Once again, I’m teaching the relatively new ethics module in “Introduction to Engineering”. Today was the discussion of what kinds of ethics might reasonably govern an engineering student’s behavior, and how these might be important on the road to becoming a competent grown-up engineer.
So of course, we talked about cheating.
The students in the course all have i-Clickers, which means I can ask them questions and have them indicate one of up to five multiple-choice answers, then look at the results immediately and discuss them. In one of the sections I taught today, a majority of the students indicated via their i-Clickers that they think it’s none of their business if their classmates cheat.
So, I asked for some of the students who chose that response to give their reasons for this opinion. (Many of the students looked startled that I would ask about reasons.) One student said, “If you involve yourself in someone else’s cheating, you could ruin their whole life! You don’t want to do that to someone else.” In response to this, a few other students started applauding loudly.
Snitches are not well loved in learning communities, obviously.
Still, there are some things about this answer that probably bear closer examination. (Sadly, we couldn’t get too deeply into it in class — there was more material to get through.) Among other things, what strikes me here is:
- The assumption that something being your business requires that you intervene in it.
- The assumption that intervening if a classmate is cheating requires turning them in to an instructor or administrative type.
- The assumption that being turned in for cheating has a high probability of ruining your life.
- The assumption that fellow students who make choices that have a high probability of ruining their lives deserve your protection.
OK, first off, a first offense cheating charge (here, at least) doesn’t get you kicked out of school. You might have to repeat a course, but seeing as how the point of taking the course is to learn the material, it’s not a life-wrecking punishment.
Also, I think you can have identifiable interests that don’t necessarily commit you to specific action. I mean, you can certainly care if one of your classmates cheats, since it has the potential to affect you in various ways. If grading is on a curve, non-cheaters can have their grades pushed downward by cheaters. If you need to work with your classmates on lab projects, possibly it will be a problem that they don’t know the material they’ll need to know — stuff they might know if they had learned it rather than cheating. If your instructors catch your classmates cheating, they might suspect the whole lot of you are cheating — which makes life harder for the non-cheaters who deserve their teachers’ trust.
To the extent that you might care about the effects someone else’s cheating could have on you — but still feel a kinship with your classmates — I don’t understand why confronting the cheater directly wouldn’t be an option. A direct “Dude, that is not cool!” seems like it could address the situation — at least communicating your disapproval — without getting the authorities involved. It might even make the cheater think a little about who all is affected by his cheating.
Finally, what I don’t get is, if students see cheating as an act which, if detected, has the potential to RUIN THEIR LIVES, why is it an act so many of them manage to do? With much less risk of destroying everything, couldn’t they just expend a little extra effort to study and learn the material? What kind of cost-benefit analysis are these kids using?