Checking the cheats

June 25, 2004

The belief that the latest software package from the US ("High-tech checks sink web cheats", June 18) will defeat plagiarism is naive.

High-tech defences will simply spawn more sophisticated cheating techniques, merely boosting the incomes of software developers and the lawyers who thrive on defending clients against allegations based on probabilities.

Students have not suddenly changed from saints to crooks, although they have responded to a change in attitude by institutions. If they see the staff as hands hired by managers to serve customers with qualifications they have paid for, then it is not surprising that they see plagiarism as no more than a sharp business method.

Changing that attitude would be a good start,Jbut don't hold your breath.

The problem is assessed coursework.

If we return to the unseen exam as the principal medium of assessment and leave coursework as an excellent medium for teaching, then the great engine of plagiarism in all its forms will be turned off.

If we reinstate the lecture as a device for getting students to think and bin the PowerPoint "presentation" and the handout that is no more than a potted summary of that presentation, then this will help, too.

There is a place for high-tech methods in order to detect electronic forms of cheating in crowded exam halls, but that's another story.

Since no university is likely to have the courage to face up to these issues alone, perhaps we have a role for the Higher Education Academy here?

P. K. Burgess
Department of psychology
Dundee University

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