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James Lang, an English professor of Assumption College and author of Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty, came to Emmanuel to let us in on a secret: students cheat because they aren’t being taught well, not because they are bad students.
Lang presented his lesson on cheating in the Fenway Room amongst students, faculty and staff. The crowd was surprised to hear statistics Lang had found about the percentage of cheaters in Honor Code universities (like Emmanuel). According to a major survey constructed in 1963, 83% of students cheated back then. But today, despite the technological world we live in, only 65% of students cheat.
Apparently, not all students cheat the same amount. Business students are reported to cheating the most, and art students the least.
“It’s kind of hard to cheat another’s interpretive dance” Lang joked.
Another surprise of the presentation was the idea that the main reason students cheat is because they simply cannot remember the material they are supposed to for exams, not because they are lazy or corrupted. Lang spent most of the presentation describing how the mind needs practice getting things out of the memory (a term called transience redux) in order to learn anything. He advised professors in the room to help students remember material better through the means of quick summary papers, frequent assignments as opposed to just one major exam, and oral questions.
“Maybe plagiarism says more about how badly we teach writing rather than the students’ knowledge”, a professor in the crowd mused after hearing Lang’s memory suggestions.
Perhaps there are some faults in the way students are required to digest learning material. When the brain is unable to completely consume the knowledge needed to, it results in many students scrambling to succeed, thus cheating. Lang’s main point in the presentation was that by improving memory skills and learning methods, cheating would diminish across the campus.
“Dishonesty reveals flaws in the very way science is taught,” Professor Lang said. Rather than scold students and warn faculty about the rise in cheating, Lang attempted to explain why this happened— that it really came down to our minds being unable to memorize the amount we are asked of. As the room dispersed at the end of the talk, the last word was chuckled from the back by Reverend John Patrick Spencer: “Of course, if anyone is cheating, they can go to confession!”
Kelly Anderson is a staff writer of the Hub and can be contacted at email@example.com.