Students who cheat in introductory physics courses

In summary: I've seen their work before. Sometimes they get the hint and stop, sometimes they don't and I have to report it to the professor.Although it hasn't been mentioned, I think it's important to say that different cultures have different opinions of what is cheating. I find that Indian students, for example, are way more relaxed on what they consider cheating than Americans. It's so bad that we actually have to give lectures on ethics to incoming grad students because stuff like plagiarism is so common amongst internationals from certain countries.
  • #1

Ben Niehoff

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Seriously, do they not realize that we have the solutions manual right in front of us when we're grading? lol
 
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  • #2
I was amazed at the amount of cheating that went on in the lower division classes when I was in college. Seemed to stop in the upper division, though...those weasles get weeded out - yay :biggrin: !
 
  • #3
Ben Niehoff said:
Seriously, do they not realize that we have the solutions manual right in front of us when we're grading? lol
You had a solutions manual for all your classes? Wow! What classes are these? Only a minority of the courses that I've graded did I have access to/need for a solution manual. And even in those courses, not all questions were set from the textbook.

I'm curious what kind of cheating you have observed and how having the solution manual helps. Do the students find a way to get a hold of the manual themselves, and copy the solutions verbatim?
 
  • #4
Gokul43201 said:
You had a solutions manual for all your classes? Wow! What classes are these? Only a minority of the courses that I've graded did I have access to/need for a solution manual. And even in those courses, not all questions were set from the textbook.

I'm curious what kind of cheating you have observed and how having the solution manual helps. Do the students find a way to get a hold of the manual themselves, and copy the solutions verbatim?

I remember some people copying off from solutions word to word .. and they were caught.
It's not hard to find soln manuals but my professors know that.
 
  • #5
At my university, in my department, many solutions are shared on the public computers. Some are student attempts at problems and some are from published solutions manuals. I can't say how many use these solutions to cheat, but I can say that I would not have understood Materials 101 without these solutions. I couldn't solve the homework using only the textbook and the lecture.
There is legitimate value in solutions if the student uses them correctly-using them to check answers, to discover the correct method to use, or to get a hint when stuck instead of copying them.
 
  • #6
Gokul43201 said:
You had a solutions manual for all your classes? Wow! What classes are these? Only a minority of the courses that I've graded did I have access to/need for a solution manual. And even in those courses, not all questions were set from the textbook.

I'm curious what kind of cheating you have observed and how having the solution manual helps. Do the students find a way to get a hold of the manual themselves, and copy the solutions verbatim?

We have a solutions manual for this particular course.

Usually what I see are students copying each other's work, but this time I found them copying the solutions manual almost word-for-word. It's a "physics concepts" sort of class, so it's mostly written answers in words, with very few equations. This, of course, makes it all the easier to catch people cheating. :D
 
  • #7
Ben Niehoff said:
We have a solutions manual for this particular course.

Usually what I see are students copying each other's work, but this time I found them copying the solutions manual almost word-for-word. It's a "physics concepts" sort of class, so it's mostly written answers in words, with very few equations. This, of course, makes it all the easier to catch people cheating. :D

That's just poor form. At least have the decency to paraphrase...
 
  • #8
You should turn them over to the experimental biologists. I hear they need more guinea pigs.
 
  • #9
When I was a TA I definitely saw many situations of cheating. The class I graded for was probably a 2nd or 3rd year class. Sometimes, people would turn in the same work (and of course since they were friends they would turn it in together so it was that much easier to spot), but since the class was notes driven I don't think I ever saw solutions identical to the official solutions. Of course I informed the professor of the cheating but he didn't seem to care and I wasn't about to blow the whistle to the academic department because I will probably rely on him for a recommendation for something.

Although it hasn't been mentioned, I think it's important to say that different cultures have different opinions of what is cheating. I find that Indian students, for example, are way more relaxed on what they consider cheating than Americans. It's so bad that we actually have to give lectures on ethics to incoming grad students because stuff like plagiarism is so common amongst internationals from certain countries.
 
  • #10
Ben Niehoff said:
Seriously, do they not realize that we have the solutions manual right in front of us when we're grading? lol

I sometimes make a statement like
"Wow... that's just like the way they solve it in the instructor's solutions manual."
I'm not accusing anyone of cheating... just noting the similarity [and letting it be known that I see the similarities]. It could even be taken as a compliment.

One could go further and suggest [since the student is so "good" at writing solutions] that the student write the solutions for other problems (e.g., quiz and exam problems, and other homework problems not taken from the text).

It's amusing when the solution manual has an error which is replicated in the student homework submission.
 
  • #11
Cheating requires opportunity. There are a lot of ways to prevent it, and I really think that's a better approach than trying to prove it happened after the fact.

We're currently dealing with an accusation that four of our students were cheating on two exams (I witnessed two of them collaborating on answers, and was pretty sure I saw them copying answers off the other two as well, but really have no evidence that two of them were actually cooperating). The student honor council wants to pursue it, since they claim it has happened in other courses too, so we'll go along with it, but I prefer approaches that would have avoided that from happening in the first place. There is no indication at all that they cheated on the exam I had primary responsibility for proctoring, and no students have accused them of cheating on that exam...I simply didn't allow any opportunity...if students got too close together, I moved them and reminded them to keep their answer sheets folded so others couldn't see them. The exam I witnessed them cheating on was one I was helping proctor, but didn't have responsibility for how it was organized or started. I'm now addressing this with the course coordinator to find ways to prevent it on future exams (aside from telling the students in question that there have been accusations from other students and they should voluntarily sit apart from one another so future accusations can be avoided). Even so, once I noticed them cheating, I stopped it by simply standing behind them for most of the exam. Our university allows us to still move students if we suspect copying, but I prefer not to do that. Sometimes what appears to be cheating really is innocent, and to move them is equivalent to accusing them in front of the entire class, and even if they turn out to be innocent, they will still be viewed as guilty by their peers. So, I prefer to avoid that quagmire (I cut my teeth as a TA in the litigious state of NJ, so avoid things that could risk legal action from students).

The best approach I've ever found is to randomize seating on exams. On the day of the exam, post a seating chart of where students need to sit. This way, they can't plan ahead who will be around them, what seat they'll be in (so no answers taped under the desk in advance of the exam), and splits up the groups that have planned strategies for copying off one another.

The other things to watch for/listen for are answers inside baseball caps (I tell them they can either take the cap off and put it on the floor where it will remain for the exam, or they can leave it on but turned backward so the bill is in back of their head, but it then must stay on their head for the whole exam), or on beverage containers (especially soda bottles...they can write answers behind the label, repaste it on, then drink down enough soda to read the label), and tapping or clicking of pens. That was an old fraternity trick after the pyramid seating arrangements to put the smartest student in front where everyone else could copy off of them, to tap out answers for multiple choice exams, either in morse code or 1 tap = A, 2 taps = B, etc. You don't have to accuse anyone of anything if they start tapping pencils or clicking pens, just tell them it's disruptive to people around them and ask them to stop.

The only thing that always astounds me is that students who cheat always seem to cheat off other poor students. I've never seen anyone get better than a C by cheating.

Though, if you're talking about homework assignments...why are you wasting your time grading homework that's in a solutions manual? Usually, that's why the solution's manual has only every other problem solved, so you can assign the other half of the questions for homework. Otherwise, an easy fix is to make up your own problems to assign rather than using ones directly from the book.
 
  • #12
Moonbear said:
The other things to watch for/listen for are answers inside baseball caps (I tell them they can either take the cap off and put it on the floor where it will remain for the exam, or they can leave it on but turned backward so the bill is in back of their head, but it then must stay on their head for the whole exam), or on beverage containers (especially soda bottles...they can write answers behind the label, repaste it on, then drink down enough soda to read the label), and tapping or clicking of pens. That was an old fraternity trick after the pyramid seating arrangements to put the smartest student in front where everyone else could copy off of them, to tap out answers for multiple choice exams, either in morse code or 1 tap = A, 2 taps = B, etc. You don't have to accuse anyone of anything if they start tapping pencils or clicking pens, just tell them it's disruptive to people around them and ask them to stop.

Someone writing exam for his friend?

Saw that once.. It was hilarious because the person acted really dumb when the exam ended. Everything went perfect (professor didn't check our Ids) .. but at the exam end, he went out before the prof told to .. so got caught :rofl:

In other interesting case, three people at back raise their hands and make all TAs come to help them, people at the front would start cheating. And, then people at front would ask for help .. (I heard this from my prof)
 
  • #13
For one of our classes recently some grad student was caught selling copies of solutions manual to introductory analysis course. I don't teach the course, so I don't really know what happened.

But very very sad. The manual was available in the library!
 
  • #14
If I suspect cheating on an exam,
I will try to secretly write different versions of the next exam...
likely the same problem with different numbers. This helps distinguish who did the copying.

Another technique is to print the same exam on different color paper...
or with some "version" listed on the front.
 
  • #15
Really, the best thing to do is to constantly do new things for the exams, experiment with new techniques to prevent students from cheating, and improvise. No matter what system you devise, the kids who want to cheat will figure out a method of doing so, especially when the system is static.

God if only they could put the time they waste thinking of ways to cheat into actually learning the material. Seriously, some of these methods are damn clever!
 
  • #16
Moonbear said:
Though, if you're talking about homework assignments...why are you wasting your time grading homework that's in a solutions manual? Usually, that's why the solution's manual has only every other problem solved, so you can assign the other half of the questions for homework. Otherwise, an easy fix is to make up your own problems to assign rather than using ones directly from the book.

I didn't assign the homeworks; I'm only a grader monkey.
 
  • #17
In high school, one science class had 2 sections, and the teacher gave weekly multiple-choice quizzes. The first 2 or 3 quizzes were identical for the 2 sections. After that, he "re-arranged" the order of the answers. A few students in section #2 had memorized the order of answers given to section #1 (Eg: A,C,B,D,A,etc.), got 30% on that week's quiz, and forever were in dubious status in the eyes of the teacher.
 
  • #18
Redbelly98 said:
In high school, one science class had 2 sections, and the teacher gave weekly multiple-choice quizzes. The first 2 or 3 quizzes were identical for the 2 sections. After that, he "re-arranged" the order of the answers. A few students in section #2 had memorized the order of answers given to section #1 (Eg: A,C,B,D,A,etc.), got 30% on that week's quiz, and forever were in dubious status in the eyes of the teacher.

Unfortunately, there are teachers who just don't seem to care when the first section's answer becomes unavailable.

The reason why I hated biology so much in high school was that there were these were take-home exams, and someone did it and this person being so much generous, he let most of the classmates copy his answer. Needless to say almost everyone got near-perfect marks, without doing much work. Did the teacher notice this? Yes. Did the teacher care? Nope, not just one bit.
 
  • #19
I was lucky enough to attend Virginia during that time when the Honor System still worked. Professors commonly handed out exams and left the room. Students were free to talk among themselves or even to get up and go out for a coffee, so long as they did not provide or receive help. It was an exhilirating experience to be able to trust and be trusted. I truly pity those who value grades more than knowledge and self-esteem.
 
  • #20
One of my professors requires everyone to leave their backpacks and all notes at the front of the room. Another only allowed us to use the scientific calculators and not the graphing ones which notes can be stored.

I cheated like crazy my first 2 years of high school, it was a nerdy special math/science school and there were high pressures to perform well and people were used to making As in middle school with little effort so rather than try harder and actually study, most of us cheated to still make the As. I realized though I was hurting myself and stopped the last 2 years of school and it felt so much better when I actually achieved something on my own. In the upper level engineering courses its pretty much impossible to cheat on the tests. They are design problems, with each one taking up a page or more, so its not like there is just one letter or one line you can quickly copy from a neighbor, you need a page of calculations to answer the question, so you better be able to do it at test time.

People collaborate on homework and that is accepted and allowed unless it is a rare take home test. Some classes had group homework assignments. I don't know of anyone copying whole homeworks to my knowledge, I imagine others wouldn't be willing to give up their hours worth of work to some slacker for nothing, plus you need to know the stuff to pass the tests anyways.
 
  • #21
There are a lot of people who cheat in my class. Someone said that Indian students are way more relaxed where cheating is concerned, and its true. There are maybe two people in my whole class who don't cheat, because they just don't need to (not to blow my own horn, but I am in that group). The exams are fiascos! I mean, if they spent half the time actually studying the subject that they spend on finding new ways to cheat and do the professors over, they wouldn't need to cheat. Its really funny though when things go haywire, cause they almost always do. It reminds me of catch 22 (brilliant book btw).
 
  • #22
I'm done with school for a long time, but I have never cheated. In any case, one should realize that your grades and your school, no matter how prestigious, it only opens doors for you. Once you are on the other side of the door, there is no more point in having cheated, and people will give little value to where you come from and what you had achieved in the past. At least, that is what is going on in the research field I work for. Only what matters is how you deal with the problem faced, and what you provide to your collaborators.

By the way, hard work does not end with school, it only begins :smile:
 
  • #23
TVP45 said:
I was lucky enough to attend Virginia during that time when the Honor System still worked. Professors commonly handed out exams and left the room. Students were free to talk among themselves or even to get up and go out for a coffee, so long as they did not provide or receive help. It was an exhilirating experience to be able to trust and be trusted. I truly pity those who value grades more than knowledge and self-esteem.

wow, how times have changed:/
 
  • #24
Moonbear said:
Though, if you're talking about homework assignments...why are you wasting your time grading homework that's in a solutions manual? Usually, that's why the solution's manual has only every other problem solved, so you can assign the other half of the questions for homework.

Sometimes, students get a hold of solutions manuals meant for instructors. I have the seen this happen in a number of courses at two schools.
 
  • #25
A recent professor of mine said to me, 'if you don't already have the instructor's solution manual, you aren't trying hard enough'. He is right in my eyes. If you have the discipline, it is stupid to struggle for hours when a glance at the solution manual will remind you of what you are doing wrong. Of course, if you have no discipline then it only hurts yourself, but if you have no discipline you are screwed anyway. Most of my professors don't grade homework at all, they give it merely as a guide to help you learn the material. If fact, most supply their own solutions to the problems, that way you get two perspectives (if you go out of the way to find an instructor's manual). It makes sense to me, the emphasis is on the tests/quizzes not the practice stuff (homework). But of course, the unmotivated people instead of verbatim copying of the solutions just don't even bother looking at homework until a day before the test. Which begs the question, 'Why are you in college?'. You can't be in physics to make money.
 
  • #26
Ben Niehoff said:
Seriously, do they not realize that we have the solutions manual right in front of us when we're grading? lol

I think people know, they just don't seem to care.. and I think that is really sad. You pay all that money, why wouldn't you want to learn what you are paying for??
 
  • #27
If you can not find the solution without reading it, you do not understand it. If copying it makes you feel better for the money, that's pathetic.
 
  • #28
Ben Niehoff said:
Seriously, do they not realize that we have the solutions manual right in front of us when we're grading? lol

I'm confused as to what you are calling cheating. Are we talking take home assignments? Do you consider it cheating to copy a friends answer or use a solution manual for take home assignments? Or are you talking about exams. In which case what are you saying? Did they physically smuggle the solutions manual into the exam or simply memorize it and the test was straight from the text.

To me the only one of those scenarios that is cheating is if they actually smuggle a cheating aid into the exam room. If they want to memorize a solution manual or copy their assignments from the book I wouldn't consider that cheating. It may cripple them in the long run but I would not say it is dishonest. I remember in my stat mech course there was this group of the really studious physics people (I was definately not one of them) who basically lived in the physics study lounge. One of them had previously taken the course and written out all the solutions as part of their studying and was now letting their friends borrow them for reference. How is that any different? The whole point of exams is because it forces the student to apply the knowledge individually. It's then kind of implied that assignments are not expected to be done in a bubble.
 
  • #29
humanino said:
If you can not find the solution without reading it, you do not understand it. If copying it makes you feel better for the money, that's pathetic.

Not necessarily true. There are many math tricks in the solutions of physics problems, and if you aren't exposed to them they will take months to figure it out. If you think people know the math a priori you are wrong, why did it take so many years to develop math in the first place? On the other hand, there are times when you just don't understand it, but how do you suppose you go about getting the understanding? Repeated reading of the text doesn't always work but a lot of times seeing how another has applied the theory to a solution makes it click. Of course, you can just copy it and be done but what is the point of that?
 
  • #30
Prologue said:
Not necessarily true. There are many math tricks in the solutions of physics problems, and if you aren't exposed to them they will take months to figure it out. If you think people know the math a priori you are wrong, why did it take so many years to develop math in the first place? On the other hand, there are times when you just don't understand it, but how do you suppose you go about getting the understanding? Repeated reading of the text doesn't always work but a lot of times seeing how another has applied the theory to a solution makes it click. Of course, you can just copy it and be done but what is the point of that?

Marks. Which is the immediate short term goal. Especially with a deadline looming.
 
  • #31
elterrible said:
In the upper level engineering courses its pretty much impossible to cheat on the tests. They are design problems, with each one taking up a page or more, so its not like there is just one letter or one line you can quickly copy from a neighbor, you need a page of calculations to answer the question, so you better be able to do it at test time.

My school allows phones in exams, so there's a joke that the avg. EE exam score has jumped by 30 points since the invention of the iphone. Professors reuse exams that are floating around, so guys come in with the solutions loaded on their phones.
 

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