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Sunday, November 14, 2010


A few weeks ago, after I administered the mid-term exam, one student confidentially told me that she had seen one student surfing the net for the correct answers. (I do allow laptops in the room). She did not want to be a snitch but felt that such action was unfair to the rest of the students. I have been teaching at Boston College for the last 10 years, and I have never before experienced anything like that. I was really hurt, because I felt the “cheater” had abused my trust.
I thanked the student and said that I needed to think about what course of action to take next. I then contacted my colleagues on the faculty and asked for their input. I also put my dilemma on Facebook and solicited advice. The responders were all over the map: you should give a new exam to the whole class; ask the “cheater” to come forward; force the accuser to identify the culprit and let the accused defend him/herself; forget about it inasmuch as you did not witness the infraction.
To force the accuser to reveal the name of the “cheater,” I felt, would jeopardize her standing in class. On the other hand, could she be a liar? Wanting to make sure that the allegation was correct, I questioned the accuser whether the “cheater” was on her side of the room or on the other side, and how did she see that someone was in fact looking for answers on the web? She told me that the student was sitting towards the front, and that she could see the monitor from the back. Later on, she even volunteered to reveal the name of the culprit, but I felt that this accusation would force the alleged “cheater” to confront her later on, an event that I was determined to avoid.
During the next class, I told the students that I was informed by a student that someone had cheated during the exam, and if that person were to show courage and identify him/herself to me alone, I would give that person an F, and the whole thing would be forgotten. But if within 24 hours no one would come forward, I would have no other alternative but to give another exam, because the first one was tainted. Regrettably, no one confessed.
So what did I do? Because I did not personally witness the cheating incident, I gave everyone a short quiz instead of a new exam. I was not happy with this solution, but I felt it was the best compromise. However, I am still sad that someone in class wanted to take an easy way out and burdened everyone else with a new quiz.
What would you have done?
Rifat Sonsino

1 comment:

  1. This is, indeed, a challenging situation and one which I suspect will become more problematic in the years ahead. During my first year as a rabbi I asked a small group of 11th grade students, "What percentage of your high school class do you think has cheated on a test at one point or another?" They all answered above 80%, and a number of them said "100%" thereby (knowingly or not) implicating themselves as part of this epidemic. This disturbing reality raises important questions about our education system, the manner in which we assess knowledge, and the perceived relevance of the educational process to our students. When the learning itself becomes secondary to one's test scores and credits amassed, one is that much more likely to make poor ethical decisions such as this one. I think you handled a touch situation as best you could without unduly burdening the rest of the students.