More than anything else about higher ed, I am interested in the relationship between students and their studies. What could be more important? Unfortunately, this does not get written about much, but it happens occasionally. Like this piece by Keith O’Brien in the Boston Globe last week, on a finding that students study 10 hours fewer per week than they did a half-century ago. Of course my kids-today string got majorly plucked. Those lazy do-nothings! That stupid Internet!
But read further—too far! the 20th graf!—and you learn that nearly all the decline came in the first two decades of the research. Study times fell from 24.4 hours in 1961 to 16.8 hours in 1981. Since then, they have only declined another 2.8 hours. I don’t doubt there is a disturbing lack of academic engagement for many students, but a discussion about this particular piece of research should really ask what happened academically in the ’60s and ’70s, rather than more recently.
The piece that really captured my attention last week was by Trip Gabriel of the New York Times, on the elaborate efforts the University of Central Florida and other schools go through to detect cheating. I do believe that cheating is prevalent, even among many of the “good kids” I have followed closely. Often students don’t think they are cheating. In a master’s program at an Ivy League school, I had to explain to my classmates that you couldn’t just pass chunks of books off as your own writing. In my mind, I tried to be generous: being from foreign countries, maybe they didn’t know better? Except that of course Americans have the same problem. Recently a college student asked me to read a paper, and I found that several of her sentences were taken verbatim (not quoted) from magazine articles she cited. She didn’t realize this was wrong.
I cheated twice in my life: on an American history test in 11th grade (substitute teacher, cheat sheet in my pocket) and on a multivariable calculus exam in college (closed-book take-home test). I remember little about all the bad grades throughout my schooling. But I will never, ever stop feeling gross about the cheating. The students UCF’s high-tech methods are detecting obviously know they are cheating, unlike the student whose paper I read. Do they feel gross, too?