Academic dishonesty is not on the rise, James M. Lang argues, despite periodic media flurries suggesting otherwise in the wake of various high-profile cheating scandals. InsideHigher Ed review’s Lang’s newest book, reporting
“Still, evidence indicates that most students cheat at least once over the course of their college careers — a fact that may be most concerning, Lang writes, because it means that many classes are failing to help students really learn.
“In his new book, Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty (Harvard University Press), Lang reviews research on both academic dishonesty and human learning to build a case that the most effective instructional strategies to minimize cheating are the same ones that will best help students to understand and retain the course material. When students are able to grasp the subject matter, Lang believes, they have little motivation to cheat.
“Lang — who is associate professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Assumption College, as well as a longtime columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education — answered e-mailed questions about his new book, offering advice for both faculty members and administrators on how they can reduce cheating and, better yet, help students get the most out of their classes.
“Q: How would you summarize the relationship between student learning and academic honesty (or dishonesty)? What do you think might explain this relationship?
“A: Cheating is an inappropriate response to a learning environment that’s not working for the student. Both sides of that sentence are important. It’s inappropriate, which means that we have to hold the student accountable for the dishonest action, and ensure that we maintain high standards of academic integrity. But it’s equally true that something in that learning environment doesn’t seem to be working for that student. He might see the course as a curricular requirement that means nothing to him; he might be confused by the assignment or see it as busywork; he might see himself as not having the knowledge or skills he needs to complete the assignment.
“While I certainly don’t believe we can track back all cases of cheating to problems in the teaching and learning environment — some students will cheat under even the best circumstances — I think we can at least learn from research on cheating whether there are specific features of a curriculum, or a course design, or an assessment structure that lend themselves to cheating. The fascinating discovery I made in my own research was that the features of a course that do tend to induce cheating were also ones that tend to reduce learning. So research on cheating may offer us a new window into how to improve the learning environments we build for our students.
“Q: What are some common elements of college courses that tend to promote cheating, and why?
“A: One line of research has looked at how learning orientation has an impact on students’ willingness to cheat. We can characterize some students as mastery-oriented in their learning, and some as performance-oriented. Mastery-oriented students have a real desire to learn and master the material; performance-oriented students want to do well on the assignments and exams, and are less concerned about the material for its own sake. We know that mastery-oriented students tend to learn the material more deeply than performance-oriented ones, and retain it longer, and we also know that mastery-oriented students cheat less. This makes a kind of intuitive sense; if the student really wants to learn and master the material, cheating will not help them do so.”