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University students are taking cheating high tech. Information technology has changed virtually everything about students’ ability to undermine or destroy the integrity of the academic experience.

Students used to trade copied papers, exchange pirated examination questions and answers, or ask a friend to place their name on the attendance sheet even as they skipped class for other pursuits. Now students can use computers, cell phones, calculators, iPods, even video equipment, to cheat and to plagiarize.

It may seem self-evident to some of us that whether one cheats off line or online it’s still cheating. But students in the early Twenty-First Century are coming from a culture that says cheating is not only acceptable, its just part of the game. Don Campbell, writing in National CrossTALK, a newspaper published by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, reports “cheating and plagiarism in the country have reached epidemic proportions on college campuses.”

Since fall 2002, researcher Donald McCabe of Rutgers University, has surveyed some 50,000 students on more than 60 campuses. On most campuses, 70% of students admit to some cheating, with one or more instances of serious cheating on written assignments reported by half the students surveyed. Some 44% of faculty members surveyed did not report cheating when they discovered it.

McCabe also found that high school students are cheating in record numbers at record rates. More than 70% of students surveyed in 18,000 high schools admitted to cheating on tests.

No one seems to know how to fix the problem. Faculty members don’t want to hurt students’ chances for advancement or they don’t want to involve themselves in possible confrontation. Students think cheating is really no big deal because they are maturing, or at least aging, in a culture that reinforces a morally relativistic point of view. Academic institutions have tried honor codes and online services that check student prose against vast databases. The former approach is breaking down and the latter approach is costly. Plus, no one seems to affirm a moral consensus capable of providing ethical punch to discussions about academic dishonesty. Everybody’s view of right and wrong is different.

Student dishonesty is simply a younger example of what adults are also often doing in the workplace. In this sense, students come by their dishonesty “honestly.” They mimic their adult mentors.

Technology is not the culprit, only the means. Computers, communications technology, and the Internet are not making cheating and plagiarism possible, just easier. What matters is the student’s moral code. What’s needed is a return to basic moral instruction in families and in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. Waiting to teach ethics to students in college is an already lost cause.

Christian university students also cheat. Sorry to say, lack of integrity, lying, cheating, and plagiarism also exist on the Cornerstone University campus. But we do have a different way of dealing with this problem than it appears our public university and most private college peers embrace. We teach students that God said “Do not lie” and “Do not steal.” We teach them that whatever they do, “whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

This Christian ethics approach works for many of these students but not all. We find that some students, no matter how they’ve been taught, still seem to want to make their own choices, perhaps their own mistakes. The light goes on sometimes four or five years after they’ve graduated. In the crucible of life alumni begin to understand that God’s way is indeed the best way.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

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