Cheating when you can

In my physics class, we get take-home quizzes. That makes them similar to homework. The distinction?

No outside help. That means that, while you can work in groups on the homework, the quizzes are meant to be done alone.

In addition, they’re much harder than the homework. Even harder than the midterms.

But despite the stipulation that no outside help is allowed, you can imagine what happens: students get frustrated, and they collaborate. Even more worrying is the fact that some students justify their “cheating” by saying that the professor doesn’t care if we “cheat.”

When asked to explain this position, the reply is: “Even when we work in his office, asking him for help, we still work together, and he doesn’t care.” If the professor doesn’t “care,” is it not cheating? Is it not still immoral and unethical?

Our professor clearly stated the quizzes were to be done without outside help. We could get help from him, but not from each other. Still, he does not enforce this rule. It simply expresses a desire – the spirit of the law, if you will. After all, it’s much like the rest of the course: he gives us all the answers for the homework. The purpose is not to get the answers. After all, the answers have all been found, and the problems all solved! Physicists and students before us have already solved these problems. Why are we doing them?

To learn. And that’s why he gives us all the answers ahead of time. It’s a very good philosophy, as long as students have some integrity to not take the class only for the grade. You have to take the class to learn. To go to through the problem-solving process. Same with the quizzes, and with every other assignment for every other class. It’s about learning by doing.

So, back to the original question: should you cheat if you can? And if the professor doesn’t enforce it, does that mean he doesn’t care?

My answer to both questions is “no.”

2 Responses to “Cheating when you can”

  1. Michael says:

    Nice analysis. You’re starting to face the reality of the “public” man and the ethical questions he faces daily. Without the conviction and integrity of the individual “private” person, society faces the downward slide towards chaos.

    I’m very proud of you. Grades are only an indicator of how well you learned. If you fix the grade by cheating, you lie about what you’ve learned. But even more devastating that lying is that you have proven the kind of person you are.

  2. Luke says:

    The real question is: “Is the work worth the learned material?” If you can’t legitimately prove that I’ll need whatever it is that you’re teaching me then there’s no good reason that I should continue to put effort into learning the material. A quick grasp of it is probably good enough for anything I’ll ever really need.

    Now, never doing the homework is probably just dumb…you need to be able to get close enough, but if the quiz takes longer than an hour it’s probably not worth it and alternative means to solving it should be found.

    It’s just like doing taxes…the government really doesn’t need to know about all those cash transactions…

    It’s the idea of finding a balance of what’s really worth it and what’s not. Most people of course don’t find that balance and go too far down the hole or build a mountain to go over it. Really, sometimes it’s just not worth it in the end no matter what educational types say.

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