Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hector, One of the "Others," Sends in a Big Thirsty on Leaving Class During a Test. (Hector, if You Keep This Up, You Can't STAY an Other...)

Worst. Graphic. Ever.
Like some of you, I cheered Racine Ron on in his toilet adventure yesterday. I don't know if I would have dreamed such a bold maneuver.

But it was a comment that caught my attention the most and made me wonder something. Peter K brought up the notion of watching over students on tests, what some of us call proctoring, and what is sometimes done, in large classes, by TAs, etc. Peter K (no relation, I'm assuming) said, "You left the room after giving them the test, suggesting your school has an "honor code" system. Now, honor code or not (my U may have one, I'm not sure), I never leave the room during a test."

I don't teach classes large enough for TAs, but I often stroll out of class during a test. I talk about academic ethics at the start of every semester, and have a policy on cheating in my syllabus. I may even say, "No talking" when I pass an exam out.

But I do not watch over them. I hesitate to say this, but there's quite a large part of me that doesn't care if they cheat or not. I have come to believe that if they want to cheat, they will, and I'm in the business of teaching and not policing. I recognize that every proffie is different. In my own department we have Hawkeye Helen, who one can observe slowly circling a room during a test, peering down. I've seen her lift exams off the table to see if anything untoward was placed beneath.


I do not have that fire in my belly.

I have left class for all manner of adventures: a smoke, a pee, a visit with a colleague. Once, years ago when I was a part-timer at a CC, I walked to my car, drove to a Taco Bell, and snared a couple of burritos that I ate on the drive back. Total time gone from class: 22 minutes.

I now leave my cell number on the whiteboard during a test. I tell students to be quiet, don't bother anyone, don't share info, and if anyone is unable to do the test because of interruption or other bother, just text me if I'm out of the room momentarily. It's never happened.

But that's just me. It's a peculiar thing, this job of ours. We all do it differently, and it's been my experience IRL and on this blog, that we often are amazed that others do it their own way.

Q: What is your practice about monitoring test taking in your classes? Are you a hawk or a stroller? Are you afraid your students will cheat? Do you think you can stop them? Don't you ever just want to to breathe the air of an empty "during class" quad? Can you just trust them? Aren't you wishing you;d thought of that Taco Bell trip now? 

47 comments:

  1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cheating reports.

    I almost never leave the room, and my policy is that if a student leaves the room, they cannot continue their test. So, they only leave when they are finished. I provide the test and the paper (some little buggers have been known to write answers in their blue books), and all items must be stowed under their desks. I also leave one desk between every student if I can, and often distribute two versions of the same test. If I have two classes, unless they are back to back, they definitely get two versions of the same test.

    Guess what? No cheating. Honor codes are for people with honor. The students that have none will not be cowed by honor codes. They will cheat if they have the opportunity.

    So, I make that difficult if not impossible.

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  2. I'm and hawk and I'm with Stella, almost word for word plus no cell phones used as calculators. I make it clear to students at the beginning that I do not tolerate cheating and I will give them precious little opportunity for temptation. I occasionally bring in extra TAs to help supervise the class with me.

    I differ with Hector on one issue. I am not here to teach. I am here to help them learn. That's not College of Education bullshit. I mean it. I can teach like a superstar but if they don't learn, I'm wasting my time and theirs. Allowing cheating to occur allows them to circumvent the learning process. I don't let that happen.

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    1. With you on that - whilst the cheating is the student's loss, the effect of not controlling cheating is to overall devalue the module/degree for all the other students who studied and didn't cheat. Like it or not, the credentialling part of our job is key to our function for students and for employers or graduate schools or whatever who use the qualifications as a measure of the ability and knowledge of the candidate. Successful cheating - getting the accrediation without having demonstrated the knowledge or skill - makes the credential less reliable as a marker of achievement so allowing it to happen is unfair not to the cheater but to the rest of the students.

      As a young proffie I was advised to always consider decisions about special allowances, extensions, policies in terms of their effect on the B-student who studies hard, manages their life issues without seeking special attention or help, and has done their best. Would they or their parents (assuming they were mature, sensible people) agree that the change/policy was a reasonable safeguard? I find this helpful; and saying to students making special pleas (not covered by the simple university rules of doctor's certificate, evidence of death or major injury to a small number of categories of close family members at the exact time or failure of correctly made travel arrangements for reasons beyond the student's control (e.g. if your flight back from spring break was due to arrive in plenty of time for you to attend the test but got snowbound, OK. You missed the flight, or booked a flight that left you only one hour to get from the airport to the test? Your problem) that I have to come up with a solution that is fair to everyone is a useful starting point.

      At my place, if we have a test we need to have two people there to supervise so that one can pop out for a pee etc., or handle an incident. My department has a little pot of money to pay grad students who aren't TAs (because the TAs already have enough work outside their dissertations) to help out with that job for classes small enough to not have their own TA - not surprisingly it's a popular job!

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    2. Although, as previously and infamously discussed, I don't really mind if students zone out during class, I do care if they cheat, and I try to prevent it. Not paying attention is one thing, but attempting to fool me as to what you do and do not know is another. Passively disregard the material being put in front of you? Fine, if unwise. Actively attempt to get a grade you don't deserve? So very not okay.

      I'm vicious toward cheaters, too, and I let the students know that up front. I describe in detail the glee I felt when I successfully prosecuted a case that was a student's "third strike," causing the kid to get expelled. I tell them about how I treated myself to a special dinner out. I tell them about the little jig I danced. I frankly come across as a little deranged, or so I am told.

      It doesn't work on everyone. But it works on some.

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  3. As a writing instructor, I don't have quite the same kind of tests, mostly long essays that involve a complex set of connections and ideas that "borrowing" a phrase or two from a neighboring student wouldn't really help.

    But when I teach Lit and give exams where glancing around the room or into a backpack would help, I don't watch like a hawk. I do think it's up to them what they choose to do. If I'm expected to be a hawk by the administration, I'm not willing to be.

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  4. I'm fine with whatever Hector does or Ben or anyone else. I have to admit that what a proffie does in his or her class is pretty much none of my business.

    I've not gone to Taco Bell, but I'm often not in the room for tests. I don't see the point. It's my class. I'm going to do what I think is best. I vary test materials, offer 2 different versions of tests randomly through the room.

    And I often am sipping tea in my office while the students sweat it out.

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  5. Same as Stella. I teach small classes most of the time (no more than twenty), so it is easy to keep track of things. Like Stella, I provide the test paper and ask them to leave at least one desk between students.

    And it works. I grade the tests myself, and I never see evidence of cheating. Since my tests consist by and large of homework problems or examples done in class, it would be easy for someone to look for "inspiration" in his/her notes, so I don't give them the chance. I bring a paper to read, and lots of coffee. (Also, the questions are of the kind where a few seconds looking over somebody's shoulder wouldn't help much).

    And why, you might ask. I think of the homework as their "cheating outlet". They (or many of them) need some activity where they can think they'll get a higher grade than they're able to earn honestly, so while I fully realize many are copying solutions from somewhere, I let them get away with it. I warn them they're cheating themselves, yadda yadda, and will pay for it when it comes to a test and they don't know where to start. And so they do. Not that that changes anyone's behavior, either.

    Now, I agree the campus is beautiful when empty. That's why I love to work during the summer.

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    1. I have the same view of homework. The good students get an A on the assignments, probably by working them out themselves. The low and middle performing students might try some problems and copy the rest. Homework grades range from 80% to 100%, except for those students who skip the homework all together. ("Except for those students who skip the homework!" Thank you.) Those are the ones I know aren't giving a shit about my class.

      In the end, the homework raises their grades. The consequence is that I don't have to worry about giving exams that get really low grades. It all averages out.

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    2. Me too on the homework. Wonder if we're all STEM people?

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    3. Same experience, but not a STEM person. Students who do the homework will do better for all the obvious reasons; and it's not worth that much, so I don't police it. Major papers I check for plagiarism. Exams, I stay in the class for classes larger than 20. More than 100 and I bring in a TA to help invigilate.

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  6. I wonder if watching them like hawks isn't more likely to turn them into cheaters. The world is not full of hawks checking their movements. When do they ever learn to be responsible for themselves? Are you hurting them by watching them in that way. I think so.

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  7. We have an honor system. I inform them of that on every exam. I also provide lots of white space, so they don't need scratch paper. And in classes where people are cheek-by-jowl, I provide two versions of the same exam.

    Since I'm not permitted to be present during the exam, I'm not. But students take the system pretty seriously; in almost two decades I've had only three people cheat on exams. The last one fought it all the way up the chain, in spite of the fact that the identities between hers and another student's exam were similar to writing the same one-paragraph answer to an essay question, word-for-word.

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    1. To forestall the obvious, I've had only three people cheat on exams that I've been able to find. If they cheat and it doesn't improve their scores, then they've really only cheated themselves.

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  8. I give out 2 versions of each test, making sure that they are never sitting next to someone with the same test. My room is really small, so I don't have the space to spread them out. I will occasionally stroll around the room, but I usually just stand in the center of the room grading the previous class's tests while glancing up at them from time to time.

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  9. While I typically don't leave the class for long periods of time, I have walked back to my office to grab another pile of grading or a cup of coffee. On several of my exams they get "notecards" AKA "cheat sheets" so that seems to even the playing field. Sadly, allowing them notecards doesn't change the grade distribution =-(
    Also, when I have caught cheaters it, almost without fail, involved two not-so-bright snowflakes. If you are going to copy off of a D student, you will get what is coming to you one way or another.

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    1. I try to make the cheat sheet help them. I insist that they write it themselves and turn it in so that I can verify this.

      I figure that working out *what* to put on the sheet ought to be useful study time. Plus I examine the differences between the sheets of successful and unsuccessful students in an attempt to learn *how* to teach the next round of the little buggers.

      And my experience is the same as yours: it simply doesn't help them. Worse, though I have identified a couple of pathologies that signal near certain failure I have yet to convert that knowledge into a student successfully enlightened.

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    2. I think students will put in the same relative amount of effort. Memorizing equations takes more time so all students study more. The best study much more and the lesser students study a bit more. A cheat sheet helps immensely by saving students a lot of study time. The best students still put in the most effort (though less than they would need without the cheat sheet) and the lesser students put in the least time (probably less than without the cheat sheet also). The part that amazes me is that the lesser students don't take advantage of this opportunity to excel or don't realize that the opportunity is there. We grade them on an absolute scale so if they put in relatively more effort, they would achieve significantly more. The fact that they can't figure that out is probably why they are lesser students to begin with.

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  10. I'm a hawk. I teach one of the classes you need to get into med school, dentistry, optometry (insert professional designation here, except for law and MBA), so the cheating is something FIERCE. We have a student Code of Conduct, but all it is good for is wiping your ass with, if you ever decide to use it to charge a student with an offense.

    Even when it involves the way more serious stuff, like harassment or stalking (usually of brand-new young female profs), there's very little actually 'done', using university regulations, until the police are called, charges laid, restraining orders issued; only THEN are university regulations applied to kick a student out or restrict them from some activity or course or portion of campus (IMO, usually done by a chastened uni for PR purposes...). I've tried to imagine what has gone on in admin offices before the suffering prof realized that the uni was useless and decided to call police: (senior admin): "Now, we want you to stop leaving sexually explicit messages on Prof Jennifer's phone, okay?" (student): "No." (student walks out); (senior admin, wringing hands and pulling out hair): "Nuts, nuts, nuts. He said no. He said no! What do we do now?? Well, we can only hope he'll come to his senses and stop. Yes, that's what we'll do, we'll wait it out and hope that it all blows over...".

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  11. You get back what you give out. If you treat them like hoodlums, prone to cheat you, that's the kind of mindset you give to them.

    Your students's behavior is in your hands at all times. Treat them with respect, and you'll get what you want. There's nothing I'm more sure of.

    I'm a stroller, and blissfully happy.

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    1. A person's ethics are shaped by many people and experiences throughout their lives. Students don't change behavior from one class to the next depending on how much the professor monitors them.

      When you see a cop on the side of the road, do you want to speed up or slow down?

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    2. When I see a cop on the side of the road I bemoan that I live in these times.

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    3. As I said above, I think the patrolling is for the benefit of the students who AREN'T cheating, not to save the cheaters from themselves.

      And if I see a cop at the side of the road around here, I'm surprised (the UK's Economic Efficiencies and swingeing cuts seem to lead to less police around. Who'd'a thunk it?)

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  12. I tried the two-version thing only once at my current institution, and man will I never attempt that again. "The other version was easier!" (Hurled at me from both sides, of course.)

    My current default policy for my intro course is to allow them to prepare one-page "cheat sheets" in advance. The only problem I've had with "cheating" is when some lazy ass decides to photocopy someone else's cheat sheet (or, worse, just "borrow" their neighbor's) instead of making their own, which is expressly forbidden in the ground rules. This pressure valve seems to be very much appreciated, and I don't have issues with additional efforts to take info from anywhere else.

    Even if I don't feel that cheating is really an imminent threat, I still prefer to be around during exams, even if TAs are there to help out. There is nearly always some question that stumps them through what they see as unusual wording, and since it's my native language but not theirs, no amount of anticipation has helped me predict which question it will be. I prefer to be the one to try and rephrase it fairly for the students who can't deal with the on-paper version.

    Perhaps this makes me a softie, but for an exam situation I'll accept that. I have every other class session to be hard on them.

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    1. My two-version things are the same exam, but rearranged and printed on different coloured stock, thus eliminating "The other version was easier!" However, this tactic only works for multiple-choice exams.

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    2. Don't kid yourself: it works for any sort of exam that involves more than half-a-dozen questions. I use this all the time. (I have been known to change things up a bit, so that I might have questions in which the concept is the same but the phenomenon is different e.g. "define the word up" vs. "define the word down."

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    3. I always give two or three versions of the same multiple-choice exam (I don't give multiple-choice in all my classes, but I do in Non-Majors' Cricetulotextilology with 80+ students in the lecture room). The questions are the same, and the possible answers to each question are the same, but arranged in different orders on the different versions. And I don't color-code them; I'll use something like a deliberate misspelling on the front page to mark which version is which. (Students must turn in both their answer sheets and the original exams, with their names on both -- so that I can tell who took which version.)

      It's a whole lot of work to set this up, and it doesn't catch every cheater -- only the ones who copy their neighbor's answers without trying to read that neighbor's questions. (I use other countermeasures to try and stop other cheating methods.) On the other hand, every so often, I'll get a student who's utterly baffled as to how he got a grade of 18% when his neighbor got 90%. . . it does my heart good explaining how that happened.

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  13. I'm with Amy on the energy thing. I have found that the way I treat them is how they act.

    I feel better knowing others have learned that, too. We all need to!

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    1. What about the other way around?

      The way students treat the class and the professor is how the instructor responds in turn.

      Be a lying, cheating douchebag, you get treated as such.

      Because let's be clear... if we all had classroom full of honorable, law-abiding scholars, we can be lenient and lax and trusting. Not every professor has a classroom full of those sort of students.

      P.S. Basic proctoring is acting professionally, not being "mean" or whatever.

      P.P.S. I also believe proffies have the right to conduct their classrooms any way they choose, which includes being overly trustworthy or overly suspicious as befits their pedagogical choice. Academic Freedom, etc.

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  14. You absolutely get the students you deserve. Treat them like little felons and they're going to give you that back.

    And does one stand in the middle of the classroom policing and grading at the same time? Why don't you just put shock collars on them set with a mercury switch that will jolt them should they swivel? I think that would bring peace of mind to some in this thread.

    Oh, and bring more color to the graphics. God it's grey/gray here now!

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    1. If you trust them, why make them attend class at all? They could pick up the exam and bring it back an hour later.

      Showing trust in order to build trust works in long term relationships. That's not what I have with my students. They don't know me and I don't know them. They are here and then they are gone.

      If I see a stranger hanging around my front porch, I don't invite the guy in and show him where I keep the good hooch in order to make him respect me.

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    2. I do that, too.

      You have a good argument, though.

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  15. Sorry, but this 'treat them with respect and they'll behave' stuff sounds on the very far side of ridiculous for anyone teaching a large class, particularly for a 1st year course that is a mandatory prerequisite, as opposed to small upper-year course taken out of personal interest. After nearly 10 years of teaching a 1st year class of 500, I'd be pleased if average attendance cracked 50 percent. As Beaker Ben said, I don't know them and they don't know me, so their cheating or lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with the respect I've shown them. Students come with cheat sheets hidden in their sleeves, their pockets, in the folds of their crotch (thank goodness it fell out to the ground when I told the student to stand up, no way I was going to reach for it), they get non-students (including older siblings or cousins who took the course in a previous year) to write their exam for them, they write stuff on toilet paper in the bathroom stall and then roll the toilet paper back into the roll, they stuff cheat sheets into the bathroom garbage can, they position themselves in groups in a far corner of the exam hall and whisper answers amongst themselves, they quickly switch the positioning of exams where different versions are laid out in an alternating pattern, they plant someone in the lecture hall to bolt from the exam hall within the first 10 minutes, with the exam in hand, and then text the answers to them (yes, all parts of this particular plan were quite bold, and they got caught ...).

    Respect's got nothing to do with it.

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  16. Well, then you are making the right choices for the kind of students your class draws.

    I've been in the business quite a while and have never heard anything like your tale. I'd swallow a bottle of pills before I dealt with that college.

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  17. I do some of both. I stroll around, but I feel disruptive doing it in my tiny sized classroom. I have small classes, so I worry less. When I was a lowly TA at my big Uni proctoring large class exams in lecture halls...I was a stalker!

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  18. By the way, Cal, I love that graphic. Another collage-y masterpiece!

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  19. I remain in the class during a test. I look up occassionaly from what I am doing (usually correcting) to see what they are doing.

    I would never leave during a test, but I don't stroll around looking for cheating, either.

    So I guess I am neither a hawk nor a stroller.

    I don't agree, though, that if you trust them they won't cheat. But I also see Hector's point about not caring whether they cheat or not, and not wanting to be a policeman.

    I guess I am somewhere in the middle. My presence will force them to at least try to be sneaky. And I have failed a student who handed in her exam with her sleeve rolled up to reveal a cheat sheet written on her arm. Should I have not looked at her ink covered arm?

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  20. "My students don't cheat. I know this because I've never caught any cheaters in my classes." Uh huh.

    There are basically three types of cheaters: Sweathogs, Grinders, and Sociopaths. The Sweathogs are the ones who usually get caught because they're as stupid about cheating as they are about studying. The Grinders are high-achievers who cheat because they only care about their grades, not the learning itself. Thus, they don't see cheating as wrong. In fact, they are likely to consider moral opposition to cheating as naive. The Sociopaths speak for themselves.
    You've had all three types in your classes, whether you've caught them or not. Sometimes your favorite, most engaged and thoughtful student is just a D-bag Eddie Haskel. Don't kid yourself that you know them better than you do.

    Also, I'm with Grumpy--I monitor exams so that the non-cheaters get to operate on a level playing field.

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    1. Sometimes your favorite, most engaged and thoughtful student is just a D-bag Eddie Haskel. Don't kid yourself that you know them better than you do.

      I can't second this enough. I've been around long enough that I'm no longer quietly shocked or devastated when my "favorite" student lifts a paragraph off the internet, cries through the plagiarism meeting that his grandpa is dying of cancer, and then goes right back out and cheats again. You just really can't ever let your guard down.

      I think that Grinders are just another kind of sociopath, though. Futures in white collar crime await them.

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  21. There's some awfully interesting research on cheating in college: McCabe et al., Ethics & Behavior 11 (2001) 219
    gives a fairly interesting summary. The most notable take-away for me is that the prevalence of cheating is most influenced my contextual factors - i.e., the perception of peers' behavior.

    STRONG evidence that if student PERCEIVE that others are cheating, they are very very likely to themselves cheat.

    Also that certain kinds of honor code institutions show less (self-admitted) cheating than non honor-code institutions, but that AT BEST, self-admitted SERIOUS cheating rates fall in the 50% range. And these rates have increased (1990 to 1996). And there's no easy answers.

    Just sayin'

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    1. I cite McCabe et al to my students and colleagues, but to little effect. Last round of finals, one of my students reported that another student (not one of mine) had been consulting her binder full of notes throughout the exam. The other professor (we were writing in a gym) wasn't around, so I simply confiscated the binder and reported to the professor when he reappeared.

      He dismissed my (and my student's) concerns but offered me the helpful advice that what we *really* should be concerned about is . . . invisible ink.

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  22. Perhaps one can view cheating as a collapsed wave function, in that the student takes on all possibilities at once. Since one of those possibilities involves the non-existence of cheating, then the student isn't cheating until we observe them to be doing such.

    Theorem: We cause students to cheat by looking at them.

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    1. "Anyone who looks up is a cheater. Anyone who keeps their head down is a well disciplined cheater."

      Cheaters? I love to get some.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S06nIz4scvI

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  23. My college and system have a policy that the instructor may not leave the room while students are there. By state law, we're part of the K-12 regulations.

    Of course, we do occasionally need to leave (too much chili the night before), but it's rare and fortunately hasn't happened to me during an exam.

    I'm a relaxed hawk. No cell phones, no calculators, no backpacks or purses at the student's place. If you leave the room for any reason, the test is done for you. I patrol a few times. But I also try to keep the atmosphere as light and relaxed as possible since students (being human) remember things better when relaxed. I joke a little, visit a little as they come in, and try to smile and sort of dance more than usual in my body language.

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  24. Being in Quantitative Rodentology I allow cheat sheets. One time, hand-written cheat sheets, mind. And I get them spread out and have 2+ versions with scrambled order.

    So that's the low hanging fruit, and your basic not offer temptation to the weak willed.

    But then I bring something else to do and may pop out for more coffee or a pit stop (all that coffee). I do move around the room some and observe carefully any time I look up, but I trust that there are few cheaters and hope to catch them by sampling their behavior rather than going all Big Brother on them.

    The tests are rigged so that they can't get better than a B- on the multiple guess part, so I get a chance to examine their work.

    Frankly, the score distributions I get suggest that anyone who is cheating is doing so badly: they generally agree with each students success (or lack there of) on the homework, and my sense of how well they've been getting it.

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  25. I'm a wanderer. I can't stand wasting my time hawking. My rooms are generally quite small (only hold 35 or so), and all have computers in them. I always bring in a webcam, plug it in, and face it towards them. I make a big show of it for the first exam, and the looks on their faces are fantastic. The camera doesn't even work anymore, it's so damn old.

    Since I have been doing this, no cheating.

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  26. I've taught at two schools with very strong honor code traditions, so strong that it was considered absolutely unacceptable, a violation of the spirit if not the letter of said code, for a faculty member to remain in the room during testing. In those places, I behaved pretty much as Hector describes (well, plus or minus the Taco Bell run; this was pre-cell phones, so the appropriate location for the proffie was considered hir office, or somewhere else nearby, with a sign on the office door providing directions. A quick mid-test poke of the head into the door to take questions was usually also considered appropriate, and customary). Even then, I wasn't teaching test-heavy classes, and responses on most of the questions -- really, everything but the i.d. passages, and even those required a rationale -- weren't all that easy to improve with a quick glance at someone else's paper (notes might be another matter, but I often allowed a one-page cheat-sheet; once again, whether this kind of approach works varies by discipline). I didn't have a major problem with cheating on tests at those schools (though I did see plagiarism, including the worst case I've ever seen: a roommate stealing her roommate's paper, then refusing to 'fess up, which left the victim feeling betrayed, blindsided, and generally anxious during exam period. The second-worst case was at a highly-regarded Catholic university, which I believe has some sort of honor code, but the exam in question was take-home). I do think there's something to the argument that overall climate, and beliefs about peer behavior, play a large role in individual student behavior. I suspect that the strongest honor codes -- the ones that preclude proctoring and require students to commit to turning each other in for cheating, as well as eschewing cheating themselves -- are the most effective.

    I rarely give exams these days (at a university with an honor code, but not the sort that precludes proctoring), but, when I do, I work at the front of the room and glance up occasionally. I might well feel different if I were in a different field (including some of the ones mentioned above), but I mostly tend toward the belief that it's not my job (or at least not a/the primary goal of my job) to prevent them from robbing themselves of the education for which they've paid.

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