Saturday, August 17, 2019

Common Hour: Building a Better Learning Environment

Jonathan Rothendler ’14
Contributing Writer 

Professor Lang began the lecture by talking about the perception held by most people that students are inherently cheaters.  According to Lang, statistically 75 percent of students have cheated at least once, but these rates have risen dramatically in the past few decades. These percentages are still much higher though than most educators would like them to be.  Lang briefly mentioned a couple of high profile cheating scandals that have happened, including the recent incident at Harvard University where nearly 125 students were accused of cheating on a final exam.

But Prof. Lang does not necessarily place all of the blame on students.  In fact, he argues that many incentives to cheat are actually due to poorly constructed learning environments.  He calls these incentives “The 6 factors that induce cheating and reduce learning.”  These six factors are then further broken down into the first three: those he considers to be directly responsible for hampering student integrity, and the last three, which provide a correlation to the cheating problem, but have no direct link.

The first factor is “Motivation is Extrinsic.”  This means that student motivation is not due to any internal drive to learn the subject or material.  Instead, a student’s motivation is perpetuated by grades and exam scores because the grade is what matters at the end of the day. Lang explains that in order for the students to fully understand and appreciate the material, their motivation must be intrinsic, also known as self-motivation.

The second factor, “Emphasize performance over mastery,” ties in closely with the first factor.  Prof. Lang makes the case that most professors teach in such a way that students feel the need to make the grade, instead of actually learning and the material.  This causes situations where the student may remember the material for a short period, but will eventually forget most of it, as they never mastered the material.

The third factor is “Infrequent, high stakes assessments.” Essentially, because so much of the final course grade depends on only a few exams, students feel pressured to cheat because if they do not do well, they may not get a good grade at the end of the semester.  Professor Lang provides evidence for this by looking at the Japanese education system, where cheating is rampant, and many classes have only one high stakes exam.

The last three factors do not necessarily provide evidence for why students cheat, but they do shed some light on why academic dishonesty is perpetuated by the student as well as the professor.  “Low self-efficacy,” Professor Lang’s fourth factor says that students do not believe that they can succeed in the classroom.  This is bolstered by the fact that in many classes, there is a very “Weak Interpersonal Environment.”  In other words, the student- professor relationship is typically not very strong, especially in large lecture classes.  The student subsequently believes that the professor does not really care about them, giving the student the courage to cheat.  The last factor is that “Cheating is perceived as common and approved by peers.”  Students are led to believe, perhaps rightly so, that their peers could care less if they cheat or not.

At this point in the lecture, the audience began to get the feeling that Professor Lang was putting a significant portion of the blame on the educators and classroom settings.  He goes on to explain how professors need to rework their syllabi and reexamine how they approach teaching a class and its curriculum. Lang’s research indicates that in order for students to actually gain anything from the material, classroom time needs to be spent productively.  Material should be presented with intriguing problems and questions; ideas and concepts are presented in a way that will pique a typical student’s interest.  Give students choices, control, and most of all, challenges.  Most students are willing to make an effort to learn, as long as they feel that the professor cares about them and cares about the material that is being taught.

Lang certainly made a big impact on the way that students perceive academic dishonesty, and where the problem actually lies.  His lecture was precise and to the point.  In a funny way, Prof. Lang employed the same tactics during the lecture that he urges all educators to use in their classrooms.  He left the audience thinking about academic integrity in a very profound way.  If you would like to learn more about Lang’s research and his thoughts on cheating and education please visit his blog at www.jamesmlang.com

 

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