Is It Cheating? 20 Scenarios

Decorative: "Cheating" with two kids whispering to each other


"Scenarios: Is It Cheating?" (article) presents a "collection of cheating scenarios ... adapted from a variety used in research on academic integrity" as well as a variety of ways the scenarios can be used in class.

  • Each identifies "specific behaviors and the context in which they occur" as well as "the involvement of enablers, those who make the cheating possible or increase the likelihood of success."
  • Each use and each scenario are also discussed more fully in the article.

A. Uses of Scenarios

1. "Construct a collection that’s relevant to your course and instructional setting."

  • "[D]elete any that don’t seem relevant, revise the details to fit your teaching situation, and/or add other scenarios."

2. Let students decide if cheating has occurred [in a given scenario]."

  • "[H]ave students talk over their answers with each other. Encourage them to focus on scenarios where they disagree."

3. "Collect and then anonymously share the students’ responses."

  • "Collect and tabulate their responses—doing so online saves time—then share the results with students. Note ... where there’s disagreement in student responses and discuss those." 

4. "Share your results."

  • "Discuss with them those scenarios where you and they disagree that the behavior is cheating."

5. "Share research results."

  • "Those scenarios where there is significant disagreement between students and faculty as to whether cheating had occurred are identified along with the percentages."

B. The Scenario Collection

1. "Matt is taking a test in his big poly sci course. The professor is on his laptop and rarely looks up. Matt checks to be sure. The prof isn’t looking so he quietly asks Liam sitting next to him if 'c' is the correct answer for question #2. Liam nods yes."

  • "Is Matt cheating?"
  • "Is Liam cheating?"

2. "Shawna’s writing a paper on Shakespeare’s historical context for her English Lit course. She finds several good resources online and downloads them. She cuts a few paragraphs and pastes them in her paper. She does not cite the sources."

  • "Is Shawna cheating?"

3. "Paul is working on a take-home test for math. He asks his girlfriend Grace, who’s a math major, to double check his calculations on several problems. She checks his answers and doesn’t find any errors."

  • "Is Paul cheating?"
  • "Is Grace cheating?"

4. "Eli’s calculator is preloaded with a number of mathematical formulas. His friend Al doesn’t have the formulas on his calculator. Before the test, Eli lets Al borrow his calculator and copy the formulas into his calculator. Both calculators are on the list of instructor-approved calculators, as stated on the syllabus. Both Eli and Al use some of the formulas on the test."

  • "Is Eli cheating?"
  • "Is Al cheating?"

5. "Ashli is taking a test in a quiet corner of the learning center. She doesn’t know the answer to one of the questions, so she texts her friend Phillip and asks for help. Phillip doesn’t respond."

  • "Is Ashli cheating?"

6. "Matt is taking a second test in poly sci and once again the prof is at the front of the room, on his laptop, and not paying attention to what’s going on in the classroom. Matt checks his phone, looks at his class notes, and finds the answer for question #3."

  • "Is Matt cheating?"

7. "A bit later, Matt peaks at his phone again. He needs the answer to question #23, but he can’t find it on his phone."

  • "Is Matt cheating?"

8. "Shawna is a bit worried about using material in her paper that she hasn’t cited, so she decides to include some of the sources she used while leaving the open-access materials off the bibliography."

  • "Is Shawna cheating?"

9. "Ashli is still working on her test in the learning center. Finally, Phillip responds to her text. He doesn’t know the answer to the question she asked. Ashli asks him about another question. He answers, but his answer is incorrect."

  • "Is Ashli cheating?"
  • "Is Phillip cheating?"

10. "Al and Jose are in the same art history course. The instructor gives take-home essay exams. Al and Jose spend some time talking about the questions and possible ways they could be answered. They then each write their essay individually."

  • "Is Al cheating?"
  • "Is Jose cheating?"

11. "On the next take-home exam, Al and Jose talk about the questions before they write their essays. Then they read each other’s essays, make suggestions for improvement, and make some revisions based on those suggestions."

  • "Is Al cheating?"
  • "Is Jose cheating?"

12. "Helene missed a test because she was ill. She’s scheduled to take it tomorrow. She asks Cecelia about the test. She doesn’t ask what specific questions are on the exam but tries to find out what she really needs to study. Cecelia makes some general suggestions."

  • "Is Helene cheating?"
  • "Is Cecelia cheating?"

13. "Matt is studying for his third poly sci test. By this time in the course, he knows that the prof likes to use listing questions. Matt generates a set of potential questions and answers. He shows them to Malika who promptly asks if she can make a copy of them?"

  • "Is Matt cheating?"
  • "Is Malika cheating?"

14. "Eli and Al are studying for another math test. They decide to add more formulas to the collection already in their calculators, but they end up not using any of these new ones on the exam."

  • "Is Eli cheating?"
  • "Is Al cheating?"

15. "Shawna is still worrying about her bibliography. It seems a little light, so she decides to include several sources that she didn’t use in the paper. She takes a quick look at some abstracts, decides they sound like good sources, and adds them to the bibliography."

  • "Is Shawna cheating?"

16. "Al has paper due in his art history course and he’s short on time. He hauls out an old paper he wrote for a history course. Recycling the paper would save him a bunch of time. He decides he’ll make a few revisions and submit the old paper in his art history class."

  • "Is Al cheating?"

17. "Helene has fallen way behind on that big survey project for her sociology course. She decides to ask the prof for an extension. She uses a made-up excuse telling him that her grandmother is very ill and she’s been taking care of her."

  • "Is Helene cheating?"

18. "Adam really hates group work. He’s working several part-time jobs to help pay for college and just doesn’t have time to sit around with a bunch of students working inefficiently on the project. He decides to blow off the group. He comes late to meetings, doesn’t participate, and does very little work. He’s depending on the group to carry him and they do."

  • "Has Adam cheated?"

19. "Mary Beth is taking an online history of nursing course. It’s a course with all sorts of material to read. Mary Beth’s friend Alma has taken the course and took extensive notes on the readings. Mary Beth has those notes. She’s been skimming the reading but devotes most of her study time to carefully reviewing Alma’s notes."

  • "Is Mary Beth cheating?"
  • "Is Alma cheating?"

20. "Fred’s taking the same history of nursing course as Mary Beth. His mom is a nurse. She’s given him links to a number of websites that make some of the course content much easier to understand. Fred’s been using those sites when reviewing for exams, but he hasn’t shared them with any classmates in the course."

  • "Is Fred cheating?"
  • "Is his Mom cheating?"

"Note: The format and content of these scenarios is similar to many of those used in the study below."

Josien, L., Seeley, E., Csipak, J., Rampal, R. (2015). Cheating: Students and faculty’s perception on potential cheating activity. Journal of Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues, 18 (2), 21-37.

C. "Questions on Cheating for Faculty Discussion, Reflection"

  • "Is there a difference between promoting academic integrity and preventing cheating? If so, what is the difference? And what teacher actions belong in each category? Are we spending too much time preventing cheating and not enough promoting academic integrity?"
  • "There’s good evidence that very few honest students report cheating (see Bernardi, Goetjen, and Brax, 2013 on the cheating fact sheet). They see it happening and they know others who are cheating, but they don’t report it. Do students have a responsibility to report cheating? If so, how do we encourage them to take on that responsibility?"
  • "What about those who enable cheating? (Examples: Answer questions about what was on the test last semester, vouch for a friend who dishonestly claims they missed the test due to illness, sign the attendance sheet for a student not in class.) Is that cheating? A less egregious form of cheating? How often are enablers challenged? What’s an appropriate response to those students who enable cheaters?"
  • "Minus concrete evidence that a student is cheating but with strong suspicions, would you confront the student with your concerns?"
  • "Do faculty overlook cheating? Why? How often?"
  • "Do faculty ignore the institutional policy and penalties and deal with cheating on their own terms? What are the benefits and liabilities of doing so?"
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