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So You've Caught a Cheater...Now What? Academic Dishonesty in Distance Learning

written by: chemteacher•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 3/30/2009

You never really wanted to catch a student cheating. Unfortunately, you've got proof that the student was dishonest and now you need to deal with it. Here's what to do when you catch a cheater in your online classroom.

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    Before You Catch Him/Her

    If you read part one of this series, you know that you need to have a policy in place with regards to academic dishonesty in distance learning. If you do not, you will face situations where the accused claims, "I didn't know." If you give that argument to a police officer after breaking a traffic law, you will still get a ticket. If you give that excuse to a teacher or someone else in academia, you will get a reprieve. Why the difference? Our culture seems to place different values on these situations. As instructors, we'd be hard pressed to change American values. That is why we must work within their confines and be prepared for the situations that are sure to arise.

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    Hard Proof

    How do you know that a student cheated? It must be more than a sick feeling in your stomach. Document the events. Include dates and the situation. If you suspect a student, start keeping records so that you will have a case if and when something tangible develops.

    Not all situations will be clear-cut, but some will. If your student fails a analysis you will have the evidence you need. Other cases will be more difficult, but if you have been diligent in your record-keeping, your case should hold.

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    Now What?

    If you are relatively sure that a student has been cheating here are some of your options:

    1. Ask the student about what is going on. Don't directly accuse the student of cheating. Ask him/her about some of the suspicious activity you've noted.
    2. If the student denies cheating but you are pretty sure it happened, give him/her a different version of the test question to complete.
    3. Informally interview the student on the topic of the paper. If some of the vocabulary in the paper is uncharacteristic for that student, ask him/her to define the term.
    4. Notify your institution that you have caught a student cheating and allow them to help you process the event. Do not let the idea that the student's cheating is your fault keep you from seeking the support you need in a difficult situation like this.