Gamification of Higher Education

I can’t stand cheating, academic dishonesty, and plagiarism. People who spend more time trying to figure out how to subvert an exam, cheat, plagiarize, or pay someone else to do their homework. Fail. Simply fail on your own merit. Contemplate what led to your failing grade and change your behavior. Not everyone can, should, or does deserve an “A.” Get over yourself. Merely because you have a busy Life with two jobs, three kids, a mortgage, a lawn to mow, and you still want time for fishing, hunting, golf, or shoe shopping does not give you the right to snake your way through a class. If you cheat because you have a busy life, your life is the problem, not the course.

Academic dishonesty is not a victimless crime. First, you have essentially stolen a grade by committing fraud. You did not pay for any grade. Your tuition dollars were tendered in return for contracting with the college or university for them to provide the academic resources, the classroom, projector, and faculty for you to learn something, not for a grade. Thus, you have defrauded the college or university and also any student loan or grant organization who awarded you money. When your child cheats you can tell them not to; of course, you will be a hypocrit.

Honest students also have the potential of being victimized. Any course grade “adjustment,” i.e. “curve,” offered by an instructor has the potential of being affected by your dishonesty. Higher grades artificially inflate grades and taint any statistics generated which might benefit the class as a whole. And, as cheaters often work as a team, the effect can be much worse on honest student the more people cheat.

Academic dishonesty taints the department’s reputation, the university, and you own degree. Degrees are often reputation-based.

“Oh, you went to Ivory Tower State University? They have a really good program.”

On the other hand,

“We do not hire anyone from the University of Mordor. Programs there lack credibility and rigor and their students must cheat, receiving high grades yet have no useful skills or are marginally trainable. We’ve been burnt by students we have hired from there as they never seem to know what the hell they are doing.”

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a person referred to only as Shadow Scholar admitted to earning $60,000 in one year writing term papers. No wonder students today cannot write nor correctly process and analyze what they read. Someone else is doing the heavy lifting. Cut-and-paste operations in writing requires no thought. Summarizing requires a little more thought, but not much more. People simply do not understand eduation.

Another student, Bob Smith, anonymity protected by a psuedonym, is noted in the same article as being proud of his cheating. He never read a damn thing throughout his online course and spent less than an hour a week prepping for exams. By “prepping” I mean “figuring out how to cheat.” Mr. Smith argues the lack of consideration given to cheating in the course means the university does not care if a student cheats or not. I suppose if Mr. Smith had to use a thumbprint scanner, and a webcam for facial recognition, and only be able to take the exam in a proctored environment, only then I guess would Mr. Smith believe the university was serious and academic integrity.

What bothers me is the idea which he has adopted: “If there are no measures to prevent me from cheating, lying, or stealing then it must be OK.”

For U.S. students brought up with video games, attaining an education is little more than “Angry Birds” or “Farmville.” Some students want to experience the gamut of education and immerse themselves within, like players of Skyrim. But, what about those players who cheat, who do not “pay their dues” so to speak and buy their World of Warcraft characters on Ebay yet cannot play worth a damn? Or, the players who take advantages of glitches to assassinate others players, or use cheats to attain “god-mode?” Most gamers have integrity and despise those who cut corners or cheat.

We live in an era where open attacks on Education, especially Higher Education, are frequent and common. Around the world, people both respect and admire U.S. education, at least Higher Education. Those sentiments are changing, however, as the U.S. Congress continues to defund academic research, higher education, and is increasingly dismissive of science and engineering. Compounding the diminishing respect of U.S. Higher Education are the increasing numbers of foreign students educated here who return to their home country and use their education to teach and train others. Countries whose populations are becoming more educated, Vietnam, India, China, Ghana, and Brazil are then able to achieve greater incomes allowing them to invest in education. A positive feedback loop is then established to continue educational progress.

Meanwhile, U.S. students, rather than work hard and honestly on their education, find themselves distracted by the opening of deer season, fishing seasons, shoe buying season, taking a cruise in the middle of the semester, video games, binge drinking, whatever-makes-me-feel-good-now-because-my-parents-have-been-too-indulgent-of-my-poor-behaviors.

Academic honesty policies are in place and well-posted. That should be enough. Society doesn’t place police at every stop sign to ensure you stop, nor at every speed limit sign to prevent you from speeding, nor place police at every shopping market to prevent you from shoplifting. The absence of police does not give you the right to steal.

I tell my students a few details about cheating. First, you will never get a Letter of Recommendation from me if you cheat in my classes. Furthermore, faculty talk. If I find you have cheated in ANY OTHER COURSE, mine or not, I will not give you any recommendation. Additionally, most faculty will not give a dishonest student any recommendation, either. In small to medium-sized departments, a student branded as dishonest might as well change majors or go to another school. When the most any student has to prove competency in an area of study for a job is a Letter of Recommendation from faculty, the effects can greatly diminish the chances of getting a good job, or getting into graduate school.

I have frequently been interviewed by military security personnel, the FBI, and Special Investigators regarding students attempting to earn a security clearance. I am perfectly honest with investigators and will inform them of all relevant details pertaining to a student’s integrity. Fortunately, all of my students who have chosen a line of working requiring a security clearance are ethical people.

Academic dishonesty may seem like nothing. Academic dishonesty is anything but. Cheaters set a terrible example for family, friends, children. Cheaters undermine institutional integrity. Cheaters undermine national academics and economic potency.

The same attitude of despising cheaters should carryover to education. We do not trust cheating spouses, cheating politicians, cheating police, or cheating athletes. Why should be trust students who gamify education by cheating?


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