“As many of you know, one of my hobbies is catching cheaters”

There's a few posts making their way around the web relating to students cheating.  The first is a fantastic account by a guy who writes papers professional for students.  I mailed it to a few academic friends when I first read it.  I only needed one word to explain it: fantastic.

I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.
The behaviour of the students is so clear, so uniform, so obviously wrong that it forms the background for his more important question:
For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?
Where the hell is the prof?  Dealing with papers vs. students, that's where.  Or worse, studying the results of TA's grading papers.  And if the papers' grades seem to fit what's expected, there's no point asking other questions, no point talking to the students.  Profs don't often know their students:
You know what's never happened? I've never had a client complain that he'd been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken. As far as I know, not one of my customers has ever been caught.
All you need is a normal distribution.  It doesn't matter who your students are, it's just statistics.  It's all about the grades, all about the curve.  Here's another gem:

"There was always one lecture that I hoped I would never have to give."  Are you kidding me?  I've never seen a prof enjoy giving a lecture more.  He literally can't stop rubbing his hands together with delight!  Students cheat because profs rely on stale, uninspired work.

I was in a meeting this fall with a bunch of my colleagues and they were discussing similar issues, namely, how do we stop cheaters.  Many ideas where thrown on the table, much of them technologically based and designed to catch people in the act.  In other words, they were about people trying to play the game better than the best student-cheaters do.  I gave another idea: "Why not assign work where you can't cheat?"

I don't have students cheating in my classes.  It's not that they respect me so much more than other profs they they just don't do it.  No, students are students, and if you can game the system, many will.  Instead, I assign work for which there is no existing answer, and I make the process of discovering that answer--the chronological logs of that pursuit--what I mark.  I ask students to work on real things, with real people, and keep living journals of their efforts.  They use wikis, blogs, twitter, github, bugzilla, etc.  You can fake a final result, but it's much harder to fake the final result and incremental steps.

Instead of cheating what I end-up with are students dropping the course.  When there is no way to cheat, those who rely on such techniques are forced to come to terms with an important question: are you willing to do real work, which happens in real-time, or are you not?  You can't cram for this.  You can't borrow your friends' and substitute it for your own.

For me it comes down to this: at the end of your course, are you going to have an exam grade and a grade distribution, or are you going to have a real-world project and a set of experiences that are unreproducible?  Only that which can be repeated can be copied.  If your students are copying, ask yourself why you are relying on things that can be copied instead of doing something original.

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