(image via here)
You've had zero hours of sleep because you spent the entire night trying to memorize theories, equations and a whole bunch of mambo jumbos that explains how societies allocate scarce resources to satisfy people's wants and needs. Your notes are scattered all over your desk (or the floor) and practically all the pages of your book are filled with neon highlights that emphasizes all the important information that you need to remember in order to survive. You've eaten more than a fare share of junk food and consumed gallons of caffeine in order to last the night. And then you ponder why, with the abundance of time you've had before, you never thought of allocating them to memorizing and understanding the things you were already supposed to know. Welcome to the night before examination periods where students cram, panic, and try as hard as they can to shove up all the information they can possibly process in 24 hours (or less) in their brains, all for the ultimate goal of attaining that seemingly elusive passing mark. This may not apply to everybody but at least a large majority of students all over the world have nights like these. But when that fateful exams day eventually comes, all systems would suddenly and (most of the time unsurprisingly) fail and none of the information hurriedly digested the night before are available for recall in the memory banks. Exam questions then transform into un-decipherable encrypted data and the chances of making it through have gone from barely possible to mission impossible.
When this happens, students turn to one of their last and most ingenious of tricks -- cheating! The art of cheating is one that is perfected throughout time. It takes skill, perseverance, determination and cunning to be executed seamlessly. It evolved together with the advancement of technology and has now taken on numerous forms. Students have now developed elaborate and fail-safe systems of cheating; some of which have been widely successful while the others have caused grief even to top students. It has been embedded deep within the academic culture and putting an end to it has proven to be futile.
Schools have now set-up stricter policies to counteract cheating such as -- no cellphones during exams; bags and all notes must be left in lockers or placed in front of the class; and worse, students have to be frisked before they're allowed to take the exam (yes, I've seen that happen!) As a teacher you must exert a significant amount of effort to ensure that your exams are cheat-proof (if you can only put anti-cheating charms in the exam papers that would be neat). You need to have a hawk's eye to detect the most subtle of movements and you'd need a bat's ear to hear the faintest of whispers. But despite all of these, cheating persists and prevails.
So what should a teacher do in order to minimize if not eliminate the incidence of cheating? In my two years of teaching I've learned a trick or two that has helped significantly reduce the number of students in my class who resort to cheating as a means of getting through a course and I'd like to share them here:
1. Take the focus away from grades -- most teachers think that terrorizing students with failing marks will somehow push them to work harder. That may move at least three to four students in class to react positively but unfortunately, the good majority of the class will not only respond with hate, but will try to outsmart you whenever they can just to exact revenge on you for being unreasonable even if you have the best of intentions. Instead of constantly reminding them that you hold their fate in your precious little hands, stress to them the significance of the things they ought to learn in class. After all, the end goal for classes is not just achieving a high grade but actually learning from them. If you take away the stress of grades the focus will be on learning instead of achieving. Students will no longer need to cheat because they've actually learned something.
2. Prioritize depth over breadth -- You hand out the course syllabus at the beginning of the class with high expectations and with a wide range of topics and learning objectives. You throw piles and piles of reading materials to the young ones believing that it's the only way to achieve the goals you've set for them. But the truth of the matter is this, your class is not the only one your students will have to attend to. We've all been students once and we know what it's like to have heaps of reading materials to go through. And because we have to do so many, we end up taking shortcuts for some subjects (like cheating) in order to focus to the ones we think are more important. The key is to streamline. If there's a range of reading lists for a single topic focus on the material that would best enable the students to learn what it is they're supposed to learn. Slow deep learning is still best. They'd remember those that they've learned deeply. Even if you've covered hundreds of materials, students will immediately forget them if they don't really have a clear understanding of them. As a result, it will be as if your class never happened.
3. Make learning fun by being creative in class -- Sell your class by understanding your students' culture and relating to them. You may find hearing a barrage of facts entertaining but not everyone does. Find a common interest among your students and build from there. All classes even the dullest ones have practical applications and it is your duty as a teacher to discover what those are. Sure, teachers have different personalities and interests, but classes are not about them, they're supposed to be about the students. There's more at stake for them than for you. (Here's when I remember Mr. Miyagi telling Daniel that there's no such thing as a bad student, only bad a teacher -- Karate Kid I) And when the class is fun, students will absorb the lessons like extra-absorbent sponges and learning goals will be achieved. As a result, exams will be easier for them.
4. Be a mentor not an authority figure -- Ah, the lure of power and domination; for what end? I believe it is better to be feared out of respect than to be feared out of hate. If you're their mentor they will have so much respect for you, that they will never try to cross you and cheating never becomes an option (or less of an option).
5. Don't ever try to show off by emphasizing how difficult the subject you teach is (even if it really is) -- It's like telling the students they can't do it. Instead, encourage them to take it as a challenge and remind them that they're capable. You once survived it right? Always emphasize the practicality of the subject. That's how I've learned to love my business law and statistics classes despite the number of jargons and other technicalities.
6. If all of the above still fail, make your exams cheat-proof -- Schools have different policies on the type of exams a teacher can give. Some schools require multiple choice exams, while others are okay with essay questions. It's very difficult to cheat on essay exams; but checking them can be such hard work. For essay exams, try to limit the number of sentences a student can use to give his/her answer. For multiple choice exams on the other hand, you can probably give different sets of exams for each row or line. Exam questions need not be entirely different. You can have different sets of options for each exams -- like instead of using ABCDs, you can make use of numbers or other letters in the alphabet. It's fun to form some sort of a code with the choices.
Cheating is really something we (both teacher and student) will encounter when we go to school. It's beginning is unknown and how it will progress in time is not for certain. But one thing is clear though, we go to school in order to learn. More than anything, that has to be the priority whether you're there as a student or as a teacher.
P.S. First exams in the school where I teach will be next week and I am currently revising the exam questions. I sincerely hope, all my students will do well.