U. KANSAS (US)—Even in the age of laptops and online courses, cheating by college students usually results in the same outcome: failure.
But the reason students cheat by copying others’ homework in the first place may be a surprise. It’s not because they don’t know the material—it’s because they procrastinate too long to get the work done on their own.
Young-Jin Lee, assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Kansas, spent four years studying cheating by students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, using MasteringPhysics, an online homework tutoring system.
“MIT freshmen are required to take physics,” explains Lee. “Homework was given through a Web-based tutor that our group had developed. We analyzed when they logged in, when they logged out, what kind of problems they solved and what kinds of hints they used.”
Students also were asked to complete an anonymous survey about the frequency of their homework copying. (According to the survey, students nationally admit to engaging in more academic dishonesty than MIT students.)
Details of Lee’s study appear online in Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research.
Among the researchers’ most notable findings:
- Students who procrastinated also copied more often. Those who started their homework three days ahead of deadline copied less than 10 percent of their problems, while those who waited until the last minute were repetitive copiers.
- Students who copied frequently had about three times the chance of failing the course.
- Students are twice as likely to copy on written homework than on online homework.
- Doing all the homework assigned is “a surer route to exam success” than a preexisting aptitude for physics.
“People believe that students copy because of their poor academic skills,” Lee says.
“But we found that repetitive copiers—students who copy over 30 percent of their homework problems—had enough knowledge, at least at the beginning of the semester. But they didn’t put enough effort in. They didn’t start their homework long enough ahead of time, as compared to noncopiers.”
Because repetitive copiers don’t adequately learn physics topics on which they copy the homework, Lee explains, copying caused declining performance on analytic test problems later in the semester.
“Even though everyone knows not doing homework is bad for learning, no one knows how bad it is. Now we have a quantitative measurement. It could make an A student get B or even C.”
At the beginning of a semester, the researchers found that copying was not as widespread as it was late in the semester.
“Obviously, the amount of copying was not so prevalent because the academic load was not as much at the beginning of the semester,” Lee says. “In order to copy solutions, the students need to build their networks. They need to get to know each other so that they can ask for the answers.”
University of Kansas news: www.news.ku.edu/