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Collaboration Vs. Collusion: The Fine Line Of Cheating

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Two weeks ago, Harvard University launched an investigation into allegations that 125 students cheated on a take-home final exam. The exam was given for the government course “Introduction to Congress” last spring and was intended as an open-book, open-note exam.

This investigation has sent shockwaves through the academic world, some of which have been felt among the faculty here at Boston College. David Quigley, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said in an email, “I was first surprised by the extent of the alleged cheating and then by some of the details that were revealed about how students approached the course.”
The accused students claim to have not known the difference between collaborating and cheating on the exam. In spite of being explicitly told by the professor not to discuss the exam with classmates, the students claim that they had been repeatedly encouraged to collaborate on other projects and assignments and simply concluded that the final was no different. This apparent confusion has led to what Jay M. Harris, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate education, calls incidents ranging from “inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism.”
“While faculty have a responsibility to lay out clear expectations and guidelines about all assignments, I have been troubled by several students’ statements which seem to indicate some muddled thinking about academic integrity and personal responsibility,” Quigley said. As a result, the administration is taking steps toward better educating students on the difference between cheating and collaboration.

Clare Dunsford, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the A&S Academic Integrity Committee, noted in an email that the incoming freshmen will be required to take the online academic integrity tutorial.

“There are at least a couple of questions that address this issue of collaboration vs. collusion, as we know that it can be difficult at times for students to distinguish between the two,” Dunsford said.

Both deans agreed when it came to how they want faculty to handle the issue. They emphasized the need for professors to be clear and concise about the directions for their assignments. Quigley went on to mention that the University plans to open a center for teaching excellence to provide professors with more resources on the subjects of cheating and collaboration.

As with the government class at Harvard, there are many courses at BC that allow and encourage collaboration. Michael Moore, director of psychology undergraduate studies, teaches a seminar of The Courage to Know that encourages students to talk to one another about their assignments. Moore believes that the collaboration among his students allows them to reflect on their ideas more deeply.

He is quick to point out that the students must write their own papers, however. “It seems straightforward,” Moore said. “You’re supposed to do your own work. Bottom line is it’s not the teacher’s fault.”
He said the scandal has not surprised him, but the reaction and debate over what is permissible for take-home work has. Moore said, “It’s not as simple as this, but if you’re doing something on an assignment that’s questionable, you should probably ask yourself, ‘Would I tell the professor about this?’”

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