For the first time in the nation’s history, Chinese high schoolers are now facing potential criminal charges if they cheat on the “Gaokao”, the equivalent of the SAT in the United States. China is fighting a growing cheating industry that utilizes everything from sit in “student” item bankers to test-taker proxies. In an attempt to curb this behavior, Chinese educational authorities are cracking down and threatening cheaters with sentences of up to 7 years in jail, as well as a 3-year ban from national education exams. While one might reasonably argue the cheating is a form of fraud, a 7-year sentence seems a bit extreme.
So, what punishment fits the “crime” when it comes to cheating on high stakes standardized tests and course work? As occasional witnesses to cheating and academic fraud, we see a full spectrum of punishment: from absolution to expulsion. Most of our partners fall somewhere in the middle and reasonably apply standardized policies.
Even with schools punishing the act of cheating, academic integrity issues permeate all levels of academics. For example, Harvard recently dealt with a massive scandal involving over 125 students turning in exams with eerily similar answers. After a full investigation, over 70% of the students involved were forced to withdraw from the program. The school continues to deal with the cheating incidents, further indicating that punitive measures alone do not eliminate cheating. In the wake of this recent investigation, Harvard made significant changes to the Harvard College Honor Code and have engaged both faculty and student groups in the process of improving academic integrity on campus.
Institutions can begin to utilize a variety of tools and resources to prevent cheating and enhance their academic integrity before it becomes an issue. By building a culture of trust and understanding between professors and students, schools can begin to reduce the stress on students that tends to lead to cheating. Further, by assessing the behaviors that caused prior cheating incidents, we can begin to identify students who are more-likely to cheat in the future, and intervene before cheating is “necessary”. The mere existence and awareness of anti-cheating measures act as a deterrent to cheating and helps maintain academic integrity throughout the school.
As we advance education technology, the goal moves from simply detecting cheating to preventing cheating. Enabling trust between students and professors, while putting anti-cheating tools in place, significantly improves the overall education experience for everyone. Technology plays a significant role in enhancing academic integrity, and supports the growth of strong academic culture, built on student empowerment and ownership of the value and integrity of their education.