Does performance-oriented learning encourage cheating?

Can cheating among students be reduced if students are given the right motivation not to? When students cheat it’s considered the student’s fault. People rarely trace cheating back to teacher failure or inadequacy of approach. James M. Lang, Associate Professor of English at Assumption College, in his book, Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty, asserts that students cheat because the course design and delivery didn’t work. Cheating is in one sense, a symptom of teaching failure. Furthermore, since high-stakes testing is predominant, students feel pressure to do well at all costs, hence resorting to questionable practices.

Lang argues that the educational system cultivates performance-oriented learning. The focus is on exam scores; students are not expected to gain applicable knowledge, they’re merely expected to show a superficial knowledge of a given subject matter. Learning can be either mastery-oriented or performance-oriented and the existing educational system is performance-oriented. Mastery-oriented learning, which is what Lang advises should be the norm, is learning in its purest state. People study to acquire knowledge and hone their talents, not to assert their supposed knowledgeability with one-off testing.

Performance-oriented learning nurtures cheating

Classmate competitiveness and high-stakes examinations can encourage cheating. In other words, if there’s a lot of pressure to pass an exam, the student is more likely to cheat in order to achieve what’s expected of him or her. So if performance-oriented learning models make cheating appealing, then the solution is to make cheating irrelevant by taking pressure out of the picture, Lang advises. This not only will decrease the percentage of students cheating, but it will urge students to cultivate a more constructive relationship with learning.

His proposal is that by eradicating the conditions that trigger cheating, students will no longer have a reason to cheat because the focus will shift from a purely superficial knowledge assessment to actual knowledge retention. Eradicating conditions such as high-stakes exams allows students to see knowledge as a capital they need to acquire for their own benefit. To achieve this, Lang proposes that teachers should activate intrinsic motivation in students. Instead of dryly offering ready-made knowledge, students should be urged to discover knowledge themselves. The student shouldn’t be offered the answers but should be presented with problems or questions the studying material can help her solve. This instantly creates purpose and meaning for studying, making learning efficient and cheating irrelevant.

Lang asserts that the practices and principles that demotivate to-be-cheaters are the same that nurture mastery-oriented learning. When students prioritize learning over a passing mark, cheating is no longer a contingency. When the student realizes learning is a valuable capital, this creates the conditions for learning to take place. Mastery-oriented testing models, and course design and teaching method adjustments can overturn the 75% of undergraduate students admitting to have resorted to some sort of academic dishonesty during their studies.

Is it feasible to establish a proctor-free educational model when education is deeply rooted in performance-oriented, high-stakes testing?