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Harvard details suspensions in massive cheating scandal (bostonglobe.com)
29 points by bane 1604 days ago | hide | past | web | 21 comments | favorite

An interesting counterpoint to this is the experience of Caltech, with its honor system (I attended Caltech). It is institute policy that exams are not proctored in any way. Exams are normally take-home. They are time limited, starting from when you open the test.

Yet cheating is nearly non-existent. How is this possible?

I think it is because the honor system is a pretty explicit statement that the Institute implicitly trusts its students. It views professors and students as collaborators, rather than adversaries.

One consequence is that the students like the honor system very much, and do not wish to see it change. Hence, there is intense pressure from the students to themselves to not cheat - and someone who does cheat is pretty much ostracized.

(There are other aspects to the Caltech honor system - professors are not allowed to take attendance or base grades on attendance in any way. The Institute also does not attempt to control student behavior on or off campus. I don't remember ever locking my dorm room door.)

> Hence, there is intense pressure from the students to themselves to not cheat - and someone who does cheat is pretty much ostracized.

Another thing to note is that homework at Caltech can be rather challenging. It is common (or at least when I was there, around the same Walter was, and I believe it still is so) for people to collaborate on it. You get a pretty good idea from this how your classmates are doing, and you can make a pretty good prediction by the end of the term how they are going to do on the exam. In my experience, pretty much everyone came out about where I expected them to. If there was significant cheating going on, there should have been noticeable instances of people doing unexpectedly well on exams.

> I don't remember ever locking my dorm room door.

Did you ever meet the guy in the bushes on California Blvd? He was a mentally ill college-aged kid who hid in the bushes in front of a building around half way between campus and Lake Avenue. He would ask people if they had seen "Sandy". (I know some people who managed to have a long talk with him, but they were not able to figure out if Sandy was a girl he actually knew, or someone imaginary).

One day, some of us were hanging out in my room, which was at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement of the South houses. Someone started joking about funny things we could say when bushes guy asked about Sandy. I suggested something involving a crude sex act.

Apparently bushes guy happened to be lurking in the South houses basement and was listening. That night, I woke up in the middle of the night with him standing over me, rather agitated, asking why I would say such terrible things about Sandy.

I started locking my door after that.

Hmm, I never heard of that guy. I was there from 75-79.

Doing the homework was how I learned the material. Things came too thick and fast during lecture to learn it, it was all I could do to keep up taking notes.

I discovered that if I knew how to solve all the homework problems front to back, I'd do ok on the exams. I also rarely could do the homework without some help from other students, who were always happy to coach me through my difficulties. Having a "troll" session with your friends to work through the homework was commonplace, followed by a "wretch" session with the TA for the stuff none of us could figure out :-)

Good Lord.

You might ask how do I know that cheating was nearly non-existent? One, nobody is going to help you cheat. Two, I never knew of anyone who cheated. Three, some classes had more than half of the students fail the exam - hard to believe if there was widespread cheating. And four, I knew a not atypical student who fell asleep during an exam, woke up and finished it, but noted on the exam that he'd been awake for less than the time allotted, but his sleep time exceeded it. He received an apologetic F on it, and had to repeat the class next year. Nobody thought this self-reporting was unusual or particularly worthy of comment. It was just the way it was.

I see from your other posts that you attended Caltech in the '70s. You might be disappointed to read the more recent anecdata: http://www.quora.com/California-Institute-of-Technology/Why-...

That's a depressing read. There was nothing like that happening in the 70's. I can't express the contempt I have for techers who would cheat like that.

For me personally, I did not attend Caltech in order to get good grades. What I learned there has given me a huge advantage in my career. Interestingly, my experience with Caltech's honor system has also shaped my interactions with others for the better. (For example, I've never used DRM on any products I've built, despite sometimes strong pressure to.)

It's hard to not feel a little sympathy for the handful of 2012 grads whose lives were put on hold by the investigations this fall.

A few months prior to the incidents, I had had a conversation with the College president and Dean Smith about cheating and mental health on campus. They were aware of some kinds of cheating; they were not aware of others, particularly the acute or technologically advanced kind.

I argued to Hammonds, the College president, that the design of exams was the root cause of the cheating, not a lapse of morals. It seems that I was vindicated in this assessment, because cheating happens in classes with final exams of any kind, most strongly in take home exam classes. This is just a particularly egregious example.

On the other hand, it could be that morally deficient students sort themselves into Government and Economics. But that's utterly ridiculous, and I hope most will agree with me that fixing the tests (preferably by eliminating them), rather than just blaming the students, is the right step forward.

The course was "Government 1310: Introduction to Congress."

Give the ones who cheated A's and flunk the rest.

I was unable to find which course it was this time. Although I suspect it was something along those lines again.

There was a similar scandal in 2012 - here's my favorite commentary on that:


I'm continually disappointed by the increasing disconnect of the lessons of college with the needs of our modern professional world. Nearly everything meaningful is done as a collaborate effort, yet in formalized education it is branded "cheating". Education is not a zero sum game (but grades often are).

It makes sense to allow collaboration in some contexts (homework) while forbidding it in other contexts (test taking). This way, students are rewarded for working together yet are still have an incentive to make sure they aren't simply letting their partners do the work at the expense of their own understanding (intentionally or not).

The cheating happened in a testing context. Other parts of the class would have emphasized the collaborative aspect of learning, and I'm sure this contributed to the widespread consensus that sharing answers was OK, despite written instructions to the contrary.

Collaboration only makes sense when people have something to offer one another. It's actually valuable to learn something for yourself so that you can meaningfully contribute to collaborative efforts.

Besides, ethics are important.

> increasing disconnect of the lessons of college with the needs of our modern professional world. Nearly everything meaningful is done as a collaborate effort

what's uniquely modern about collaboration? hasn't collaboration been important for hundreds of years?

Exams are like job interviews, not like typical professional work. Do people typically interview collaboratively? No.

I agree. "Academic integrity" always seemed like a law that was enforced with strange brutality. I've never cheated on a test before, but I don't think working with others is a bad thing. In fact, I wonder if I was trained so much by this to only work on things by myself, which has other negative consequences.

Do you have specific suggestions, aside from not grading on a curve (which is common but certainly not universal)?

I don't understand, Americans are still getting shocked that is in the students nature to try and cheat their way to graduation? Both parties are guilty, one of cheating and the other of being so naive.

Giving a take-home test and then remanding students for working together is just silly. You don't wave your ice cream in front of the monkey cage if you want to keep it.

I'd hope that you would have higher expectations of Harvard students a bit more strictly than monkeys.

They're still human beings, you know.

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