A massive cheating scandal at one of the nation’s top colleges earlier this month has others reviewing their own honesty policies. Students at Harvard are accused of sharing and collaborating on a take home test.
The scandal shines a light on a relatively complicated issue, raising a question for all colleges: When is it okay for students to share work and when is sharing, cheating?
“There is a lot of gray area,” says Beth Jorgensen who chairs the board on academic honesty at the University of Rochester.
Competition drives students at the U of R; competition to get into grad or medical school, competition to get a job offer in a tough economy. “There’s a lot of pressure to do really well and people are trying to find a way to do that,” says Ian Goldsmith-Rooney, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering.
With smart phones and the internet, cheating on a test may be easier and more tempting than ever before, but what happens when the line between right and wrong is blurred?
“Some professors will actually say you can’t do this homework unless you work with other students, and others will be really upset if you do that,” says Goldsmith-Rooney.
“It’s more the collaborative side of it -- collaborating on homework because a lot of times it’s very difficult to do on your own,” says Namita Sarraf, a sophomore.
In any given year there are about 20 long-form dishonesty reports filed against students at the U of R suspected of cheating. Last year the number spiked to 62. The issue of collaborative cheating reared it’s head.
“It’s one act with five or six students,” explains Jorgensen. “The numbers go up because a number of students collaborated in an unauthorized way.”
Jorgensen says collaboration allows students to conduct a lab experiment together, for example, but then each is responsible for his or her own analysis and report. She says the gray area can cause problems not only for students but for their professors too.
“I have to ask them to tell me what guidelines they gave for the assignment, how clear they felt they were in their instructions,” says Jorgensen. “Sometimes they’re very clear and there is a violation, and sometimes they say, 'I need to be more clear next time.'”
The U of R regularly reviews it’s honesty policies. Even before the Harvard incident the school had planned a major reassessment in 2013.