Only a click away: Cheating and the use of iClickers in classrooms

Nov. 30, 2014, 12:56 a.m.

One extra point — seeking that extra point to improve a grade is often all it takes for a student to exhibit a case of academic dishonesty and violate the Honor Code in classes using iClickers.

A recent case of clickers involved in an Honor Code violation came from Dartmouth College where students were caught misrepresenting their attendance in a class by giving their clickers to their friends.

But what does that look like at Stanford?

According to Susan Fleischmann, director of Stanford’s Office of Community Standards (OCS), there has only been one reported potential case of cheating involving clickers in the last five years, and in that case, it was determined that the student in question accidentally picked up the wrong clicker while packing up.

Yet faculty such as Jennifer Schwartz Poehlmann and students alike say that the temptation among Stanford students to violate the Honor Code by giving clickers to classmates is very much real.

“I know for a fact that some people hand clickers to friends,” Schwartz said. “If it gets caught, it can be sent to Community Standards. I think the student has already hurt themselves in not attending class and they’re missing the point of the clicker.”

Personal clickers are often used in lecture classes to assist students’ engagement with the class material. Schwartz, who teaches Chemistry 31A, likes to ask students clicker questions throughout the class period in order to check students’ understanding of concepts.

“It’s well-known in teaching research that if you lecture at someone for an hour, they’re not going to retain 80 percent of the material,” Schwartz said. “I see clickers as a way to reinvigorate people and check in with people as I move through the lecture.”

Yet some students use the clickers as an opportunity to skip attendance altogether.

According to a male freshman taking CME 100 who would like to remain anonymous, his friend recently turned in a pop quiz for him on a day when he did not attend class.

“Since we don’t learn anything during lecture and the pop quizzes aren’t graded for correctness but just for completion, I don’t think that this breaches the Honor Code,” he said.

Other students find that this has become an unfair advantage for students taking large lecture classes.

“Getting credit for a class you didn’t attend may be a lot easier to get away with in a large lecture, but it doesn’t make it any less dishonest,” said Megan Calfas ’18.

“I think everyone would recognize that having a friend pretend to be you or take a test for you in a small discussion-based class is wrong, but for some reason in the more anonymous lecture setting, people see it as more of an ethical grey area,” she added.

Students who witness Honor Code violations often do not want to tell on their classmates and end up not bringing the issue to the professors or OCS. According to Fleischmann, only one student has come forward in recent years.

“I think it’s really hard for students to turn each other in,” Fleischmann said. “Nobody wants to be that person, I can understand that, but I think that if students want to maintain the Honor Code as an important part of their existence here, then they should think hard about what that agreement is.”

Contact Alexandra Nguyen-Phuc at amn17 ‘at’

Alexandra Nguyen-Phuc ‘18 is a news deputy desk editor and former staff writer. A freshman from Los Angeles, California, she wants to learn more about urban studies, economics and food system sustainability in her time at Stanford. Contact her at nguyenphuc ‘at’

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