How to cheat good

I just submitted my last set of grades for the semester. This is always a big weight off my shoulders, but since it will be the last set of grades I ever submit at the University at Buffalo, it is an even greater relief. And so I think it’s time for me to “give back” as the kids say.

I had a 24 hour take home (distance course, so “keep home”?) final exam. Students had to submit it in text–and most submitted it in Word. In the exam, I noted that “I expect everyone to behave honorably,” and noted that receiving assistance from others or plagiarizing work was a bad idea.

I would prefer that students don’t cheat. Yes, they really are mostly cheating themselves, so fine. But it also reflects poorly on the community. Rationally or not, what particularly irks me is that it is disrespectful: of me, of their fellow students, of the university, of the institution of learning, and of themselves. And–did I mention–of me? It is particularly irksome when their cheating implies (reminds?) that I am a fool.

So, to help students across the country cheat better, saving themselves both from easy detection and from incurring the wrath of insulted faculty, and leading to a much more harmonious school environment, I offer the following tips, based on recent experience:

1. Don’t cheat off family.

If you are in a class of several hundred people, and you share an unusual family name with another student in the class, it is best if your reply to an open ended short-answer question is not identical, word-for-word. This is particularly true when the answer is wrong, and when it is wrong in an idiosyncratic way. Many profs, as I do, grade “blind,” without reference to the names of the students, but still, it’s easy enough when you find something like this to track back to the names. My suggestion, in this case, is to continue to cut and paste the answer, but to legally change your name. A convenience marriage may do the trick.

2. Don’t talk British.

The only people allowed to use the word “colour” are those with Indian surnames. “Weight,” you may argue, “I was bourne and razed in the english countryside.” I have no doubt, but your Commonwealth heritage is not easily detectable by your surname, so I’m afraid you will need to switch to Amerkin spelling for work in my classes. (If you are Indian, but your surname has suffered from various Colonial incursions, I’m afraid you’ll have to lose the U’s as well.) Otherwise, fair or not, it somehow appears that you have copied your work from another author.

3. You Google, I Google

How do you think I check suspicious work? It’s not like our state university is shelling out for TurnItIn. I am pretty good with that Google thingy. And changing two words won’t send me off the trail. So copy from something a bit more obscure. Or–and this is really tricky–try making up your own stuff.

4. Dont rite to good

When you “write” a sentence like “The veil of ignorance, to mention one prominent feature of that position, has no specific metaphysical implications concerning the nature of the self; it does not imply that the self is ontologically prior to the facts about persons that the parties are excluded from knowing,” you have two ways of being caught up. First, while I make no claim of having anything approaching an eidetic memory (more like an idyllic memory), it may ring some dusty bells and heck, I might be able to pull the book you stole it from down off my shelf, even if you followed the advice of #3. If my memory fails to serve, as is frequently the case these days, Google Print might help out.

The second way you can trip up is by following this with your original words, which tend to be less sophisticated, or equally sophisticated material from an entirely different source that simply does not seem to make sense in this particular context.

As a corollary here, try not to plagiarize the teacher. You will be less likely to suffer her ire, since it will amuse her and her colleagues to no end, but you are more likely to be caught. Steal her ideas and rephrase them in your own prose, because there is nothing teachers like more than knowing that students can write well but have no original ideas.

5. Malaprop big words

Make sure you pick a word that sounds impervious and use it incorrigibly, or inventorate words. We’ll be udderly convinced of your genuinity (not to mention your precedential potential). Snuff said.

6. Use the word “rediculous.”

This almost magical word will cause any instructor to instantaneously turn off all internal plagiarism detection.

7. Borrow from someone who writes as badly as you do.

Don’t do what one of my graduate students did, and steal a text on Korean feminism from someone who wrote slightly better English than he did. I’ll notice the slightly better writing, even before I notice that you have expressed no interest in or knowledge of feminist perspectives in the past. (Once kicked out of our program, he applied to the English department. No kidding.)

8. Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text

This is my Number 1 piece of advice, even if it is numbered eight. When you copy things from the web into Word, ignoring #3 above, don’t just “Edit > Paste” it into your document. When I am reading a document in black, Times New Roman, 12pt, and it suddenly changes to blue, Helvetica, 10pt (yes, really), I’m going to guess that something odd may be going on. This seems to happen in about 1% of student work turned in, and periodically makes me feel like becoming a hermit.

If you follow these simple rules, you are almost guaranteed to pass off your plagiarism and cheating as your own work. This will allow the faculty to remain in blissful ignorance, believing that–despite the low pay–they are spreading knowledge in the world, while at the same time convincing your parents to continue to pay for several more years of school, drunken orgies, and Prada bags. Your classmates who do not follow the above rules will constitute the “low hanging fruit,” easily picked off and tormented by mean-spirited unfulfilled teachers for their own amusement. You, however, will rise above the fray, secure in your superious ability to act smart, even if you don’t understand the text you are passing off as your own.

And what if you follow all eight points and still get caught? Here’s your “get out of jail free” card. Simply say this to your teacher (no, no one has tried these exact words on me yet), and you are off scot free:

“Like a postmodern version of Searle’s Chinese Room, I am able to re-articulate existing knowledge through my command of its (re)presentation and manipulation. Any claim to originality ignores what I like to call our ability to stand on the shoulders of giants. By this, I mean that there is a well-known correlation between book sales and height, and we should use their height to our own advantage, to avoid mud and small dogs.

“Also, is it really all that original to give me an F? After all, I’ve already received an F from two other profs this semester alone. Be an original: give me a C.

“By the way, I don’t know who this ‘John Rawls’ guy is–is he even in our major?–but I think it’s possible he cheated off me.

“Finally, and I think this is most vital, my plagiarism in this case is a clear indictment of the educational system. After all, I’ve been failed by my high school and by three years of university, while continually passing. I don’t think it can be entirely my fault if I’ve gotten this far by plagiarism, and in this, my last class, you decide that it is somehow ‘wrong.’ Clearly, you should use this outcome as a way of evaluating your own teaching and expectations.”

You have my permission to use the above excuses, verbatim and without attribution, in any discussion with your respected faculty. I don’t guarantee their success, but would be happy to hear from any of you who employ them as to their efficacy.

Update (6/16): Be sure to read the huge number of comments below, because they have some top-notch cheating tips. Also, a few have asked whether they can reprint, borrow this in some way. It got lost with my last blog redesign, but everything here that is original is Creative Commons licensed for non-commercial, attributed use. So have at it, just don’t say you wrote it… and don’t turn it in for a grade!

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  1. Dave, 2
    Posted 6/19/2006 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    This made my day! Although I had hoped our high school students would be plagiarising at a higher level by the time they reached college….

    Comment by Dave — 5/19/2006 @ 2:33 pm

  2. Posted 6/19/2006 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    My favorite one was when I was grading programming assignments for a 100-level computer science course. As I was grading the program, I noticed a lot of people making the same mistake in formatting their output.

    So, I decided to grep for the particular format string, and got about 35 offenders out of the class of around 400. Some of the more popular mistakes:

    1) Handing in the program from adjacent workstations at about the same time (found 10 clusters)
    2) Trivial renaming of variables
    3) Trivial recommenting
    4) Forgetting to remove the name of the guy who wrote the original wrong solution.

    Sadly, instead of failing them on the course as policy would have dictated, the professor wimped out and just failed them on the assignment.

  3. Paul
    Posted 6/19/2006 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I was the victim of a plagerist. One fine day sitting in a CS class, I happened to look at the screen being used by the student in the row ahead of me. I had arrived late to the class and this ‘gentleman’ was in the seat I generally used. While I sat the re watching, I saw him open files from the hard-drive, including copies of the work I had done the day before! (Apparently I had neglected to delete the files as I usually did.) When I confronted him, he tried to deny it and begged me not to tell the teacher about it.

    He did have enough sense to change the name of the file, as well as the author’s name, but not enough to check if said author was sitting behind him!!

  4. Jo Briggs
    Posted 6/19/2006 at 4:47 pm | Permalink


    It is you who spell colour incorrectly – it is our language, and while not being as prissy about it as the Academie Francais, please accept that ours is the true, original, spelling – of course after the various other languages we may have borrowed it from!

    London. you know, the one in Englandshire……

  5. Jay
    Posted 6/19/2006 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Alex –

    In law school (1984-1985), I was part of a study group that collaborated on putting together notes for all of the 1st year classes. I collected, edited, reformatted and printed out my Contracts class notes for my study group. It was a pretty good effort. Four years later, while I was a practicing attorney back on campus recruiting for my firm, I walked through the Law Library reading room and noted that one of the first years was studying from my Contracts Outline (which had pretty wide distribution, apparently). My Contracts prof had never changed either his textbook or the cases he covered in class. It gave me a bit of an ego boost, I must admit . . . .

  6. Posted 6/19/2006 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Ah, favorite stories! Here’s mine:

    It’s the mid-70’s; I’m a teaching assistant in a huge introductory biology class at the U. of Illinois/Chicago campus. Final exam is given in the biggest lecture hall we have, and students are seated with an empty chair on either side of them. We then pass out two versions of the exam, differing only in the order of the four choices of answers to each of the 100 multiple-choice questions, so that each student with version A is seated between two students with version B. We make an announcement to the effect that your neighbor has a different version than you do. Exams are taken, turned in, and graded.

    And a girl in my section gets just 6 out of 100 correct. Even if she had made random choices, she would’ve had a score closer to 25. She simply copied all her neighbors’ answers, which of course made each one wrong. She is confronted, denies wrongdoing, and flunks the course.

    But there’s more: two years later I get a call from a college administrator, because the girl, still in college and apparently close to graduating, has claimed that there was a mistake made in her biology grade. I assure the administrator that there was no mistake.

    So apparently this blatant copier and liar had survived two years’ worth of other classes without being caught again. Hard to imagine. I never heard whether she managed to con her way to graduation, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  7. Anne
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    To Rusty, poster at #179: You may be a 17-year-old genius with a 162 IQ, but it’s hard to tell. You can’t punctuate or spell worth a damn. I wonder how well you cheat if you can’t even write a decent sentence.

  8. Maximilian
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I wrote a grant for turnitin at the high school where I teach English. It changed everything, THAT YEAR.
    The most effective anti-plagiarism device I have found is the blue book. There’s no cutting and pasting because they aren’t allowed to bring in scissors or glue.
    As 94% of our graduates go on to “higher” education, one of the biggest selling points vs. plagiarism is the terrible cost they will pay for stealing in college. When college professors don’t check and prosecute, that has a terrible impact on down the line.
    As I tell my students, “When in doubt, cite it out.” It’s the difference, often, between theft and good research.
    Favorite case of cheating: Student resubmitted an essay on morality from the previous year. He hadn’t changed the date.

  9. B. Wintersteen
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    After slogging through 214 other comments, I figured I should add a few of my own.

    First, we must remember the 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Caught. If you can successfully navigate this commandment, then I don’t want to know. This includes being smart enough to pull off the crime, being thorough enough that it’s not detectable, and not annoying anyone who is “in on it” (intentionally or not) who could rat you out.

    Second, My own personal anecdote about cheating comes from the second grade. My parents were called in because the teacher was convinced I had someone else, possibly multiple someone elses, doing my handwritten assignments. I had to demonstrate for her that I had four distinct handwriting styles ranging from neat block lettering to nearly illegible scrawl. These four styles have been analyzed (analysed?) for those of you curious, and only two come up with any pathological leanings.

    Third, about Queen’s and American English: Growing up I read CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Douglas Adams and Poe more than I read Hardy Boys or MAD Magazine (which was considerable). My mother and sister both specialized in English (My sister in Shakespeare and Chaucer specifically) though I am very much an American. I always ended up getting the word “SYNTAX” in big red letters across every paper, and having the words “colour” and “armour” struck out with equal vigour. (You like how I did that?) It was not until last year (My first year of graduate school) that I realized my “Academic” syntax and spelling came from my early reading experiences.

    Finally, If you wish to address cheating, you have to ask yourself three questions:
    1- Are you trying for fear of being caught?
    2- Are you trying for a sense of honour and dignity?
    3- Are you taking it personally?

    If the answer to the first question is “Yes” you have to understand that punishment is only a deterrent if consistent and public. Question two is made more difficult because most people just don’t have these concepts, especially in the west. The third question is something I think most of you know the answer to. Most students are told they are just a number to their professors. They know they have 13 weeks with you and then maybe a chance at 13 more, but it’s not like we connect with our students in anything other than a pedagological way. (To do otherwise invites accusations of fraternization).

    Unless you are teaching medicine or martial arts, the honor and responsibility of the student will mostly only affect themselves. After all, who wouldn’t want a defense lawyer who was able to weasel his way through 22 years of school? That’s a pretty strong recommendation.

  10. Rick V.
    Posted 6/21/2006 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Great article.

    Stunning, too, how many teachers apparently need help with reading comprehension. Seems that universities in Canada and the UK may be slipping in this regard. ;)

  11. anonymous coward
    Posted 6/21/2006 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Heres my tip:

    If you have to write a paper on something (especially science topics), find a good review paper on the same topic and cite the same sources the review paper cites in different words. Heck even get two or three review papers (especially good are ones the university dosen’t have electronic access to!). Don’t cite the review papers of course. Easy as pie and noone the wiser!

  12. Posted 6/22/2006 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Dear (former) Dean of the Buffalo Blogosphere…

    Did you learn all of this in Buffalo? Can’t wait to cut and paste this and make it my own!


  13. J. Edgar Hooser
    Posted 6/22/2006 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I git thru 4 years of colleg education at the BYU by doing something even ezier that you hav posted hear.

    I take articles or Wikipedia entries like all these others students & then I goes to Babblefish and translate them into French, then translate them to Spanish, then translate them back to English. It is sooo sweet, the errors that apear are just enough for earning an A- or B+ depending on the professor. It only took me 20 minutes to “write” a 5 page paper.

    I’m now earning $38,000 a year working for Enterprise Car Rentals, and my ingeniosity didn’t hurt me none.

  14. Enzer Miliard
    Posted 6/22/2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    shouldn’t that be cheat well ;) 8Þ…… but on another note…. thanks…….. sadly all my exams are gone for the summer……

  15. Posted 6/22/2006 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    My father once had a student plagiarize in an upper division short story writing class. He called her in and explained how serious this was, and she burst into tears. He then pointed out that this was worse than she thought, because she had plagiarized a story from the required reading, indicating she hadn’t touched any of that material either. At this point her sobs grew even louder and she said “Oh God it’s worse than even that. I took it from a Twilight Zone episode!”

    Dad went home pretty blue that day.

  16. Canaduck
    Posted 6/24/2006 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    212. Oh, lovely, another person who seems to believe that she owns the rights to a language. If you truly think that British spelling is correct and American is not, you ARE just as prissy as the Academie Francais. They’re both correct–they’re just different. Spelling changes (yes, even in British English) in the same way that accents do. (Or do go around arguing that speakers of Old English were the “true, original” purveyors of the language?) That’s how language works. American spelling has been around long enough that it’s time for you to stop treating it as some sort of quaint, aberrant trend.

    By the way, Alex, great post!

  17. Posted 6/24/2006 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Excellent. As a new to teaching but experienced RN, I will enjoy using your “research” to identify those who would be a danger to society if they “cheated” while caring for real paople.

  18. Posted 6/25/2006 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Sounds like cheating at good old UB was a lot easier back in the 80s when I did it.

  19. Michael Hunter
    Posted 6/26/2006 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Rusty #179 reminds me of a traffic crash that I helped investigate near Bellbrook, Ohio. A motorcycle operator slid off a sharp curve at the end of a long straight. He was launched into a treetop before landing dead on the ground beneath it. His pre-skid speed calculated out to 87 MPH in the 35 zone. He worked in rocketry for the USAF, but his riding showed contempt for the very laws of physics he worked with daily. I fear Rusty is headed for the same fall. Happy landing!

  20. Washu
    Posted 6/27/2006 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    There is a simple and easy solution to this problem. DON’T CHEAT. If you don’t cheat in the first place it will be easier in the long run because you will actually know your stuff and if the professor decides to have a ‘random’ chat with you about your progress in the course you will be able to amaze him or her with your understanding of the subject. And study is not that hard all you have to do is set aside 2 hours (lectures & tutorials count towards this) per subject unit per day. If you are an average student you will be doing about 4 units per semester and this will work out to 8 hours a day which is no more than a fulltime job. This should leave you 8 hours in the day to go out and have fun and have 8 hours sleep.

  21. Stuuse
    Posted 6/27/2006 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Someone once applied for a job at an architecture firm I worked for and used my work in their portfolio. Ooops.

  22. WNight
    Posted 6/27/2006 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Reply to #189:

    I disagree that you can “grad[e] higher for ideas that attract [you]”. If you do anything other than grading based on the content of the work itself, ignoring your own feelings, you’re doing a disservice to the concept of standardized grades. Your prejudice against an uninteresting topic could cost your student a grade they’d have gotten with another teacher, causing them to be rated incorrectly. If grades are to have any meaning, and at this point your industry offers us nothing else to grade it on, then they must be impartial.

    Whatever you want the world to be like, currently your whim on marking an essay or your lax/eager eye for plagiarism (perhaps real, perhaps not) is more important to that student’s future than anything you teach them. Nobody is every going to ask them for the economic motivations of Napolean, or to square a circle, but people will look at their grades for everything they do for the next ten years, perhaps longer.

    However, that is only part of my point. I feel that the entire system of higher education, that I’ve seen, is nigh unto useless and that this “OMG Cheating!!!” attitude is just another attempt to redirect this on the students. This is just another of the student-hating policies. Mandatory textbooks, increasingly with a user-locked CD included so that nobody can buy the used book. Ownership of student-created intellectual property, both copyright and patent. Censorship of students off-campus lives (Facebook, etc). What should rightly (by cashflow) be seen as a customer relationship is instead closer to indentured servitude at worst (grad students) or merely an Orwellian customer experience.

    While I agree about cheaters, etc, etc, I find myself less annoyed by the concept of an overwhelmed teenager cheating on an essay than an entire industry based on perpetuating that fear of somehow annoying the teaching gods and being thrown down to dispense freedom fries for the rest of their life.

    Cheating on a test is no more, or less, dishonest that lying on an immigration form to gain refuge status, lying about your bedroom practices in prudish states, or your religion to a census taker. Should you be disqualified from teaching for life if I could find a lie on your taxes, or an expert level question in your field that you couldn’t answer under pressure?

  23. Posted 6/27/2006 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    WNight: I don’t have an answer for you. If you honestly think that lying on your taxes or on a legal form for personal gain is an acceptable practice, and you do not respect the law or social norms, I’m not going to be able to convince you that cheating in your educational life is any more despicable. I suspect you would be just as willing to rob someone or steal their car. Again, if you have no ethical baseline, then I don’t have much to appeal to.

    Students are not customers. Customers are always right. Students are not, and it is not our responsibility to pretend that they are.

  24. WNight
    Posted 6/27/2006 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    That’s a strawman. I didn’t say there was nothing wrong with, just that I didn’t seeany reason that students should get kicked out of school with no compensation, etc. It’s not that serious of a crime.

    As for customers, I think you should look at who pays your wages. Refund tuition and you’ll have a moral right to do whatever crazy grading strikes your fancy.

    I’d suggest though, that you are really missing the point. Students ARE the customer. They pay tuition. You aren’t serving them well in your role as a teacher because you aren’t even following consistent grading practices.

    Of course, my differing opinion is a lack of ethical baseline – I might even be a terrorist. Go catch a cheater, make the world safe for ivory tower accamedia.

  25. MaW
    Posted 6/28/2006 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    My experience this semester helping out with the labs for a Computer Science module suggests to me this hot cheating tip:

    If you come to the labs every week claiming not to understand the question, don’t turn up one day with a nearly-complete solution which you ask for help with, because I will be wondering where you got it from. In this situation it is particularly advisable not to claim that you wrote the code when you have just claimed that you don’t understand it.

    And yes, that applies even if it is written in Perl. You might think it looks like line noise, but it’s my second language.

  26. B. Wintersteen
    Posted 6/28/2006 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more about impartial grading. Though I cringe at the thought of a customer model for education (It is not akin to shopping at Pep Boys or hiring a DJ), I do beleive that our personal feelings on topics should have NO BEARING on the marks we receive. If a teacher cannot seperate themselves from their biases long enough to recognize a well-reasoned (If wrong) argument, how can we trust them to do research, or to present a balanced view to our students?
    As an example, I was aware of a graduate student who admitted that she graded papers based on her feelings on the subject. “The student should know better then to attack adoption as a practice knowing that I was adopted.” I was dumbfounded. One of the basic fictions about science is that an objective truth can be reached, but it is something we should at least TRY for.
    One thing the Greeks tried to impress upon us was that LOGIC does not need to be TRUE. If you claim to have some tiny sliver of Truth (capital T), fine, but that has no bearing on a well-written paper.
    I have, in the past, argued for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the benefits of Fascism, Caste, and Creationism, as well as a hundred more “Devil’s Advocate” positions and nothing is more of a “sin” against claiming to be educated than failing someone because their arguments provoke a visceral reponse.
    However, students may not be Right. But they may also not be Wrong, no matter what our education and experience tell us. Galileo had to admit he was “Wrong.” Look for quality of work, not quality of person (You are being paid to judge the former, not the latter).
    And because I should mention cheating in response to this Blog. I beleive in the 11th Commandment. If you are smart enough not to get caught, you deserve to get away with it. If I notice and call you on it, it’s too late.

  27. Posted 6/28/2006 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    B.W.: Not sure who you are agreeing with there, but I agree with you! I am actually pretty proud of the fact that students can’t gauge my personal political position, despite the fact that I teach classes on controversial issues (free speech, pornography, surveillance, etc.). At least that is true at the undergraduate level. I think at the grad level I let my guard down a bit because it is useful to start from an argumentative position (even if it doesn’t happen to be your own).

    That said, I have a feeling I am the exception to the rule. I think that’s why students comment on it. I hate to admit it, but it is hard being a conservative student in a university, particularly if you are not very articulate in your position. It’s sad that more faculty don’t take your approach, because I fear that many students graduate not knowing the difference between a good argument, and an opinion they happen to agree with.

  28. WNight
    Posted 6/29/2006 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    I don’t want to miss the spirit of concilliation, so I’ll jump in here and agree, and offer a shake over my harsh words.

    I’ve been a participant in school more recently, I’ll wager, than you, Alex, and I see these things in the context of the whole system. Administrators act as if they own students, their information, their work, and their private lives. They are a captive market which exists to be fleeced. Mandatory copy-protected textbooks and bans from out-of-school activities like Facebook are just the latest chapters in this. With this blatant disregard for their customers fully in your mind, re-examine the structure of school, especially as the door to all higher career choices. What might seem like quirky policies – grading curves, biases, restrictive NDAs and ownership of work that we normally say “well, go elsewhere” about in a job environment. It’s different with schools as there really is no practical alternative for many careers paths that all, for artificial reasons, start here.

    Schools advertise, with the same agencies and tactics as DeBeers and Walmart, to tell the world that they are *the* gateway to higher knowledge, such that it is difficult to succeed in the world without “papers”. I think that this obliges them to be useful – provide an education to a customer, treat them like a partner and prepare them for real work, instead of treating them like child prisoners.

    I know you see this from the inside, and see it charitably, or not terrible at worst, but I ask you to look at this from the other side. Students just see this as arbitrary and overpunished. You see this as sending a message, students see it as the accedemic death penalty for a first offence. What are laughable events for you and co-workers, are life destroying ones for those caught in them. Everyone makes mistakes, accademic institutions are for overstepping their bounds in punishing people.

    Please consider this viewpoint and consider asking for advance copies of papers. When you see blatant cheating, red-pen it and say “Don’t forget to mark this as a quotation until you rewrite it, that way you don’t accidently plagarize”. This way a misguided hotheaded move to cheat gets turned into constructive criticism, and the student at least can get marks (albeit low) for doing research and presenting snippets, even if they didn’t rewrite them, as long as they claim it honestly. An essay consisting entirely of quotes is legal, though it may be derivative and score low. A simple viewpoint shift here to students as customers and partners could save everyone a lot of trauma, but it wouldn’t look at funny on Boing Boing.


  29. Posted 6/29/2006 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    WNight: In the spirit offered… :) If you go back over this blog, you will find that I am not as sanguine as it might seem about just the sorts of things you have listed. I find the textbook industry extraordinarily exploitative (and have posted on the ways it is several times). Luckily, none of the schools at which I have worked have exerted claim on faculty or student IP, but I realize that this is a creeping problem as well, particularly in the sciences. I find the university system depressingly ineffective overall, and most students are just going through the motions, as are most faculty.

    However, I see the move to treating students as customers to be core to encouraging this sort of behavior. My previous university–and no doubt my new university–advertise heavily and look at how to improve their rankings, etc. We’ve had administrators encourage us not to fail failing students because we want to keep our numbers (and tuition dollars) up.

    The trick is, when students treat themselves like customers, I begin to think of myself as an employee, not a teacher. And frankly, if I were merely an employee, I wouldn’t work nearly as hard as I do. Other faculty do treat their jobs this way, and those are the faculty that have canned lectures from 20 years ago and force students to buy their overpriced, poor textbook. I don’t want to give in to the trend in higher ed, and say that students are customers, and I’m going to just do my job. If it were about the money for me, I wouldn’t be teaching–I’ve been offered jobs that pay nearly twice as much in the “real world.” It’s about helping students become more knowledgeable for me, and while the university system is deeply flawed, it remains the best place to find people who are interested in learning.

    Your warning is perfectly reasonable if, and only if, I’m actually teaching a student something. If students unknowingly plagiarize, I don’t toss them out of the class. (It remains distressing when US students get through all of high school and much of college and still don’t know how to cite properly, but that is not entirely their fault.) But when students knowingly cheat, they waste my time, and suffer the consequences. I wasn’t hired to correct essays by Wikipedians, and since they’ll never see the corrections, it is wasted time for me.

    This really isn’t all that different from a customer arrangement. I worked retail, and I can be ridiculously patient with a customer that is indecisive, chatty, even just plain crazy. But if you are shoplifting, I’m not going to treat you politely, because you have decided to violate our social contract.

  30. B. Wintersteen
    Posted 6/29/2006 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    As a personal pat on the back, I recently taught a class on Narratives and was approached afterwards by a few students who said, ‘We weren’t sure what position you had. You started out with jokes and arguments about one side, then the other, then you argued from a third position. What *do* you beleive?’ My response, of course, was ‘That you should include your thoughts in your paper, not mine.’
    If you think it is hard to be conservative, try being a Centrist. Then you are obviously on “The other side” no matter who you are talking to.

    I wonder if we cant create a mass-scale “Apprenticeship” model for teaching as opposed to a customer or pedagogue model. It is obvious people do not see teachers for what they are, and instead see them as employees. It would require a shift in mindset of givernment, parents, and teachers… in other words, probably isnt going to happen.

  31. Angela
    Posted 7/6/2006 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    My favorite is when students turned in last semester/year’s assignments without realizing that they’d been changed this year. Then they have the gall to question the 0 that they were given for the assignment. And I liked looking at last date modified, and finding out that it had been written while the student was still in high school. Yeah, that one was clever.

    Or students turning in electronic copies of assignments that had other people’s names on it. If you’re going to hand something in, at least open it up and look at what you’re handing in. Those ones made me sit back and wonder what I was doing this for…

  32. Anne
    Posted 7/7/2006 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    To add my two cents to the idea that students are “customers” and therefore should be handled as such, I must agree with Admin of June 29th. I don’t get paid any differently whether I have 10 students in a single class (like in this summer term) or when I have 36 students in a single class (as I have had many times in the past). I don’t want students to feel that their tuition is wasted, but they aren’t paying ME. Since I teach ESL for college-bound international students, I put my effort into giving them the tools they need to succeed in later classes. They insult my intelligence by cheating and thinking I won’t catch them, but the only people they truly cheat are themselves. If they can’t learn to read, think, interpret, and express themselves, sooner or later (and it usually IS sooner), they will be tripped up by a real-world situation which actually demands that they know not just information but how to use it.

    My college likes to puff itself up and brag about its supposed overall excellence, but in truth the administration is not anywhere near as interested in student success and achievement as it is in student tuition payments. The instructors, however, are just the opposite. Our pay is not tied to the enrollment, we have a limited ability to affect curriculum, and none of us will ever get rich at our jobs. I can’t overrule district-wide administrative decisions like the institution of expensive mandatory language lab classes, and I can’t even get my supervisor to trim our required list of textbooks . I have plenty of useful, updated materials without them, but that’s too nebulous for the admin because all sections of the same courses are supposed to be completely standardized. Everybody knows that two different instructors can teach the same course in totally different ways with totally different levels of competence, but of course you can’t say that openly, especially if you’re a student advisor .

    All I can do is tell the students not to pay for books I have no intention of using, come to class, and I will give them as much as I can of what I know they need to succeed in the class above mine. Those “teachers” who rely on ten-year-old lectures, poorly written textbooks, and outdated methodology deserve students who try to weasel their way out of doing real thinking and real learning. Those of us who pour all our efforts into giving students the necessary skills to make it in the academic and real worlds deserve students who put at least a moderate effort into trying to improve. I don’t cheat my students out of the education they allegedly want—why should I tolerate them cheating me out of the effort I clearly require?

  33. AJ
    Posted 7/9/2006 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Re the spelling (UK vs US); I agree with the blog-writer’s requirement that his students use US spelling: when in Rome, as they say.

    One cultural specific spelling isn’t more correct than the other, but certainly, if we’re teaching our students to join an academic community (which they seem to have signed up to join when they registered as students), we have some responsibility to teach them the mores of that community. These mores include more than just MLA vs APA and computer-generated vs handwritten docs, but also the academic community-based expectations of culture-specific punctuation (commas are differently placed in the UK) and spellings (color vs colour etc).

    I’m originally from the UK, and I came over to attend a US university with every expectation that I would have to learn quickly US spelling and punctuation. I would have been amazed had my college instructors accepted UK spelling in a US classroom. Code-switching, as the blog-writer notes, plays a huge part in assimiliating into a community–and that assimiliation is what I assume my students are trying to do since they are sitting in my English class in a US university.

    I ask all my students, even those who come from UK spelling countries, to use US spelling; I think it’s important to use the code appropriate to the community to which you’re trying to belong.


  34. Posted 9/5/2006 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    My Masters thesis (on Shakespeare) was failed the first time I submitted it – partly because it wasn’t very good, but partly, I later realised, because there may have been a suspicion that I’d plagiarised part of it. My tutor was very subtle, and merely suggested that I should have made reference to a particular book, which he had recommended but which I hadn’t got round to reading.

    When I did read it, I found to my horror that one chapter followed a very similar line of argument to one that I had used, and used the same quotes from a particular play to illustrate it. I can’t remember ever feeling so sick.

    Of course, I altered my thesis (in this and many other ways) and attributed the ideas to the writer of the book. Even now I’m not sure whether I had in fact seen the book – or an extract from it – some time earlier, and only thought I was having original ideas about the play. I have a parrot-like memory for gobbets of text, though I don’t always know where my quotations come from, so it is possible. But if so I never intended to do it. I’m very grateful that my tutor didn’t make an outright accusation.

    On the other side of the coin, I have seen French schoolchildren trying to pass off pasted chunks of English-language websites as an English homework submission – the best exemplars of rule 7 I’ve ever seen. The kids wouldn’t have been tell me the meaning of all of the English words, let alone write it in the first place. (Also, more than one of them picked the same website.)

    I understood what you originally meant about spelling, and I don’t think that British English is superior (and I’m British). Mind you, as an undergraduate I had a tutor who used to correct the spelling in quotations, which I think is going a little too far in the name of consistency: I don’t spell “waggon” with a double g, but if George Eliot did, I’m not going to change it…

  35. Posted 9/5/2006 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    *the kids wouldn’t have been _able to_ tell me…*


  36. Posted 9/29/2006 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Is anybody here?

  37. Mujercita
    Posted 10/5/2006 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    My mother, an English professor, once received a paper which began, “To those of us who knew William Faulkner…”

  38. SJS
    Posted 11/6/2006 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    It’s important that the penalty for cheating be significantly more than simply not turning in the assignment. Otherwise, there’s an incentive to cheat. And when students are customers, they want to be sure of getting a degree from a *respectable* university/college, so the penalty isn’t because the teachers/graders are fascist rule-followers with not concept of the new paradigms the come with the internet, the penalty is because the students to *paid* and then *did the work* deserve something other than “Oh, you got your degree at Plagiarism U., well, that’s nice, but a flatworm could get a degree there, bye!” when they go looking for a job, or a grad school.

    Cheating isn’t a victimless crime. It’s destroying the value of a degree for all those students who aren’t cheating.

  39. Posted 11/8/2006 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Nice :) I agree this you.

11 Trackbacks

  1. By What's On My Mind on 6/20/2006 at 7:39 pm

    Links Worth Looking At…

    While I’ve been busy and not posting anything I stored up some links that are worth looking at. This one tells you how to cheat well. Don’t get too excited, he’s just telling (hopefully) obvious things like not to copy……

  2. By Raining Cats and Dogma on 6/20/2006 at 8:25 pm

    Teaching Carnival X…

    So it turns out that when most of us aren’t teaching, most of us aren’t blogging about teaching either. But still, after scouring the internets, waiting for and technorati to get caught up, and checking in on the usual……

  3. […] Exams coming up? A University Professor is ready to share his experiences in order to help prospective cheaters not make fool of ourselves. This guide includes 8 important hints you should consider when trying to take the slightly easier way in life on campus. Darn it, I had to find this just after I’ve finished my french exams. Maybe next year. […]

  4. […] While this advice is probably a bit late for this semester (since I finished my exams on wednesday), I’ll be sure to keep all these useful tips in mind before I plagiarise work next semester! […]

  5. […] Last post for tonight. Alex Halavais about cheating in your essays: […]

  6. […] از این نوشته به قلم الکس هلویسخوشم آمده، آنقدر Ú©Ù‡ دوست داشتم اگر فرصتی Ùˆ حوصله‌ای پیدا کردم فارسیش کنم. این نوشته یک ترجمه‌ی آزاد از آن مطلب است. […]

  7. […] I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what following the rules means. Part of this comes of the comments (now nearly 250) on an earlier post related to plagiarism. Several people in that post suggested that people who break the rules come out ahead. Plagiarism has shown up in newsrooms and on book editors desks a lot more frequently lately, and there is a growing awareness of professors being caught up in plagiarism scandals, as well as other forms of cheating. […]

  8. […] Back in May, Alex Halavais at A Thaumaturgical Compendium offered advice on how to plagiarize to avoid detection.  Of course, it also lets the cat out of the bag on how to detect such plagiarism, which was his tongue-in-cheek intention all along.  Halavais has some other stuff worth reading, and a very impressive resume.  Any teacher grading essays should read the plagiarism post. […]

  9. By Unjustly » on 8/22/2006 at 2:12 am

    […] Alex Halavais teaches you How to cheat good. As a univ. teacher, he’s undoubtedly uniquely qualified to give his studied opinion on the subject. […]

  10. […] Professor Alex Halavais shares some advice on How to Cheat Better. Tired of reviewing poor attempts, he suggests the students make a decent effort and follow some of his tips such as “Borrow from someone who writes as badly as you do” and “Edit>Paste Special>Unformatted Text”. […]

  11. […] 3) Since I brought you a blog last week, it’s only fair I should bring you another one this week. In the spirit of tomorrow’s exam, this one is “How to Cheat Good.” May it do us all some good… […]

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