As I mentioned before the blog-break, I had to deal with some cheaters in my class at the end of last term. I am clearly not the only one.
I have dealt with cheaters before, but typically they are in large intro classes in which space limitations require students to take exams while sitting in proximity to each other in a large lecture hall where it is apparently tempting to glance (or stare) at the exams of neighbors or (try to) surreptitiously use an electronic device containing information that might lead to Correct Answers. It is much more rare for me to see cheating in smaller courses involving Science majors and/or graduate students. But it happens.
In my large intro classes, if the cheating is unambiguous, I give the cheaters a zero on the relevant exam or assignment and I make them sit in the front row for all subsequent exams. I don't single these students out -- I don't think anyone else in the rest of the class knows or cares where anyone sits and so the rest of the class is unaware that certain students are required to sit in a designated place. I do not give the cheaters a failing grade for the entire class; just for the cheated-on exam. Some of these students pass the class and some don't, depending on how they do in the rest of the exams. I outline my policies on the syllabus, with a link to the university's webpages on relevant matters.
When I detected cheating on the final exam of my recent class, I had to check my syllabus to see if I even dealt with this issue in this particular class. I knew I had a section outlining what I considered to be appropriate levels of group work on homework and lab assignments, but I have never (?) had to deal with cheating on exams in certain Science classes, and wasn't even sure if I covered this on the syllabus. It turns out I did. In fact, I had clearly copied the 'scholarly conduct' from my Intro class syllabus into my Science class syllabus (is that plagiarism?).
So I gave the cheaters a zero on the final exam because that's what I said I would do in these circumstances, and I filled out the university's form to report scholarly misconduct.
The cheaters in my recent class had otherwise done OK in the course, so they passed, but their course grades were much lower than they might otherwise have been without a zero on the final exam.
One of these students, who, after briefly trying the "We studied together" excuse, admitted to cheating on the exam, has been sending me repeated e-mails begging me to give him a higher grade because he may lose a scholarship. I feel very sorry for him and I enjoyed having these students in my class, but my policy is not "You will get a zero unless you have a really really good reason for cheating and you send me at least 6 e-mails begging me to raise your grade."
I have not always filled out official reports of misconduct, preferring instead to deal with cheating situations on my own. I believed the rumors that it wasn't worth it to file a report, that doing this would lead to all sorts of confrontational unpleasantness and probably result in the punishment being overturned. Certainly if a student believed he or she was unfairly accused of cheating, I heard them out and explained to them their rights to appeal their punishment, but in most cases the cheating was so unambiguous that students confessed and focused their efforts on begging for leniency.
Now I fill out the forms. I think this is the fairest way to proceed because it is systematic, is more clear-cut in terms of informing the student of their rights, and allows the university to detect repeat offenders.
In most cases, nothing further happens unless the student wants to appeal the consequences meted out by the professor, although additional steps are taken to deal with repeat offenders. These additional steps are out of the hands of individual faculty and are taken care of by administrators who are better equipped to handle such things.
The practical result of this recent incident for me is that I am now going to take the 'scholarly conduct' section of my syllabus more seriously for all my classes, no matter what the size or level of the course.
7 years ago