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C'est la Z


I said in my last post that I wanted to write about chatGPT. The way I see it, chatGPT is affecting teachers in four areas. First, students using it to cheat, second the possibility of students using it as a constructive tool. Third, teachers using it as a resource for lesson planning or similar, and fourth, down the road, another tool to replace teachers.

Before I dive into any of those, I thought I'd spend a post talking about cheating in general. I've written about cheating before but that was a few years ago so I thought I'd revisit things in light of chatGPT and other resources students can use to cut corners.

Cheating has always been a big topic in education. Some teachers let it slide, some are hardliners but it's a front and center topic. It's also a topic that's difficult to address. One reason is that our society tolerates and even celebrates cheating at many levels. Time and again we see that the rules are only for the little people. Not a great basis if you want to encourage rule following in the classroom.

In my opinion, cheating is going to happen and usually it's not worth stressing about but more on that later.

Why do student cheat?

Some cheat because they don't care about the class and find it as an easy way out but I'd like to think that most students don't follow this path. Many cheaters do it out of desperation - they need to get a good grade because of their parents, college applications, expectations or otherwise. The system they're in dictates that it is unacceptable to get a low grade and so they're backed into a corner. Similarly, students are at times so overburdened that they can't complete all the work or adequately prepare for assessments - this can also lead to cheating.

Another case is that students in some cultures view what some would call cheating as collaboration and this one can be tricky as to a many people it's a matter of degree and in my opinion, collaboration should be encouraged.

I do have to admit that there is another category that I played a part in back in high school - in my group, if we respected a teacher, we never cheated - we'd just take our lumps. If we didn't we might cheat, usually to see how far we could go and what we could get away with - in all cases, to be honest, we worked hard to learn the material and the cheating part was just a game - not so much trying to get answers we needed on tests but more, can we communicate information undetected during an exam.

So, what do we do?

Some teachers take a hard line but I'm not comfortable with this. Repercussions for cheating are harsh and can range from a slap on the wrist which isn't worth it to failing a course or even expulsion. Those last two are pretty big and I've known in my life a number of people who were falsely accused of academic dishonesty. I'd rather miss a few of the cheats rather than punish the innocent.

I usually will let it slide unless I know 100%. I'll take certain measures to limit cheating as outlined in my earlier linked post but more of my efforts are to create a positive environment - encourage collaboration with attribution - try not to overburden students with gratuitous work - make it okay to "fail" so long as you eventually get to where you need to go and so on. Of course, it's not perfect. I'm still in a system that gives letter or number grades and everything has to settle down to a grade by end of term. I'd like to think that the culture I push minimizes cheating but you can't really know.

In any event, there really is some truth the old line "you're only cheating yourself." At least in CS. If a student cheats through a class, they'll likely not take the next one. So what, they got one undeserved A grade. In the greater scheme of things it's not going to make a difference. If they don't learn the material, they're not going to get the job and even if they do, they won't be able to do the job and, well, if they can do the job, then maybe what they cheated on wasn't so important after all.

Now, it's true that we do have to try to minimize cheating - hopefully by creating a positive culture because the majority of students DO have to learn the basics and we can't have everyone cheating through everything but I really don't think that's an issue. For me, it's try to make the environment conducive to not cheating and then not worry about it too much.

One last note is that while I try to do this, I do get irked when a student cheats and I really get irked when students try to "work the system" to get grades they don't deserve. I try to remind myself that, as the saying goes "it's not personal, it's just business" and I think that's a good thing for all of us to remember. To fix this, we have to fix root causes and while movements like ungrading, if not taken to far, can really help, I'm not sure that things will improve much in the short term.

With all this said, stay tuned for related thoughts on chatGPT.

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