Cheating, a Click Away
Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 02:09
In spite of the temptation to cheat that iClickers provide, Georgetown professors say that they have seen few signs that the tools are being misused in their classrooms.
A recent Chronicle of Higher Education report found rampant iClicker cheating in more than 1,000 colleges across the country. Over 2 million students nationwide use the devices, which have emerged in several classrooms this semester and have sold out of the Georgetown bookstore; the McDonough School of Business Tech Center currently has a batch on back order to supply the growing demand this fall.
The Georgetown instructors say that dishonest use of the gadgets is minimal on campus.
Matthew Hamilton, associate professor in the biology department, said that in his early years of using the iClicker, he noticed that students would bring multiple clickers to class and respond on behalf of their peers. Ever since he began making clear in his opening lectures that misuse or a failure to report misuse of the iClicker constitute violations of the Honor Code, however, students have cut back on cheating.
"I found that it was just a case of needing to communicate to the students in question and be very clear," Hamilton said.
Hamilton has also adapted his syllabus to highlight the fact that illicit use of the iClicker translates to a violation of the honor code.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid being found guilty of such an honor code violation, said he had seen evidence of clicker cheating in his economics class.
"I have seen people do it for each other in class, but most of the time I don't see it happen. But I've never done that," he said.
Even still, he said that his professor had not clearly established that clicking for others is a form of academic misconduct.
Some students agree that if professors make it clear in their syllabus that clicking on behalf of a peer constitutes a violation of the honor code, cheating is less likely to occur.
Gregory Miller (SFS '14), who has had three courses with iClickers during his time at Georgetown, has never seen a student click on behalf of a peer.
"I'm sure there are people who try to or actually do that. But I've never seen anybody do it," Miller said.
He added that all of his professors have made it clear that clicking on behalf of another student would be a violation of the honor code.
"My professors have all said that … it would be a violation of the honor code. Sometimes they will randomly call on you to find out if you're there. … You'd definitely be in trouble, because clickers are linked to your name," he said.
Mark Rom, associate professor of government and public policy, undertook an informal investigation last fall in which he counted the number of students present in his U.S. Political Systems class and compared it to the number of iClicker respondents. The results of his experiment, which he conducted on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving — a time students are less likely to show up to class — revealed little to no cheating in his classroom.
"In both [U.S.P.S] classes I had more students present than clickers," he said. "I'm pretty confident that there was a zero cheat rate in both classes."
Charles King, professor of government and international affairs, expressed confidence in the ability of the honor code to police cheating in all its forms.
"There is always an opportunity for dishonesty in any class, regardless of the technology a professor chooses to use," King said. "[But] if we can't rely in part on the Georgetown ethos, we're sunk."
Rom said that if he ever discovered iClicker-based cheating he would treat it the same way as any other dishonorable academic conduct.
"Cheating with clickers is possible. Yes that is cheating, yes that should be avoided and yes that should be punished," he said.
But he added that the anonymity facilitated by the iClicker has allowed him to eliminate other forms of cheating from his classes.
Last year, he administered frequent closed-book online quizzes, relying solely on student integrity to protect against cheating.
Curious about whether students were indeed opening their books to take the tests, he set up an iClicker quiz with anonymous settings to encourage students to report evidence of cheating.
"About a quarter to a third of the class acknowledged direct evidence [of cheating]. This was an honest report," he said.
Rom, King and Hamilton stressed the widespread benefits of the iClicker, claiming the device makes a large classroom more intimate and interactive.
Hamilton said that the tool allows students to take ownership of their learning.
"You need to get people engaged and involved in some problem solving. [The iClicker] is a good way for all of us to be reminded about how we can be in the moment in the classroom and to be really engaged and participating," he said.