Advanced Cheating Practicum
College students are getting a whole lot smarter -- at ways to cheat the system.
By Adam Schlossberg
UF student Spencer Jessemer was in a jam. It was only hours before a business exam, and he couldn't remeber al of the information he needed -- mostly formulas.
So, Jessemer made his way into Carlton Auditorium, sat down in his seat and cheated.
Since students were allowed to use graphing calculators on the exam. Jessemer, 23, made quick use of the technological advantage and entered the formulas into his calculator's memory.
“I knew the formulas were important, and with all the other information I had to remember, I didn't think I was going to be able to remember those as well,” Jessemer says.
“Once I put them in the calculator, I just focused on the other information. I thought that was the only way to remember it.”
The end result was a passing grade on the exam – exactly what Jessemer was hoping for. As an added bonus, he wasn't caught, even though he was completely aware of what would have happened if he'd been found out.
“I was pretty sure I would get an 'F' on the exam and expulsion,” Jessemer says. “They always say that because of the honors system. I'm sure if they [the instructors] looked on my calculator, they could have found it, but they didn't look.”
However, sometimes it's not the determination to achieve a passing grade that persuades someone to cheat – it's the determination not to fail.
“The fear of failing a test outweighed the possibility of being caught,” Jessemer says. “There's always some way to get out of something.”
The worst case of cheating Walsh-Childers has ever had was when someone plagiarized an entire research paper in her journalism ethics class.
“I mean, how ironic is that – cheating on a paper for an ethics class,” Walsh-Childers says. “And the paper he copied was from the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.”
Walsh-Childers says she doesn't know whether students take cheating seriously or not. She's also shocked at the number who don't seem to think it's a big deal.
“Some seem to have the mindset that 'everyone does it,'” Walsh-Childers says. “I hate to sound like an old fogey, but when I was an undergraduate, I really believed anyone who cheated would have been viewed by his or her peers as a total loser–someone who obviously was too dumb or too lazy to deserve to be a student at a top school. Frankly, I guess I still feel that way—if you're not willing to do the work on your own, you shouldn't be at UF.”
So What's the Big Freaking Deal?
Every fall semester, 80 to 100 cases of cheating are reported at UF, and every spring semester, 50 to 70 cases are reported, says Cyrus Williams, assistant dean and director for Student Judicial Affairs. In addition, Williams says five to eight cases are tried every year before the Honor Court, and 15 to 20 cases are tried before the Student Conduct Committee. The vast majority of cases are dismissed because there is nothing to try, Williams says.
“A lot of students cheat because they are under a lot of pressure,” Williams says. “They come in with expectations and they get swallowed up by this culture. Other people just take shortcuts.”
Kim Walsh-Childers, professor in the UF College of Journalism and Communications, says she catches at least one student per semester plagiarizing, at least unintentionally. As the professor of the College's main ethics course, she feels extremely passionate about the subject of cheating.
“I'm very strict. I would fail a student-for the course–if I caught someone cheating on an exam,” Walsh-Childers says. “Essentially, anyone I catch plagiarizing intentionally fails the course.”
Those crazy kids!
Williams says he's seen cases where students have written whole chapters on desks, put information in their cell phones, used text messaging to get answers from students who had already taken an exam, e-mailed each other about cheating and purchased papers via the Internet.
“One student thought he was e-mailing his best friend about cheating, and he ended up sending it to his faculty member and not his best friend,” Williams says, grinning.
Students who purchase papers over the Internet end up getting caught because they use their GatorLink account names and don't pay the bills on the papers, Williams says. Eventually, the companies end up calling UF because the students have used their GatorLink account names.
Of course, some prefer it the old–fashioned way and Williams says the year before he started working at UF, a faculty office was broken into, a test stolen and many of the people in the class were caught using them.
Sometimes, cheating happens fast—literally. Williams says there have been occasions where students have run out of an exam with a copy of the test and then distributed the test to other people.
UF journalism major Jen Raymond, 21, was on hand when a steal-the-test-and-bolt-for-the-door incident actually took place. Since Raymond was diligently working on her business exam, she didn't actually see the culprit run out of the room. However, she did catch the hullabaloo that occurred after the heist.
“I heard some commotion going on at the back of the room, and someone–I think the professor or TA–yelled 'Stop him, he has a test!'” Raymond says. “I thought it was an amusing interlude to a boring test. I wasn't really paying attention to other people.”
Raymond says the professor chased after the student and eventually came back out of breath. She doesn't remember whether or not he caught the student, but the professor did say he'd find out who it was.
“I don't really see the point of what the person did,” Raymond says. “It was kind of exciting, though. Stuff like that usually doesn't happen."
And amusing as it might be for bystanders, Williams says students don't really understand the consequences of cheating until they get into his office. “That's when it really gets to them,” he says. “They think they're just going to get caught and get a zero, but it goes on their conduct record.”
When students have "cheating" listed in their conduct record, it remains there for six years, and it can affect the students' post-undergraduate academic future, Williams says.
As creative as the methods can seem to get, Walsh-Childers says she wouldn't characterize cheating as ever being “creative.”
“That's much too positive a word for an activity that is entirely repugnant, in my opinion,” Walsh-Childers says. “Most of the cases I've seen have been plagiarism, so they're exactly the opposite of creative. I will say, however, that some students put so much effort into cheating that if they had put that same amount of effort into just doing the assigned work, they wouldn't need to cheat! I've always believed that if I was a student, I'd be really angry at someone who tried to cheat–why should someone get the same grade as me if I did the work and he didn't? I'm surprised at how tolerant some students are of others' cheating.”
But Walsh-Childers admits cheating may be partly due to a faulty system. But if there is a flaw, she says, it is that there is not enough emphasis made early on that bad things will happen if students cheat, and the situation makes it too easy and tempting for students.
“I don't have any sympathy for people that cheat,” Walsh-Childers says. “If your grades are that important to you–work harder.”
Failing on Your Honor
Cheating was all the rage in a State and Local Government class one semester. UF nursing student Florence Smith should know. After all, she saw it unfold before her very own eyes.
“They [the students in the class] all had systems where they would sit next to each other and double-check each other's answers,” Smith, 22, says, disgusted. “That's seriously risky, but they didn't get caught. If you're going to pass–pass on your own honor. If you're going to fail–fail on your own honor.”
Smith has never cheated while attending UF, and she is one student who isn't tolerant of other students cheating.
“It frustrates me that people cheat because they're supposed to be masters of what they're majoring in,” Smith says. “If you just cheat your way through college, then you don't really learn anything and you're just going to look like a dumbass in the end.”
There's an old saying that goes, “It isn't cheating if you don't get caught.” And as guilty as he is, Spencer Jessemer disagrees.
“It's cheating if you get caught or not,” Jessemer says. “Just because someone didn't catch you—that means you got lucky. A lot of people are going to continue to cheat until they get caught. You'll even hear them say 'I cheat all the time,' but they never get caught. Just because they don't get caught doesn't mean they're not cheating. If you do cheat, sooner or later you're going to get caught–no matter what you do.”
For his part, Jessemer says he really doesn't regret his decision to cheat, and he says it might be all right depending on the situation.
“I think I would have felt guilty if I would have stayed with a business major and graduated with that degree, but since I'm no longer associated with that major, it doesn't bother me. I think it all depends on what it's for. In my case, I wasn't able to remember formulas. In the real world, some people will memorize certain formulas, but you could just look up a formula in a book and it's not considered cheating.”
Of course, it's important to remember that information is not knowledge; knowledge is not wisdom; wisdom is not truth; truth is not beauty; beauty is not love.
Like that? I made it up. Promise.
Back in the day, cheating
wasn't always as simple as programming formulas into a graphing calculator. In fact, students who went to UF in the 1970s had to use some pretty far-out techniques in order to cheat.
Big Dee graduated from UF in 1978 with a degree in
engineering. Dee, now 48, was also a member of a major fraternity at UF that used a coordinated formation in order to cheat on exams. Although he didn't participate in the cheating formation, Dee did divulge its secrets:
“Let me describe the Alpha Omega Tau (warning: not real fraternity name!) Flying Wedge. The brothers take their seats in the classroom on test day in a V pattern – bottom of the V in the front of the room. The smartest brother is the point man on the V, and the remaining brothers take spots over the smartest brother's left and right shoulders, affording a clear view of his answers. Similar logic is followed until there are no more brothers remaining to be seated. The key is to put the smartest brother in front so everyone eventually has access to his answers.”
Tom Prudence graduated from UF in 1978 with a degree in marketing, and lived in Tolbert Hall as a freshman. Prudence, now 47, recalls an incident when some students across the hall from him procured a copy of an advance copy of the exam. Surprisingly, the test was given to them, and no theft was necessary – just good old-fashioned flirting, Prudence says. They simply sweet-talked the professor's secretary into giving them the exam until she handed it over, doe-eyed.
Nala Stevens graduated from UF in 1976 with a degree in education. While struggling through a biology final one semester, Stevens, now 50, looked around and noticed that some of the girls in the classroom were fiddling with their skirts. “I looked a little closer at the girl beside me and saw she had writing on her leg,” Stevens recalls. “She would lift the skirt, read and lower the skirt. I was in shock. I looked at the professor who didn't seem to care at all. He was just sitting there ignoring the whole thing. I couldn't get over it. I was a bit naïve, and it freaked me out.”