Archive for February 8, 2010

Stanford finds cheating increasing, especially among CS students

Boy, do I know this story!  The increase in cheating cases at Georgia Tech directly led to our three approaches to CS1.

“My feeling is that the most important factor is the high frustration levels that typically go along with trying to get a program to run,” said computer science professor Eric Roberts, who has studied the problem of academic cheating. He noted that most violations involve homework assignments rather than exams.

“The computer is an unforgiving arbiter of correctness,” he said. “Imagine what would happen if every time you submitted a paper for an English course, it came back with a red circle around the first syntactic error, along with a notation saying: ‘No credit — resubmit.’ After a dozen attempts all meeting the same fate, the temptation to copy a paper you knew would pass might get pretty high. That situation is analogous to what happens in computing courses.”

via Stanford finds cheating — especially among computer science students — on the rise – San Jose Mercury News.

In 1999, Georgia Tech instituted the requirement that all students had to take an introductory computing course, and until 2003, only one course met that requirement.  Just as Eric describes, cheating was rampant in that course.  One semester, we turned in something like 140 cheating cases in the class.  That wasn’t a high for us, but it was the first time that we had a student who told his story to reporters, who got it on the AP wire.  Interesting observation: FERPA laws in this country don’t allow a University to defend itself when a student complains about how the university treated his academic misconduct case — we simply can’t say anything about the case.  The ensuing uproar led to a University committee about the ills of our one-size-fits-all model of computing-for-everyone.  That’s when we created our Computing for Engineers (in MATLAB), and our Media Computation course for liberal arts, architecture, and management majors.

So while I don’t wish rampant cheating on anyone — not the instructors or the students (there are no winners here) — we used the lemons of bad publicity to create the lemonade of a new approach to introducing computing, especially for non-majors.

February 8, 2010 at 10:43 pm 20 comments


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