Cheaters are on the run at Lambton College.
Of 3,800 full-time students enrolled last semester, 58 were caught cheating and faced disciplinary action. That’s down from 99 in the fall semester of 2012 when the school’s Centre for Academic Integrity (CAI) was established.
A decrease in cheating of more than 40% is something to celebrate but there’s more work to be done, said centre co-ordinator Lois Nantais.
“The big challenge has been to make ethics cool,” she said, acknowledging there was negative reaction when the centre began.
Lambton College was the first – and remains the only Ontario college – to have a Centre for Academic Integrity, according to Nantais.
Other schools may have policies in place but lack an office and faculty member to address cheating.
At the time, cheating was generally on the rise, she said. Honest students, especially those in tougher, highly-competitive courses, were complaining they were aware of cheats, and administration wanted to ensure Lambton’s reputation was sound.
The most common form of cheating is plagiarism or citing the Internet without the appropriate sourcing, said Nantais.
Others use technology, such as a cell phone or undetected ear phone during a test, and Googling or communicating on social media to get answers.
Other times, it’s old-fashioned cheat sheets.
Nantais took on the challenge by approaching faculty and students. She raised awareness among instructors about the various ways of cheating so they could recognize it and take action.
Now, at the beginning of each semester, she meets with all frosh classes to explain college policy. She also meets one-on-one with international students who may come from a background where more collaborative paper writing and test taking is acceptable.
Nantais also has a group of 10 students she calls ethics ambassadors.
“They are not snitches by any means,” she said. “Their main function is to be my consultants and tell me what will work to raise awareness.”
The message is simple: Don’t cheat. If caught, Lambton now has policies in place that say a first-time offender receives zero on their paper or test.
A second-time offender gets zero in the course. That will cost a regular student about $350 and an international student $800.
If cheating occurs a third time, the student is told to leave.
Nantais, whose background is in moral psychology, says the CAI’s success is largely due to tackling the problem from a positive perspective.
Rather than talk about cheating all the time, she talks about the benefits of academic honesty. The centre’s reputation has gone from negative to positive because honest students realize cheating has to be recognized in order to be addressed, she said.
“The CAI is necessary because the reality is that society has changed. We tend to value efficiency and credentials rather than pride in working hard and doing a good job.”