Monday, 30 November 2015

Academic Dishonesty

I have a student whom I know has cheated on their final report. This student has obviously purchased their assignment - sub-contracted the writing up of their research.

The reason that I know this is that their submitted work is of a far higher quality than I know they are capable of. I have been talking to the student for the semester about their work, I have been marking their progress reports and their oral presentations, and I know that they do not have the deep level of understanding to be able to turn in the complexity of work that they have turned in.

The language is well above their level of spoken English. The spelling is not New Zealand English. There is no exploration of the local market, local conditions, the local industry or New Zealand in general. The student has missed threading through key information which is required by New Zealand legislation in the industry their report tackles. The assignment is somewhat off-track, overall.

I have marked the work, but it has taken three hours to forensically go through each section, each point and each connection. I have gone through the journals that the student has cited and found that some don't exist, the references are often incorrect, and the resulting articles are generally not well-related to the topic.

In addition, the participant information and consent paperwork created by the student has my name as the interviewer, instead of their own.

So. The student has supposedly conducted interviews with two local business owners. I decided to email them both to ask whether they did indeed participate in interviews with the student.

I will wait to see what happens: whether the interviewees reply. If I get a response back that the interviews did not happen, then the way forward is clear - I pass this to my head of school and it becomes an academic misconduct issue, and is out of my hands.

However, that does not deal with the dishonesty aspect of purchasing the assignment.

If the interviewees come back and said that, yes, they have talked to my student, it is hard to know what to do about this case, with the tools that I have available to me at present.

Why can't we be overt about it? I don't quite know why I can't just say "X, I know you bought that assignment. Why?" I don't want to have to do a "j'accuse!" thing. It is distasteful: but it is equally distasteful to me to ignore the dishonesty.

A way around it - hah! passive aggressive behaviour - is that we could change our research paper prescriptors to include an optional assessment, ie, if considered necessary by the organisation, to have students provide an oral defence of their research. Then that gives us a mechanism for dealing with the problem without having to be overt.

What infuriates me about this situation is that learning has not really taken place: that students will not walk out the door with the skills that they should have, because they have not met the learning outcomes. This student cannot do 'what it says on the tin' by having completed the course.

And someone will hire yet another dishonest business student in a world where business students are the most dishonest of all graduates (McCabe, Butterfield & Trevino, 2006).


  • Reference: McCabe, Donald L., Butterfield, Kenneth D. & Trevino, Linda Klebe (2006). Academic dishonesty in graduate business programs: Prevalence, causes, and proposed action. Academy of Management Learning & Education, September 2006, Volume 5, issue 3 (pp. 294-305).

NB: One of my colleagues made a valuable point about the cost of education to our students: that if they are not New Zealand taxpayers, they have paid and invested so much in each paper that they cannot afford to fail. They will then do anything to pass; and if we were in their situation - young, away from home, with the pressure of parental expectation, the hopes of their future career opportunity hanging on each positive outcome, and the lack of affordability to repeat - we would do that too. He makes a good point.

While I would like to think that I would not be expeditous, I think if I were in that situation that my colleague is right: I would definitely be tempted to be dishonest too. And gee, that's a sad thing to think about yourself.

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