Monday, November 14, 2011

Cheating In UCSD Physics Lab Classes

Honestly, is this that surprising?

A group of researches discovered "widespread" cheating in undergraduate physics lab classes at the University of California-San Diego.

The study also says, "Overall, a large percentage of students perceive more cheating than they admit to. For example, while only about 11 percent of students admit to sometimes or frequently receiving unpermitted help, almost 66 percent perceive that other students are doing this."

In a survey, more than 65 percent of the students said that other students fabricated or falsified data in physics lab.

The researchers add that, "Perhaps the most disturbing finding of our study is the sheer number of students who perceive that teaching assistants ignore the copying that occurs. This is despite the fact that the teaching assistants receive extensive training on lab management, teaching laboratory concepts, and enhancing academic integrity in the lab. As a result of this training, we would hope that close to zero students would perceive a lack of integrity by the teaching assistants."
First of all, this issue of cheating is nothing new. I've reported news of such things already, and I will bet that this is not confined to just physics. The issue with being a TA faced with such a problem is also something that I've written a while back. It isn't easy, and it does require a lot of work.

I still say that one of the major problem is that students are given cookie-cutter laboratory exercises. There isn't an element of "here, investigate this on your own, and device your own way to do it"-type of exercise. When I proposed a revamping of undergraduate physics labs, one of the possible outcome is that there will no longer be a highly-structured laboratory work, and that in many of these, the students have to come up with their own way to tackle the problem. Till these laboratories have some variations to them from one year to the next, you will continue to have students who will try to get away with as much as they can without doing what they are supposed to.


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