Monday, June 9, 2008

How shall I cheat thee ... let me count the ways ...

Earlier today, I took a trip south to Buies Creek, and Campbell University's Main Campus. I've been working with members of their Chemistry Department in planning the Chemistry courses I'm teaching at the RTP Campus. Today, when I was chatting with the Lab Manager, a student wandered in, wanting to know if we saw a calculator in the lab. I didn't see any, and the Lab Manager rummaged through a box that contained lost calculators. None of the calculators there resembled the one the student described so we murmured our regrets that we didn't find his calculator. So the fellow lumbered off, and Lab Manager and I continued our discussion.

Sure enough, Lab Manager found said calculator ... and also found something interesting written on the back of the calculator. Imagine this: this is the type of calculator that has the sliding hard case. Apparently, a pre-lab quiz was given to these students earlier in the morning. The covers were taken away so as to prevent students from slipping cheat sheets into them. After all, any relevant formula was provided to the students. When I saw the formula, equations, and terms written on the back of this calculator, I laughed while the Lab Manager seethed with indignation. Apparently, cheating has been a problem, and seemingly, students find creative ways to cheat.

I'll have to admit, I found the whole thing funny ... but then I'm sure if I were in the thick of the situation, I'd be upset as well. Something similar happened when I was a graduate student. A group of students were cheating on their lab reports. When you grade a bunch of lab reports, you start noticing if something appears strange. When I noticed consistently at least five students who wrote down the same wrong answer, I started to get awfully suspicious. I kept quiet, thinking perhaps it was just a one-time thing. This persisted for the next couple of experiments. I eventually told the professor, but he did not want to believe me. I will admit - I had a reputation for being a tough grader (although I'm not as heartless as a certain Hogwarts Potions Master ...) and so the professor thought I had it in for these five students. Then he noticed that these same five students cheated on their exam. Once he realised that, he was forced to acknowledge that my charges had merit.

Those five students were eventually called in, and they admitted they cheated. They failed the course and were disciplined for violating the school's honour code, or some such thing like that.

So it is rather disheartening when you discover cheating students. I know, I've been there. I just hope I don't encounter this again.

1 comment:

Chris C. said...

I'm surprised the student went with the "old-school" method of writing on the calculator. Most kids these days would program their cheat notes directly into the calculator's memory.

I will admit to doing this once, for one exam in an electrical engineering course. The relevant formulas were a) not provided and b) massively complex, such that both memorization and derivation would have been extremely difficult. I'd rather spend the time understanding the material than worrying about whether I flipped some sign in the formula, which in all practical usage should be a reference lookup.