is not a victimless act. It certainly does hurt the cheater, but it doesn't only hurt the cheater.

Don't fix it for the sake of the dishonest students, fix it for the sake of the honest ones.


There is no evidence that cheating hurts the cheater. Sure, they will learn less. But if they get higher grades from cheating than from trying to learn and not scoring as highly, then this will get them a higher wage in many professions.


Anecdotally (hmm, I'm good with the non-data today), there is a very strong correlation among my friends between not cheating and professional success. The ones who engaged with the material and really tried to learn it are doing very well for themselves, even if they flunked a few courses as a result. It's probably stronger than the GPA-to-success correlation - I know several summa-cum-laude graduates who've since flitted between low-level jobs and continuing education.

Makes sense, really - I've found that your actual skills are the primary limiting factor on your salary, and credentials just make it easier to get the jobs you're already qualified for. While some folks try to game the credentials, the rest of us are working on skills so we can hit the ground running, and actual, tangible accomplishments speak much more loudly than degrees.


This is totally and utterly untrue. The only person who gets hurt by cheating are the students who don't cheat. The professor doesn't have to teach and the school graduates that many more 'grade A' students.

And, this is the fundamental problem: the schools really aren't in the teaching game. They are in the successful enrollment game.


That's not necessarily true. Lot's of people can "talk the talk" with a highly embellished resume and land a job.

As a result of the cheating, grade inflation becomes worse and a possibly highly able candidate with a 3.4 GPA may completely miss the "GPA filter" on a resume sorting algorithm for a cheater with a 3.6.


Thats why sorting and filtering by GPA is something I never believed in and hope other people stop doing as well. A good GPA is an indication of a capable candidate but the opposite may not be true.


That would be nice, wouldn't it? Unfortunately it's quite easy to find people who barely finished schools but could talk well and landed a job... and then they must really mess up to be fired - they can usually survive doing the absolute minimum.

As long as you work for someone who doesn't actually know what you're doing, it's not that hard to hide the fact you don't know either ;)


This is fascinating, aside from one huge, glaring bit of stupidness on the authors part - highlighted here:

"One interesting observation: Almost all cheating happened within ethnic lines. Koreans copy from Koreans. Indians from Indians. Greeks from Greeks. Jews from Jews. Chinese from Chinese."

Korea=country India=country Greece=country China=country Jewish=religion

This would appear to show some form of bias, or at least a lack of cultural understanding by Panos Ipeirotis, who I'm assuming is of Greek origin based on his name.


All of those are ethnic origins.


Compared to the others listed, it's out of place - all Greeks originate from Greece - where do all Jewish people originate from? (and as much as that sounds like the start of a joke, it's not)


As someone working on converting to Judaism, I can tell you that the situation is complicated, with ethnicity and religion strongly interrelated. Anyone that claims Jewishness solely involves religion is just as wrong as anyone that claims Jewishness solely involves ethnicity. You cannot think about Judaism the same way you'd think about, say, Christianity.

With that disclaimer in mind, the vast majority of Jews - due to traditional prohibitions against intermarriage and low numbers of converts - originate from the general area where the State of Israel is today. Here, both the founding myths in the Torah and modern genetic testing are in agreement.



You are correct. I did not want to sound racist. Perhaps "cultural ties" would be a better term. Btw, most of this happens because students with common cultural ties tend to socialize together in student clubs, etc.


Thanks for the reply, glad to see you here & participating.


I noticed the same thing. I'd like to know what criteria he used for placing students in the "Jew" category. Perhaps he watched too many "films" by Goebbels.




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