University News

Poll: Majority of students do not cheat

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
This article is part of the series Fall 2012 Student Poll

Almost 40 percent of students reported committing some form of academic dishonesty since coming to Brown, according to The Herald’s biannual poll, conducted last month.

About 20 percent of students admitted to copying an assignment or parts of an assignment from a friend while at Brown, 5.6 percent admitted to copying an assignment or parts of an assignment from a published source, 6.4 percent admitted to using notes for a take-home test or assignment when instructed not to, 4.3 percent admitted to cheating on an in-class test and 17.7 percent admitted to collaborating on an assignment when instructed not to.

About 80 percent of students polled last year reported committing no forms of academic dishonesty, compared to 60.2 percent this year. But students polled last year were not asked about whether they committed unauthorized collaboration. The percentage of students who collaborated on work without permission – 17.7 percent – accounts for nearly all of the difference between the two years’ results.

Spencer Caplan ’15 said he was surprised the proportion of students who said they had illicitly collaborated was not higher.

“I don’t think a lot of people outright cheat,” he said, “but I think a lot of people collaborate.”

Unauthorized collaboration recently drew national attention after 125 Harvard students were investigated for inappropriately working together on a take-home exam. Such collaboration may not necessarily involve direct copying, but could refer to discussing general ideas and how to respond to assignments.

“The definition of collaboration has become increasingly nebulous and the difference between acceptable and unacceptable collaboration even more so,” read an editorial published in the Harvard Crimson in response to the scandal. “Take home exams in particular have become uncomfortable gray areas in which both spheres often overlap.”

Many students said what is an acceptable form of collaboration is often undefined, and when professors fail to clarify what is allowed, the line can blur even more.

“It seems like an easy thing to do,” said Emily Fuller ‘14.5, who recently transferred from American University. Fuller said she saw more rampant academic dishonesty at American University than in her time at Brown so far. “Obviously, it depends on the assignment.”

“I don’t think it’s necessarily inherently wrong,” Caplan said. “I think it’s more nuanced. I think it’s on the same level as going to TA hours and asking how to approach a problem.”

Caplan is double concentrating in linguistics and computer science. The computer science department accounts for a disproportionate number of reported academic violations on campus, The Herald has previously reported. This is mostly because computer science departments have better technology to catch cheaters, professors said, but some also theorized the discrepancy is at least partly because professors are very explicit about what type of collaboration is unacceptable.  

“Every CS department has policies that make it clear from day one that you’re not going to learn unless you do it yourself,” said Alex Aiken, a Stanford University professor who developed the predominant software used to detect plagiarism in computer science classes. “CS classes generally have a very clear policy from the start about what’s acceptable behavior.”

“I have heard it expressed that some students in the humanities don’t get this right away and that there’s more reluctance to bring cases forward” to disciplinary committees, Aiken said. Faculty members might instead choose “to bring it to the student and say, ‘this is something that you shouldn’t do.'”

“I don’t think it affects the validity of the grades” when students collaborate on homework assignments, Caplan said. “The homeworks are a small percentage of your grades. It’s a bigger deal that you learn the material.”

“Collaboration is good, and collaboration is problematic,” said Professor of Computer Science Shriram Krishnamurthi, who teaches CSCI 0190: “Accelerated Introduction to Computer Science.” 

Despite the benefits healthy collaboration can provide, Krishnamurthi said, it can be confusing for students to understand the balance between when collaboration is positive and when working together can actually hamper students’ learning processes.

Methodology

Written questionnaires were administered to 959 undergraduates October 17-18 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.9 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. Find results of previous polls at thebdh.org/poll.

 

  • Anonymous

    How many students told the truth? My bet is more than a handful cheated and gave the answer they thought they should give.