BY SARAH VERRICO
SC Staff Writer
It is an unfortunate but inevitable truth on every college campus—students cheat—and they are getting better at it.
As the classroom experience includes more internet use, traditional pencil and paper note-taking and hardcover books move into antiquity.
Tablets, digital textbooks, and lightweight computers are forging their way into classrooms and plopping themselves onto the desks of digital students.
With new technologies come innovations in cheating. Students shy from simple peeks at their neighbor’s tests and become more brazen, choosing instead to simply share answers or complete tests in cohorts online.
Educators at East Stroudsburg University have a clear procedure for dealing with students suspected of cheating or plagiarizing—report the individual to student affairs.
Student affairs then conducts an independent investigation.
The procedure for educators is clear, but what happens when the witness to the cheating is none other than a fellow student?
Dr. Heter, philosophy professor at ESU, approaches the answer to this question by applying a combination of virtue and legal ethics with moral intuition.
“The relevant virtues,” he argues, “would be honesty and a sense of justice. An honest person with a strong sense of justice will be offended if s/he sees her peers cheating and benefiting from it. The honest student will be frustrated because she is playing by the rules and others are not—that’s a violation of fair play.”
This violation arises from the inevitable reward system offered by successful cheating— a student cheats, gets away with it, and then benefits from it in the form of improved performance or appraisal. The benefit can hurt another student, both tangibly and psychologically, like ruining a curve or causing emotional distress.
Veronica Torres, a senior English major graduating in December, knows firsthand what it feels like to witness another student cheat and benefit from the cheating.
“I have noticed a student who was able to participate in a class discussion without having read the assigned material because she used spark note type websites,” said Torres.
“The student participated often and although the statements did not reflect the student’s personal views, professors would credit the student for what seemed to be insightful comments rather than what it was—verbal plagiarizing.”
Torres shakes her head, looking defeated. “It seems that there is no distinction between students who actually spend time doing careful readings and put a lot of thought into their work with those who take short cuts and borrow ideas.”
When asked what she thought a student who witnesses another student cheating should do, Veronica thinks it should remain an issue to be resolved by students.
“I believe that academic institutions rely heavily on the honesty of students since class discussions allow students to offer their opinions. I feel that if a student is obviously using the internet to cheat in class, then other students need to question where the information is coming from.”
Other students are not as comfortable with confrontation as Veronica and do not share her opinion.
Sean, a business major and witness to peer cheating, could not imagine calling out another student for cheating, let alone turning one in.
“I mean… yeah, I felt bad that I was the only person in the class who didn’t have the test beforehand, and I definitely had the worst grade, but I wouldn’t turn someone in for that.”
When asked why he would not report the cheating, even though he suffered as a result, he said simply, “That’s not my job. That’s the teacher’s job. And I would feel really bad for getting someone in trouble.”
With conflicting opinions and feelings guiding the decision on whether or not to report the cheating behavior of fellow students, the question of what a witness should do comes down to the measure of harm.
“The honest student,” says Dr. Heter, “should not suffer as a result of the dishonest student’s behavior. Once the cheater’s behavior begins to materially harm the honest student, the honest student has the right to, and probably should, say something to the instructor.”
It seems then that the student witness must rely on intuition and make a judgment call, and if harm exists, the student should feel free to report the cheating without the undeserved feeling of being a kindergarten tattle-tail.
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