Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Here I was, a young, eager English teacher fresh out of college standing in front of a group of students at a business college in Lithuania. We had been together for 3 months and now the time had arrived for me to hand out my first exam as a language instructor. I had been warned that Lithuanians were masters in the ‘art’ of cheating (obviously a major generalization that comes from a negative cultural attitude) so I was prepared to not be ‘outsmarted’ by my students. It was me against them and I was ready to show them who was boss. The exam was carried out in the evening and with the bright lights in the room along with the darkness outside, I planned on using the reflection in the window as my secret weapon. And it worked. I managed to catch a woman redhanded as she pulled out a cheat sheet as my back was turned. I bolted over and grabbed her exam and told her to leave immediately. The class was in shock. She started to cry as she ran out of the classroom. In that moment, my heart sank as I realized what I had just done. I felt sick. To be honest, I still feel terrible about it. Sure, she had cheated, but what does that actually mean? What could I have done differently to avoid this situation? How should I have handled that moment to the betterment of the whole class?

That moment has stuck with me and has caused my to think about how I perceive cheating and all of the cultural baggage that comes with it. Here are some of the things that I have come up along the way:

  1. Eliminate regurgitation type of assessment. We need to find ways to evaluate how students are able to use the language in various contexts instead of simple memorization. For me, this has been through the use of open-ended application questions in open-book exams. Students are free to use notes, books, and even the internet as they write. The only thing I ask them is that they don’t consult with anyone else in the room and their responses must be their own. So far, I haven’t had a single problem of cheating (as far as I can tell).
  2. Prepare the students ahead of time. This includes talking openly about what cheating means to them as well as for the institution. In my class, we don’t just talk about punishment, but also internal factors such as hurting their chances to learn. This goes back to my post on allowing room for failure. The higher the stakes in the assessment, the more likely it is that students will cheat. I have tried to reduce that my applying the use of smaller, more regular tests or assignments that shows the student and myself how they are progressing and making adjustments along the way.
  3. Stop using automated forms of detection. It is both the responsibility of the students and the teacher to work through this issue, so why are we giving it over to the software companies? If we are assessing them along the way, shouldn’t it be easier for us to notice major changes in their production? We are communicating the wrong message when we start with the assumption that they are cheating. That is what we are saying when we use plagiarism software. It is like they are guilty and must prove their innocence.
  4. Understand their cultural background. Cheating means different things to different people. Copying is a form of flattery and respect in certain cultures. Does this mean we allow it? No, but we shouldn’t become offended when they do it. This is not a personal issue, this is a matter of education. That includes you as a teacher as well.
  5. Cheating should not be about integrity. Focusing on the goal of maintaining the reputation of the institution, we seek ways of getting rid of the problem instead of addressing it. It is also possible that schools will try to hide incidences of cheating in order to avoid scandals involving high level individuals. It is the equivalent of moving the homeless out of town in order to say our municipality doesn’t have a problem with homelessness. Address the issue. Work with those involved. Be understanding.

Here are some articles that I have come across recently that address some of these issues:

King, C. G., Guyette, Jr., R. W., and Piotrowski, C. (2009). Online exams and cheating: An empirical analysis of business students’ views. The Journal of Educators Online, 6(1). 1-11. Retrieved from

This article looks at how students perceive cheating when working online. This shows how important it is to address the issue up front instead of just make a simple statement about cheating.

Gharib, A., Phillips, W., and Mathew, N. (2012). Cheat sheet or open-book? A comparison of the effects of exam types on performance, retention, and anxiety. Psychology Research, 2(8). 469-478. Retrieved from

This shows how open-book exams can be quite effective in addressing a number of issues.

Turn it down, don’t Turnitin: Resisting plagiarism detection services by talking about plagiarism rhetorically. Retrieved from

This is website that is part of the Bowling Green State University. It is an interesting take on the use of Turnitin, a plagiarism software.

Bouville, M. (n.d.). Why is cheating wrong? Retrieved from

One person’s take on cheating and why we perceive it a wrong. An interesting read whether you agree or not.

Since this is only my opinion, I would appreciate your feedback on this important matter. Please add your comments here or send me tweet @nathanghall. Thank you.

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