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Critical Conversations #20: What Are the Characteristics of a Developmental Approach to Student Cheating?

Student Success
June 4, 2020 Tricia Bertram Gallant Jason M. Stephens

JCC Connexions, Vol. 6, No. 2., May 2020

In "Punishment Is Not Enough: The Moral Imperative of Responding to Cheating With a Developmental Approach" (Journal College & Character, vol. 21, no. 2, May  2020), this quarter's JCC Focus Authors Tricia Bertram Gallant, University of California San Diego, and Jason M. Stephens, The University of Auckland, put forward a call-to-action for all colleges and Tricia Bertram Gallant

universities to make the commitment to move away from the punitive and toward the developmental approach when responding to cheating. They responded to the following questions posed by JCC co-editor Jon Dalton:

1.  What are some limits to the use of punishment as a corrective to student cheating?

There are three main limitations to punishment: First, punishment has limited deterrence effect because faculty do not catch and report all of the cheating that occurs, which makes getting caught (and punished) a low probability outcome (our conservative estimates suggest that for every instance of cheating that is reported, hundreds go undetected). Second, punishment may be a rational response if we believe the student's moral mindset is fixed, but we know from research that it is not and so a development rather than retributive response is more effective and more ethical. And third, punishment only seeks to reduce the undesired behavior; it does not (by itself) help students develop the knowledge, values, or skills (moral and academic) needed to excel with integrity.

2.   Describe the role that reflection can play in the developmental approach to student cheating.

Reflection is a key process in learning from experience, especially so when the experience involves an ethical breach. As reams of research has shown, students are very quick to neutralize personal responsibility for their unethical behavior. It is only through reflection that the individual can re-think their actions and attitudes toward them. With meaningful reflection (which often needs to be initiated and even guided by a third party), students can come to take responsibility for what they have done, the factors contributed to it, who was impacted, why it was wrong, and commit themselves to acting differently in the future. In short, reflection is a process that allows us to learn and grow from an experience, leaving us wiser and stronger in its wake.

 Jason Stephens

3.   What are some limitations or problems in implementing the developmental approach in educational settings?

There are two main limitations or problems in implementing the developmental approach: First, and perhaps most ironically, it goes against the status quo of how educational institutions respond to cheating—that is, not with education but with punishment. Second, the developmental approach can require more resources than the punishment (or ignoring) approach, although the long-term costs of punishment-only approaches (e.g., increased attrition and low alumni morale) are difficult to calculate.

4.   Why do many colleges and universities opt for the punitive approach to student cheating rather than a developmental approach?

That is difficult to say for institutions across the board. Some may opt for it because that’s the way they’ve always done it. Some may believe that punishment is the right way to deter cheating. Some may do it because it is more “resource efficient” than the developmental approach. Others may not have even thought about it.

5.   What are some characteristics of a developmental approach to student cheating?

We believe that there are four main characteristics of a developmental approach: assess, assign, educate, and evaluate. First, in order to provide our learners with the resources, instruction, and support that they might need to learn and grow from the experience, a sound developmental approache begins with an initial assessment of the learner and where they are now.  Only then can we assign the appropriate resources and deliver the education needed. Finally, we need to evaluate to ensure that what we’re doing is working and that our learners are indeed learning.