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Opinion

To cheat or not to cheat: it’s up to the student

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October 18, 2007

As Associate Dean in the College of Education and Professional Studies, and also when I’m teaching, I think quite a bit about academic honesty. Some of the research on this topic is pretty discouraging.

Some people cheat when they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t. “If I don’t pass this test, or get this paper turned in, I will fail the class or get suspended or have to tell my parents what I got.”  Others cheat because “everyone cheats.”

One piece of research on academic honesty found that more business and engineering students than students in other areas cheat. When asked, they said they do it because cheating is part of life in the business world, so they are getting ready for their future jobs.

As a teacher, I think about how to encourage my students not to cheat. I try to give assignments that connect to their lives and draw on their personal experiences, making pulling something off the internet harder for them—but also helping them to tie their learning to their reality.

This works pretty well for me because I teach education courses, and it’s easy to make it clear to students why what they are learning is important to them and to help them see how it connects to their future jobs or current work. I know this is much harder for faculty who teach classes that bring important learning but don’t have obvious connections to the “right now” of students’ lives.

Most of the time it has to be up to students to choose to be honest. Even if you have a full scholarship that covers every penny you spend to go to River Falls, you are spending something even more precious than money. The time you are spending in college can never be replaced. When these four or five years are over, do you want to have real knowledge to show for it?  Or is it OK with you to finish college knowing little more than you knew when you left high school?

No one who watches TV news would claim that we live in a world where nobody cheats. Business executives, politicians and even engineers get caught cheating almost every day and they pay the price when they lose their jobs and their reputations.

They, like you, have choices, and they could choose not to cheat and not to have to worry about what is waiting for them around the next corner. I think that people who choose honesty live happier lives.

What’s your choice?

Mary Manke is associate dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies and is in her ninth year in that position. She coordinated accreditation for Educator Preparation in 2003 and is now beginning to prepare for the 2010 visit. She teaches in the Shared Inquiry Master's Program.