What to do about Cheating

Academic dishonesty is not a victimless crime. The reality is that students are in competition with each other. Higher grades mean a better chance at scholarships, or placement in special programs and professional faculties. Someone who is cheating on any kind of academic exercise - papers, exams, assignments, anything - is giving him or herself an unfair academic advantage and is cheating everyone else in the class.

Facts about cheating

  • Students report to engage in activities they don't consider to be serious cheating, like collaborating on homework assignments or asking for exam questions from their friends. A smaller percentage reports cheating on tests or buying papers from the Internet, and most students consider those things to be serious cheating (and unacceptable).

    What this tells us is that students are taking shortcuts, but not necessarily that they are always engaging in dishonest behaviour. They may be working together because they feel they learn better that way, or they may ask about the exam questions because they believe it's a fair way to focus their studying.
  • High school students report more cheating behaviours than post-secondary students. It seems that once students get into University, they are more likely to take their education seriously. They may attend high school because they have to, but they attend university because they want to and that encourages more students to put in the time and actually learn rather than just getting the grade.
  • Not everyone defines cheating and plagiarism in exactly the same way. The University of Alberta uses the definitions outlined in the Code of Student Behaviour to ensure that everyone is held to exactly the same standard, no matter what they learned about plagiarism or cheating before coming here.
  • Many of the cases of plagiarism at the University of Alberta are a result of not understanding how to properly acknowledge sources or poor organizational skills rather than an attempt to commit academic fraud. The percentage of students charged with intentional, serious plagiarism is relatively low.

When others are cheating

  • Talk to your instructor. It is part of his or her job to monitor the class. When instructors are missing something, they usually appreciate the heads-up. If possible, call the instructor's attention to cheating as it is happening (in the exam, for example) so that he or she can address it.
  • Point out the behaviour to the TA, if you are more comfortable doing that.
  • If your instructor doesn't want to get involved, contact the Chair of the Department. The Code of Student Behavior stipulates that instructors must address all cases of Inappropriate Academic Behaviour.
  • Discourage your friends and classmates from cheating. Positive peer pressure can be a powerful thing and they may think twice about cheating if they know their friends and classmates don't appreciate what they are doing.
  • You may want to report an incident of cheating anonymously. Usually this does not provide the University with enough information to proceed with a complaint and they may not be able to follow up on the information unless they are able to discuss it with you further. Don't hesitate to make yourself known to your TA, professor, or Associate Dean when you know cheating is happening.
  • You can also contact the Office of the Student Ombuds for advice on what to do when cheating is going unchecked in your class.
  • Whatever you do, don't resort to academic dishonesty yourself. There are always better alternatives to dealing with the dishonesty of others. Don't compromise your own integrity and your own academic record.

The Code of Student Behaviour process is totally confidential. If you report a student cheating and never hear anything about it, that doesn't mean nothing is being done. The University and its officials are not permitted to tell you what is happening but rest assured, they appreciate your assistance.