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How Can We Maintain Academic Integrity in the 21st Century?


How prevalent is cheating in school nowadays, and what can be done to prevent it? We speak to the authors of the new book "Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do," about maintaining academic integrity in the 21st century.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. When we talk about the modern problem of students cheating in school, it helps to remember that cheating has been around for a long time. Passing a note, writing answers on your hand, or just not keeping your eyes on your own paper were effective tools for cheaters of past generations. But the methods today's kids can use to cheat on tests and polish up term papers have been enormously enhanced. When everyone's cell phone has internet access and texting is ubiquitous, the opportunities for cheating and getting away with it have gone through the roof. A new book addresses the issues of technologically-enhanced cheating, and what schools can do to create a culture of integrity The book is called "Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do." My guests are two of the book's co-authors, Dr. Patrick Drinan, political science professor at the University of San Diego. And, Patrick, welcome.

DR. PATRICK DRINAN (Author): Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Tricia Bertram Gallant is Academic Integrity Coordinator at the University of California, San Diego. Tricia, welcome to These Days.

DR. TRICIA BERTRAM GALLANT (Author): Thanks, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And, you know, we'd like to invite our audience to join the conversation. Do you think the internet has changed the way we should define cheating? Are parents helping their kids cheat on their work in school? Give us a call with your questions and your comments, 1-888-895-5727. Well, Patrick, do we have any way of knowing if there's actually more cheating going on now than in other generations?

DR. DRINAN: Well, there's been a lot of studies over a period of time, many of them going back to the 1950s that show that there's significant cheating going on in schools, we do know. But that research is mostly self-reported by students so we're not entirely sure but if you take a look at the trends over a period of time, we know that there's slightly more cheating. The opportunities in terms of technology definitely have been enhanced but there's not necessarily that much more cheating going on because of technology either. So the good news is that there is some restraint in terms of cheating despite the surge of technological capabilities available to students.

CAVANAUGH: Well, that certainly is good news. And Tricia, I wanted to – Do we know if, let's say, there's the same amount of cheating going on in grade school but there's more going on in college and that kind of thing. Do we have any idea about that?

DR. GALLANT: Well, we – In the book, we talk about those trends and we see that there is a slight increase, obviously, in plagiarism as we go up towards undergraduate years but, of course, they're assigned more papers than elementary school...


DR. GALLANT: …students are. And then there's a drop in graduate school, so we could assume a couple of things. We could assume that as students mature and get older, they're going to cheat less because they've developed a sense of moral self. We could assume that as the risks get higher in the undergraduate years, that students are going to cheat more because they feel it's more imperative and so that's why the plagiarism goes up. And we could also assume that there's a generational difference. Maybe right now grad students are saying that they cheat less than elementary school students but perhaps that's a generational difference, not a maturation difference. And so I think it's a combination of motive, opportunity and – basically, motive and opportunity, I would say, is that there's more opportunities to cheat as you get upwards because you get more assignments.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. And also, you know, with all the articles that we've seen, all the news that we've seen about internet cheating and plagiarism and texting and so forth, there is some – at least what you guys call good news. And that is in some ways cheating has gotten better; it's not as cutthroat. Pat, would you explain that?

DR. DRINAN: Well, I'm not sure it's gotten better. What we see is at one level it definitely has gotten worse. It used to be something was considered to be morally reprehensible to cheat and get particularly caught cheating, and now people just think it's kind of just an awkward situation. It's getting better in the sense that people are more attuned to it. There's been much more research done in the last 15 years, many more press reports and the like, and so it's much – part of a broader discourse going on on many schools and campuses and nationally. And I think that is really the healthiest part of it, and that's what motivated us to do this book because we saw it was a great opportunity to take the research on cheating that's been done, highlight it, profile it more, and get a more systematic national and local discourse on what is happening. And this book is, I think, evidence that, indeed, that is occurring.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. The book is called "Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do." My two guests are Dr. Patrick Drinan and Dr. Patricia Bertram Gallant. I want to ask you both, when you used to go to a library and get information from a book, you know, it was clear that you used the information, if you used that information verbatim that you were plagiarizing, okay? Is there the same sense when you're copying something off the internet? Or is there a difference, Tricia?

DR. GALLANT: It's interesting. I just had a conversation with students at UCSD who meet with me and take a class after they've been accused of cheating. And I asked them what was the first thing they do when they get an assignment? And they all said, I Google it. And I talked to them about the first thing that I did when I had an assignment because I didn't have the internet, which was I sat down and thought about it. I might've gone to my text for my class but I – if I needed more information, I had to make the physical trek to the library and actually sit down and look up books. So more often than not, that was the second step, not my first step. And I – So I think with the internet, it has made – it's kind of a learned helplessness for students. They think they can't do it on their own and why bother when there's all that assistance out there so they automatically go and they say what does Wikipedia say about this topic? Next thing you know, they're telling the professor in their essay what Wikipedia said and not what they said themselves. I often – I think lately a nice little technological solution for anybody out there who is computer savvy is to add a software component to Microsoft Word or the internet where as soon as you copy and paste, it automatically puts your citation in for you. It knows where you took it from so that there can't be any of these, quote, unquote, mistakes or 'I forgot.'

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Now for the 'I forgots,' Pat, how do teachers keep up? How do they know whether or not their students have actual – their students' papers have been enhanced by, you know, verbatim copying from the internet?

DR. DRINAN: Well, there's a variety of software programming that can do this but that's not necessarily the best way to do it. The best way to do it is to make sure you give clear assignments to your students so that they know what is permitted and what is not permitted. Faculty actually are using far more collaborative learning opportunities and so that, in a sense, starts to magnify the difficulties. Not only are you going to the internet but your teacher's putting you into teams to do work, too, and so there's always been a problem associated with who did the most work on the team, and the like. And that's, in a sense, been exacerbated by the current conditions.

CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering, what about distance learning, online learning. When your entire class is online, Tricia, what do you do then? I – How do students – How do teachers monitor their students to make sure that this is really their own work that they're submitting?

DR. GALLANT: It's a hot topic right now because the assumption most people make is there's going to be more cheating online because of the opportunity factor. No one's looking over your shoulder. But I've talked with others about there's not a lot of difference, say, in taking an exam between an online class and a large, 500 person class. The professor doesn't know every student in that class. It's pretty easy for someone to send in a proxy to take their exam for them. I've also had online teachers tell me that it's easier to detect plagiarism because they get to know the student's writing style because there's constant writing back and forth…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, you mean…

DR. GALLANT: …between the teacher and prof – teacher and student.

CAVANAUGH: …when it's online. Yes.

DR. GALLANT: Right. Now, the student could be paying someone else to take the entire class for them. You can't prevent that kind of thing but, as I said, that can happen in large – some of our large universities as well.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Dr. Patrick Drinan and Dr. Patricia Bertram Gallant. We're talking about their new book, "Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do." Pat, I want to talk a little bit more about something you brought up, which is about the attitudes that people – that students have about cheating. Can you tell me a little bit more about the fact that perhaps it's not as big a deal for kids as it used to be?

DR. DRINAN: Yeah, they don't consider it to be nearly as wrong and frequently homework assignments in grade school and high school end up being done much more proactively with parents. And this is one of the kind of dilemmas we point out in the book, is you've got a notion that parents ought to be helping your student's education yet oftentimes they cross the line in terms of doing the student's work. And so you start off with that kind of realization in grade school and high school and so oftentimes then it seems to be a fuzzy line as far as the student is concerned. And parents are not as easily mobilized to discipline their own children if they're accused of cheating either. They may tend to defend their youngster far more than perhaps a generation ago when parents would be more directly supportive of teachers in case of allegations.

CAVANAUGH: I want to remind our listeners we are taking their calls. If you know of a parent or perhaps you are a parent who has helped your child, can you tell us why? And why you think that's a good thing and perhaps will it make it more – will it make it seem that cheating is more acceptable as that child advances in school? 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. You know, in looking through your book, I saw one quote, 'I bought the paper, so it's mine.' I mean, that seems like an extreme form of cheating denial and I don't think that perhaps we might've heard that in previous generations.

DR. GALLANT: Right. Well, it's important to remember that a lot of the things that are happening today because of the internet are extensions of what used to happen face to face. So test paper – test files and paper files have always existed in fraternities and sororities, houses, for example. Now, we talk about technology has democratized cheating: Anybody can do it and it's pretty easy to do it. But there's also the sense of what we've done in our educational system is really emphasize finishing, graduating, getting good grades, going on to college, going on to grad school, and we haven't talked a lot about the means for getting there. And so students have lost the point, a lot of times, about education. The point is – or, the point about assignments, the point is to get them in and get a grade. And we forget, no, the point is about learning. Sometimes, the point is about going through the difficult struggle of doing the assignment and there's learning in that. And so if I bought it and I turned it in, that's what you wanted so…


DR. GALLANT: …give me my grade. And the process isn't really talked about.


DR. DRINAN: And grade inflation has made this even worse because now students and parents assume that their sons and daughters ought to have high grades. And at first people think grade inflation should reduce some of the desires to cheat but, in reality, what happens is students think they have a right to a B…


DR. DRINAN: …or an A, and they feel they have a need for it in terms of getting into the right schools or the right professional schools and the like. And so one of the ironies, if not a tragedy, associated with grade inflation the last 25 years has increased some of the motivation to cheat.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And Jennifer in Carlsbad would like to join the conversation. Good morning, Jennifer, and welcome to These Days.

JENNIFER (Caller, Carlsbad): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, how can we…


CAVANAUGH: …help you?

JENNIFER: Well, I just wanted to make a comment with regards to I think in assisting the students. You know, obviously the generation we grew up with, our parents were much less involved in our homework. But, you know, I particularly notice, I've been involved with my daughter who's now first year high school is just, you know, as she writes a paper, kind of, you know, reading over her shoulder and really saying, you know, that's not that clear. Or, you know, is that really how you want to say that? Could you be doing something more with it? You know, and that level of involvement, I think, what it does is, it has the child, you know, not do the bare minimum to get the work done but looking a little bit harder at their own work and then being challenged to do more with it because, you know, obviously homework's something you're just trying to get done and then turn in in a moment.

CAVANAUGH: Right, then…

JENNIFER: And they don't necessarily consider it my paper.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Jennifer, thank you for that comment. Now what Jennifer does, it sounds like that's pretty kosher, doesn't it?

DR. GALLANT: It sounds like tutoring.


DR. GALLANT: It's the same thing a tutor would do. And we often talk to kids about the difference between – oftentimes, the difference between tutoring, going to a tutor and going to a friend is that tutors know where that line is and not to cross that line between tutoring someone, pushing them further, helping them develop their own writing, to writing their papers for them.


DR. GALLANT: The interesting thing is that the more – It depends on that dynamic because the more students depend on other people, the less they want to depend on themselves. So I actually have heard of a student who was used to having her mother check her papers for her for grammar and she ended up getting caught for plagiarism because when her mother sent her paper back, it had been substantially altered and the daughter said, well, Mom, you didn't go on the internet, did you? And the mom said no. And she handed the paper in and 40% of it was plagiarized off the internet.

CAVANAUGH: So it's not my dog ate it but it's my mom enhanced it for me.

DR. GALLANT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, no. Keith is calling from UTC. Good morning, Keith. Welcome to These Days.

KEITH (Caller, University Towne Center): Thank you for taking my call. I'm very interested in your topic, especially because I've taught 34 years, now retired, and taught both in Michigan and California and have had experience with the plagiarism as a writer or students would write papers. But what most importantly has disturbed me with your topic is the inconsistencies and hypocrisies with a society that is out of control with banks and their corruptions and the government and their inability to come to conclusions with the healthcare, with the insurance companies that do what they do to customers, and now we want children to not plagiarize or parents to monitor these children from that very action. Why not clean up society first and give us a model by which we can compare? Consider still one more topic. Having lived in Detroit as I, year after year, would be disgusted with General Motors and not monitoring their poor products as well as the way that they run the company, and then bought the cars and then finally changed to Japanese cars. I'm disturbed with America and its lack of self-policing.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Keith, thank you for that. You gave us a lot to talk about. And, Pat?

DR. DRINAN: Yes, and I think Keith has just an excellent point. And that was one of the reasons that factored into us developing this book because we wanted it to be beyond teachable moments with students who are cheating, and between a parent and a child or a teacher and a student. We thought it raised larger issues in our society about corruption, and we did not hesitate to call cheating corruption. And I think people have hesitated to do so because they think it's just an old problem but it is tied together with various social forces in our society, changes and expectations about the business world. And, in fact, one of the situations that researchers on academic integrity know is that the highest incidence of cheating on campus is in schools of business administration. And so we can't say that that is a irrelevant kind of a relationship.

CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering, too, in looking at the larger society when we're talking about this issue of cheating, these days so many – so much school funding and accreditation is linked up with how well kids do on their tests. And so, therefore, I wonder if, in a sense, society isn't complicit with just saying, okay, you do good on the test and that's all we care about.

DR. GALLANT: Umm-hmm. We were talking about this beforehand. It is that issue, again, of emphasizing the ends without conversation about the means. And we have numerous reports of teachers and administrators also cheating on those standardized tests and changing the scores because the funding of their schools depends on what scores the students achieve. And we wrap so much on – up on this symbol, the grade, that used to – was intended to symbolize something else, that students learned, that they had acquired knowledge, and now it has become the end of itself. And that is going to teach our students a different lesson, I think, than we're wanting.

CAVANAUGH: We're talking to two of the authors of a new book called "Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do." And Peter is calling from El Cajon. Good morning, Peter. Welcome to These Days.

PETER (Caller, El Cajon): Well, thank you for taking my call. I think I'm a little bit late. I just wanted to echo what the previous caller said and I was wondering what your thoughts were on—and it sounds like I already know—what your thoughts on are maybe (sic) taking away some of our emphasis on the core curriculum that we have and moving more towards maybe doing more character building in our schools.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that. And Tricia would like to respond.

DR. GALLANT: That is – and it's an interesting dilemma. We were just talking – Pat was talking with his daughter and where she teaches they've cut out history and music and science and art and left, you know, the three Rs. And so instead of building in all of these disciplines that can build character, we're cutting them out to get to the bare basics for students to pass the tests that they're assessed. We have this perception that we need to have a course in ethics or a course in character but it can be infused throughout the entirety of the school. It can be built into its structures and processes, into its culture, and it could be mentioned in history class, in math class, in all of these classes because every little moment is about the character that we have as individuals. You know, knowledge without character is a dangerous thing; that leads to a lot of ills for our society. And so it doesn't hurt to just infuse it throughout everything.

CAVANAUGH: Now, in your book, "Cheating in School," you outline both short term and long term deterrents to cheating. Can – Pat, tell us what you mean by short term deterrents. What are some of the techniques that teachers can use…

DR. DRINAN: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: …and I suppose parents as well.

DR. DRINAN: Well, sure. The short term ones include things like just proper monitoring of exams and being attentive to it and being clear with students on your syllabi, for example, in colleges and universities that you take academic integrity seriously. As a related obligation, I think, tactically in the short term for administrators to give support to faculty when they turn in cases of cheating and make sure that the faculty member does not believe that it's going to end up taking immense amounts of time and effort and expose them to litigation and things like this. So at the University of San Diego, for example, several years ago we dealt with that issue by just having a very straightforward form for turning in allegations of student cheating so that it would not be time consuming and the like. So there's a variety of just – our whole array of tactical things that can be done that will try to help regulate this problem and, in itself, begin more discourse on a campus about the issue because oftentimes it's – we call it a deep, dark secret. It's not talked about enough. And you need sustained discussions and conversations, and that's what this book is an effort to do, is to really instigate that kind of discourse.

CAVANAUGH: And it seems to me that you gave us a hint as to what some of the long term recourse can be to the deterrents. The long term deterrents is having that conversation and talking about this as a problem, a deep, dark secret, as you say. Is that correct?

DR. GALLANT: Yeah, and it gets to the level of the institution. So a lot of times when we do talk about cheating, and Pat's right, most of the time we don't even want to talk about it, we leave it up to the individual teacher to have to deal with it and they feel as if they're alone. Very few of our school principals, our university college presidents, our superintendents talk about this problem and talk about the importance of character and academic integrity. And so it is important that the culture of the school is oriented around that, towards that, that we have the structures and the processes and we change the norms on the campus to say, no, cheating is morally reprehensible. It is not just morally disagreeable.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take another phone call. Donna is calling from Encinitas. Good morning, Donna, and welcome to These Days.

DONNA (Caller, Encinitas): Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a parent of a sixteen year old boy who has no motivation in school at all. He's in an independent study with the school district and if I don't—I hate to say—do a lot of the work for him, it wont get done. He won't graduate. Should I let him fail?

CAVANAUGH: What a question.

DONNA: That's like – I'm – That's my question for the panel.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for that. Here, Donna is in a real pickle. I mean, she wants to see her son do well and yet what – what would be your advice? Pat.

DR. DRINAN: Well, you're very right. It is a pickle, Maureen. And it's a very difficult moral issue and it's also an issue with the school itself. That is, I would think it's not simply about hectoring or trying to admonish the child to do better. It perhaps is going to the school itself and talking to the principal and being very candid about the nature of the problem and seeking some other advice from counselors and others about how to approach this issue. And as Tricia mentioned earlier, so often faculty, for example, feel alone when they're dealing with these issues and the like, and, likewise, parents may do so. They don't talk to each other very frequently about these things. And so it's about not being alone anymore and it's about going to people and candidly talking about the issues. And I think we have found in writing this book—and we talked to our friends and colleagues and the like—they're all interested in it. They know we're not coming at it from a punitive kind of direction or as just a simple law enforcement issue. They know that we're really trying to do something better to try to bring the best out of people and to try to do something broader and better for our schools.

CAVANAUGH: And quickly…

DR. GALLANT: And I think it's important to use – specifically use the word 'fail.' And there is a tenor in society today that people can't fail. No Child Left Behind. Sometimes, all the time, we learn better from our failures than we do from our successes, particularly if they're not our own successes but somebody else's. And so failure is not a bad thing. It's an important life moment, learning moment.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I appreciate that and I hope that helps, Donna. It's quite a situation you've got there. Let me tell everyone that if you would like to continue this conversation online, please to go our website, And I want to thank my two guests. Dr. Patrick Drinan, who is

political science professor at the University of San Diego. Thanks for coming in.

DR. DRINAN: Great, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Tricia Bertram Gallant, Academic Integrity Coordinator at the University of California, San Diego. Thanks so much for being here.

DR. GALLANT: Thanks, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: The book is called "Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do." I want to remind everyone that next Tuesday we will be broadcasting live from Lincoln High School. We'll be meeting with their principal, learning what's going on at school, and discussing the top local education issues this year. That's next Tuesday on These Days here on KPBS. Stay tuned for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes.

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