Siobhan Braun 2 p.m., Sept. 18
UCSD Has Major Cheating Problem, Study Finds
Research conducted by the head of UCSD's academic integrity office has uncovered a major cheating problem at the 23,000-student school, one of America's leading research universities, according to a paper published this month in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics.
Worse yet, according to the paper, entitled "Academic Integrity in a Mandatory Physics Lab: The Influence of Post-Graduate Aspirations and Grade Point Averages," by Tricia Bertram Gallant, Michael G. Anderson, and Christine Killoran, official numbers may signficantly underestimate widespread cheating at the school, characterized in the paper as "a significant problem at the University."
Gallant, UCSD's Academic Integrity Coordinator, was lead author of the study, which surveyed 3,367 physics labs students at UCSD. The majority were between 17 and 21 years old.
"In the first lab of the quarter, the students are provided with the academic integrity expectations for the lab and are asked to sign their understanding of those expectations and agreement to abide by them," the paper says.
"Specifically, students are told that they are allowed to discuss pre-lab and post-lab questions with their classmates but they may not use the answers developed by another, copy the work completed by others in the past or present, or write their academic assignments in collaboration with others.
"Despite this, there has been a history of student cheating, particularly the copying of pre and post-lab assignments.
"In the 2007–2008 academic year, 86 students were reported for cheating in physics courses and in the 2008–2009 academic year, the year of data analysis for this study, the rate of reporting increased to 115 students.
"We know, however, that this rate of reporting cheating is far less than the actual rate of cheating.
"Based on McCabe’s (2005a) data, we can expect that as many as 9,600 undergraduates at the University cheat at least once per year or as many as 1,700 of the students enrolled in the physics labs.
"Thus, the rate of cheating is assumed to be much higher than what is officially reported and is thus considered a significant problem at the University."
The paper adds, "Overall, a large percentage of students perceive more cheating than they admit to. For example, while only about 11% of students admit to sometimes or frequently receiving unpermitted help, almost 66% perceive that other students are doing this."
One female student is quoted as saying ‘‘people do cheat here. The cheating tactics just go up when you come to university; it’s strategized cheating.’’
She added, "It’s kind of understandable because if the labs make no sense to you and you’re frustrated with the whole thing, you kind of don’t get the whole point of them and copying doesn’t seem so bad you know?
"Because if you’re sitting there like, 'I don’t know what I’m doing' it’s like, whatever. It’s just another ... I mean if it’s an obstacle you can’t solve, you’re not going to be like 'Oh let me solve it now.'"
Another student told the researchers that many of her peers "will do anything to get ahead’’ and describes being aware of "people taking exams for other people."
She "relayed a story about a friend, an English major, who has so many ‘people pay her to write essays for them' that she is 'thinking about doing that as a business.'"
"Perhaps the most disturbing finding of our study is the sheer number of students who perceive that teaching assistants ignore the copying that occurs," the paper says.
"This is despite the fact that the teaching assistants receive extensive training on lab management, teaching laboratory concepts, and enhancing academic integrity in the lab."
In a telephone interview today, Gallant said that the university has subsequently changed the way it counsels students about academic integrity. Rather than simply dwelling on personal integrity, she says, ethics workshops and materials prepared for students now emphasize the importance of integrity in professional life and career advancement.
Gallant noted that since implementation of the changes, which have included a primer on scientific integrity, reported cases of cheating have fallen, though no formal follow-up studies have been undertaken.
Co-authors on the paper were UCSD physics faculty member Michael G. Anderson and Christine Killora, an admissions counselor at the University of San Diego.
The paper, costing $34.95, may be ordered on the journal publisher's website.
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