News flash: Engineering students routinely cheat

An interesting tid bit from the Chronicle of Higher Education begins this way:

A casual joke on Twitter recently let slip a dirty little secret of large science and engineering courses: Students routinely cheat on their homework, and professors often look the other way.

"Grading homework is so fast when they all cheat and use the illegal solutions manual," quipped Douglas Breault Jr., a teaching assistant in mechanical engineering at Tufts University. After all, if every answer is correct, the grader is left with little to do beyond writing an A at the top of the page and circling it. Mr. Breault, a first-year graduate student, ended his tweet by saying, "The profs tell me to ignore it."

The item goes on to cite other troubling data points:

In one informal study at M.I.T., about 11% of all homework turned out to be copied from someone else.

Many students simply do not view copying homework answers as wrong—at least not when it is done with technology.

The latest surveys by the Center for Academic Integrity found that 22 percent of students say they have cheated on a test or exam, but about twice as many—43 percent—have engaged in "unauthorized collaboration" on homework.

You can find the whole article here:

A couple of things here. First, who knew there was such a thing as the Center for Academic Integrity? Second, how dumb do you have to be to blow off homework? One wonders how these people expect to pass exams when they haven't gone through the homework problems.

Now I have to relate a personal story about a colleague of mine who was accused of cheating but who was innocent. I brought this up in an editorial years ago, but it bears repeating.

The guy I am referring to was a genius, and I am not exaggerating. For his senior design project, he decided to design and build a digital clock. This was back when digital clocks were just coming on the market, which shows how long ago this really was. Anyway, my friend had to dumpster dive to find the right memory logic chips to do the job -- single-chip clock circuits weren't around until a few years later. He had to solder leads onto some of the discarded chips to get them to work, and map around bad memory locations.

He put the whole thing in a cardboard detergent box that had been lacquered to look like a fine wood enclosure. And everything worked great! Looking at it on a table, his project looked for all the world like a commercial high-end digital clock.

And that was the problem. His instructor thought my friend had just purchased a kit and assembled it. He gave him a D for a final grade. No amount of arguing did any good.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.