Cheating violations reach all-time high

Geology lecturer Elli Pauli said the laundry list of cheating incidents in her classes – from collaborating on take-home exams to peeking at iPhones during tests – has reached a tipping point.

To combat what she calls an “epidemic,” she enlisted extra proctors to watch test takers and banned group exams last year – when the number of cheating, plagiarism and falsification reports at GW reached an all-time high of 145 cases.

Last year, professors brought 45 percent more cases to the Office of Academic Integrity than they did during the 2010-2011 academic year.

“I’m guessing the issue is this idea that you have so much pressure, and you have to get ahead at any cost,” Pauli said. “But it’s getting more rampant.”

While Pauli prefers to deal with instances of cheating herself by failing students on the assignments, more professors than ever are asking GW to step in and handle the cases, Tim Terpstra, the office’s director, said.

The rise was in part driven by the 55 graduate students caught cheating, a 16 percent jump from last year. Plagiarism, the most common type of academic integrity violation, made up just more than half of the cases – 8 percent fewer than during the 2010-2011 school year.

Cheating, which Terpstra describes as the “old-fashioned” copying off another student’s paper, made up about 16 percent of cases. The rest of the academic integrity violations include falsification, fabrication and facilitation of instances.

Professors are quick to Google suspicious phrases, and many also use online plagiarism checking software, like TurnItIn.com and SafeAssign, Terpstra said.

“I think professors take it more seriously now,” he said. “They’ve read in the newspapers and seen on the Internet different examples of cheating and plagiarism that take place at colleges and universities and the workplace.”

Eleven students charged with academic integrity violations last year were repeat offenders, the most ever. Terpstra said the trend could mean students aren’t learning from their mistakes, and that the office should “consider stronger sanctions, more preventative work to help these students.”

Terpstra added that he would continue to urge professors to encourage students to use the University’s free paper writing help service, the Writing Center, to seek help on papers and citations. He said he has noticed some of GW’s schools and departments made it a priority in the last year to root out cheating and plagiarism.

The GW School of Business, which brought in a new dean in 2010, saw a 4 percent increase in students caught cheating or plagiarizing last year. The school’s cheating cases represent about a quarter of GW’s total incidents – a rate that is disproportionate to its overall number of students.

“Sometimes it’s a new dean coming to town and they take it more seriously, or they hear horror stories on cheating. It does lend itself to a lot of gossip. It can sound like everyone’s doing it,” Terpstra said.

Neil Cohen, an associate professor of finance who sits on academic integrity panels, said talk about different cases is often “shrouded in secrecy” between students, professors and administrators even as cases increase.

He said even though watercooler talk sometimes revolves around academic integrity, mentions of the instances faculty meetings are rare. There should be more open discussion about violations and cases, especially as the rates go up, he said.

“We don’t have any procedure to notify our community that these meetings take place and what happens in them,” Cohen said.

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