If a student is cheating, he can be caught or not caught. If he is caught, it's not obvious what to do.

There are options with different strategies:

  1. The students are themselves responsible for not cheating.
  2. The teacher is responsible for preventing cheating.
  3. The organisation is responsible for not cheating.

Options 2. and 3. are obviously acceptable and in use.
Option 1. is the one that is interesting. If that is used, it often leads to cheating in very high percentages, significantly more than in cases 2. and 3. is cheated.

The most interesting point is that in case 1., cheating is irrelevant for the teacher and the organisation. The teacher should explain the strategy, and the reasoning to do it in the course notes. And that is all for him.

The reasoning is that it is to the detriment of the student, and nobody else if the student cheats.

Is this strategy somewhere in use?
Should it be?

(I do not limit the question to the level of education, but there are levels - like before high school, where one can not obviously assign the responsibility to the children. But it is still possible to work. In the case of PhD students, it is possible.)

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    What?? How on earth could it be anyone's responsibility but the student's to not cheat? Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 19:53
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    I have taught at a college (US meaning - post-secondary undergraduate education at a small institution without graduate programs) where the student body collectively is responsible for cheating. The students are collectively responsible for finding cheating, and the students elect a group of students to decide on punishments if cheating has occurred. Faculty leave the room during exams. Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 19:59
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    @AlexanderWoo. That is awesome.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 20:07
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    "it is to the detriment of the student, and nobody else if the student cheats". So incompetent doctors hurt only themselves? Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 20:11
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    1,2,3 are not mutually exclusive. The student is obviously responsible to not cheat. The teacher and institution also have an obligation to create reasonable policies that discourage and deter cheating, as needed, but so as not to interfere with educational goals. Just like in society in general, every individual has a responsibility to obey the law, but the state also has a responsibility to provide police. Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:01

3 Answers 3


I disagree with much of your premise.

  1. It is the students responsibility not to cheat
  2. It is the responsibility of the professor to detect cheating when possible
  3. It is the responsibility of the institution to levy consequences for cheating

All of this is done to uphold the quality of the degree sought and the reputation of the institution.

Finally, cheating is not irrelevant even when undetected, because it erodes the reputation of both the degree and the institution. In the limit, you have unqualified students entering the workforce touting a ‘degree’ in nothing other than success in cheating. Meanwhile students that did not cheat suffer the consequences of a degree from a school with declining reputation.

Edit: OP’s premise may be sound in a ‘game theory’ context, wherein the purpose of the game is to earn maximal points, but such an exercise dismisses the broader implications.

  • I missed the point of the reputation, thanks! But the core of the question is basically whether the strategy works. And it works, by definition, if the final grades at the end are at least as good as traditional grades. I do not think that you disagree with anything. You just answer the question "Should the strategy be used?" with "No", and go on to explain your argument. (Actually, you say that your opinion is that you think the premise that the three strategies are separate is wrong. Now I get it. ) Good answer! Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:31
  • I’d only agree with your premise in the context of game theory. Yes, the quantifiable outcomes may be the same but the qualitative - the consequences as a whole and for the system - certainly question a cheating strategy.
    – HEITZ
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:34
  • It is not a cheating strategy! When it works, that implies that they cheated not more than before! And if it works, they have actually proven their responsibility, which is a major positive point on the qualitative side. Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:40
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    I guess I’m missing your point. My major criticism is that cheating, even when successful, is detrimental not just to the cheater, but to his/her peers and the institution.
    – HEITZ
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 22:46
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    No. You are certainly free to not learn but you are not free to manipulate the assessment system to make it appear that you have learned. Cheating awards false credit.
    – HEITZ
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 23:12

If you mean to ask, are there places where the teacher and the institution can ignore the possibility/responsibility for preventing cheating, relying entirely on the honor/integrity/ethics of the students, the answer is a qualified yes.

There are places with formal honor codes that the student signs. The penalties for breaking it can be severe, hence the qualification. But it is mostly honored at those places and students are treated as honorable people, not as criminals in waiting.

However, even in such places, a professor would probably not want to dangle bait in front of students, reusing old exams without change, nor would the institution not want to have a system in place for handling student misconduct.

But even beyond that, some people teach in such a way that it is very difficult to do anything that would be considered cheating. You can, for example, deemphasize formal high pressure examinations. You can also encourage, even require, student collaboration. There are ways to determine student performance for which these practices don't interfere.

The job of education is to promote student learning, not grading.

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    " But it is mostly honored at those places". Having attended two such institutions, I respectfully disagree with this claim. As an instructor, my experience is that "student collaboration" is in and of itself not an effective obstacle to forms of cheating such as plagiarism and copying.
    – Dan Fox
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 9:05
  • "The job of education is to promote student learning, not grading." Educational institutions acredit their graduates, whether we like it or not. It is important socially to know who is qualified to act professionally as an engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc. In this sense evaluation (grading) is important, even if disagreeable. While I value learning for its own sake, most of my students, and the institution in which I work, demand something else.
    – Dan Fox
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 9:07

As Heitz points out, it's a fallacy to think these are mutually exclusive.

The student unquestionably has the responsibility not to cheat.

Also, the teacher and institution have the responsibility to create policies that discourage and deter cheating. It is definitely a detriment to honest students, and to the reputation of the institution overall, if many students manage to graduate without actually fulfilling the educational objectives they claim.

However, this must be balanced with the responsibility to provide an appropriate educational program. The precise way of striking this balance may vary depending on educational philosophy, local culture, and many other factors, and different teachers / institutions may decide to handle it differently. There isn't a single right answer.

At some institutions, experience may show that very few specific anti-cheating measures are needed (e.g. take-home exams are successful) and that a general culture of honesty can be cultivated. At others, there may be more restrictive measures (proctored exams, ID checks, etc).

In some cases, it may also happen that a particular assessment method which is vulnerable to cheating (graded homework, etc) may still be used because it provides a useful incentive to honest students, and encourages learning overall.

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