Dealing with Cheating
Unfortunately, cheating does happen, especially in large introductory classes. The most common offense is that one student copies problem set solutions off of another (or several students copy off of each other), although plagiarizing or fabricating data on lab assignments is also very common.
Your main resource in dealing with cheating (and how to decide what constitutes cheating) is the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards (CSCCS), previously known as the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) and the Office of Student Judicial Affairs (OSJA).
If you suspect an incident of cheating from a student in your section, here is a short summary of what actions to take:
- Confirm to yourself that cheating occurred.
- Especially if the presence of cheating was noted by a grader, critically read over the assignments in question and ask yourself if there could be a legitimate explanation that did not involve copying, such as two friends doing a problem set cooperatively and checking answers against each other. However, identical misspellings, bizarre misuse of units or equations, or identical spacing/indenting throughout entire pages are dead giveaways.
- In the case of similar assignments that you decide do not constitute cheating, don't pursue the matter formally. You should however talk to the student(s) informally to let them know that they are perhaps working a bit too closely together.
- Make copies of the documents involved. Make sure you (or the head GSI or instructor) maintains possession of the originals.
- Contact your head GSI and/or professor.
- Typically they will handle the incident from then on. In this case, the issue is out of your hands until a resolution has been determined and (afterward) you can skip to the last step.
- If you are put in charge of dealing with the misconduct, read up on the relevant policies and procedures.
- Make sure you feel comfortable with your knowledge of the relevant definitions and the steps you're supposed to take.
- When in doubt, ask!
- Contact the student(s) and arrange an appointment.
- You can get student e-mails from the professor or head GSI (via CourseWeb) if you did not get them directly from students during the first week of section.
- Do not immediately accuse the student(s) of cheating in your e-mail unless it was extremely blatant, and certainly do not reprimand the students, strike an angry tone, or threaten them with explicit consequences. For example, note that the grader noticed 'irregularities' in their homework and simply say you'd like to discuss the incident with them. If you feel the violation was especially blatant and want to send a strong message immediately, be sure you also link to the CSCCS's website and note in your e-mail that first-time offenders will not suffer any consequences to their permanent record.
- Don't give the student the chance to play for time. Just declare a meeting time and perhaps one or two alternate times. Don't waste time trying to accommodate them excessively.
- If multiple students are involved, meet with them all simultaneously. The last thing you want is to get different stories from different students and be unable to determine what the truth is. Make sure everyone is notified.
- Meet with the students
- Try to avoid one-on-one meetings between you and a student. This helps avoid he-said-she-said scenarios in case things escalate. Hopefully, your head GSI or course head will be able to at least be present for the meeting.
- Before the meeting, consider highlighting any major evidence of copying on a photocopy of the materials in question. Print out the Faculty Disposition form and fill out the basic information, and reread the material online at the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards. One form is required per student.
- After getting the students' names (if you don't already know them), provide a brief summary of how you became aware of the irregularity, and request an explanation. Note that you're not considering pursuing serious disciplinary action but that you do need to understand what happened.
- Students will generally respond in one of three ways:
- Occasionally students will fess up immediately and apologize.
- Most commonly, they will express some amount of confusion about what is/is not acceptable behavior. In this case, note that there are clear guidelines posted on the UC Berkeley and Astronomy Department websites and (hopefully) that you discussed the issue in section. Note that even if they didn't realize it, their behavior was against campus/course policy and you can't give credit for the associated questions. Note also that according to campus policy, you have to notify the CSCCS of the incident and our response to it, but this will not go on their permanent record.
- Some students are extremely resistant and deny any involvement even when the evidence is unambiguous. In this case, point out specific passages or examples in the homework assignments. Note that if you're unable to find a satisfactory explanation for the similarity you'll have to file a report with the CSCCS and that the disciplinary action will be in their hands, while if you deal with it right now there will be at most a small grade penalty and their permanent record will not be affected. Almost always, students will eventually capitulate and change their story to confusion about acceptable behavior (see above).
- Occasionally, students will have an excuse that (even if somewhat artificial-sounding) seems reasonable, such as that for a moon-observation lab they were confused about their compass direction, and you cannot prove otherwise. If this is the case, ask a few questions to see if their excuse is consistent. If it seems so, you should not press the student to confess to something you cannot prove happened. Skip to the last step.
- Once you have an explanation you consider 'satisfactory' and there was a violation of academic integrity, decide on a sanction (e.g. zero on the assignment, no credit for questions for which there was evidence of copying, etc.), quickly fill out an explanation of a few sentences on the Faculty Disposition form, and explain to the student that we are required to do this for the campus records, but that there will be no effect on their permanent record - it simply goes in a filing cabinet in the CSCCS offices and unless there are additional incidents there will be no mark on their record.
- Have the students sign the form(s).
- Thank the students for their honesty and excuse them.
- File the report with the CSCCS
- Have the professor sign the Faculty Disposition form.
- Make multiple copies of the assignment and signed form. Send the original form and a copy of the assignment by campus mail to the CSCCS.
- Return copies of the form and assignment to the students
- In the next section, return a copy of the homework (not the original) and the form to the students. Try to return the form discreetly.
In the extremely unlikely event that the student does not sign the form and you are unwilling to concede that no cheating took place, you will need to fill out a separate form, the Discipline Referral for Academic Dishonesty. This is very rare and will not be discussed here - consult the CSCCS website for further information.
- Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards
- UC Berkeley Code of Student Conduct
- Astronomy Department Academic Misconduct Policy
- Form - Faculty Disposition
- Form - Discipline Referral