Thursday, April 27, 2006

The economics of caring about cheating.

Midterm exams have just finished and I fairly zealously watched over my students to prevent cheating at the beginning of the week but somewhat less so at the end of the week.

My reasoning reminded me of some animal behavior classes I took at university and an explanation for Real Estate agent's behavior in setting housing prices (from Freakonomics). I will start by describing my two examples.

When a caregiving animal has young, there is a mismatched struggle for resources. The caregiver wants all the young to have the same amount of food, while each infant wants more for itself, even at the expense of the other infants. It requires some effort for the caregiver to try to spread the food around; effort that does not have a great value for the caregiver itself. It also requires effort for the infant to try to take more than its share of the food but there is great value when it succeeds.

In Real Estate, you should be able toget a better price if you sell the house yourself for similar reasons. To the agent, selling your house for $150,000 or $155,000 does not make a big difference in his/her commission, but it is a significant difference for the homeowner.

Now, back to me. In a cynical sense, how much value does cheating or catching cheaters have for me?

So long as the cheating does not go beyond a certain level (in this case, does not screw up my grading curve), it does not really affect class itself. Also, cheaters, and others, typically sit with their friends; It is uncommon for a cheater to deliberately place him/herself next to a stronger student of English. Most exam cheating does not significantly effect the cheater's score much nor my all-important grading curve.

To the cheater, there is potential for greater value. Most of the times I have seen known cheater's test papers, they have terrible answers. They may have misread the answer they tried to copy or looked at the wrong answer; I don't know. Still, if a student already knows they will fail the test, cheating can have great value and little downside. If the student is caught, there is little change in the end result and if they get away with cheating, they might pass the exam.

As the week progressed, I thought about this more and maybe began to care a little less. I certainly started marking previous class's exams while invigilating (my vocabulary is fading - I copied this word from Seoul Hero) another set of exams. On the other hand, when I did see someone cheating, it was with pleasure I marked his paper with a red marker to determine its fate later. Again, the score was already so poor that I chose to deduct only the marks on the question he has been cheating on (he lost 2 out of a possible 8 marks).

I have to conclude by saying that although catching cheaters does not have a strong tangible value, it does have a wonderful satisfaction value!

1 comment:

Sean said...

Interestingly enough if a strong student enables or helps a cheater cheat, then in the Korean system with the curve they are only hurting themselves by increasing the chances that they will get a lower grade due to having a flatter natural curve.