Academic integrity – or lack thereof – appears to have become a very serious issue for colleges and universities throughout North America. In 2015, Dartmouth College (a private Ivy League in New Hampshire) suspended 64 students for cheating – in an ethics class!(1) (I have included a reference here for fear of being accused of plagiarism). Studies conducted in the U.S. reveal that more than 70 percent of students admit to cheating at some point in time in a college or university course.(2) Canada is not far behind. An investigation by the CBC into academic misconduct at 54 Canadian universities found that more than half of students admitted to having cheated on a test in the past year, with more than a third acknowledging that they did so more than twice.(3) It seems that many students simply feel that they need to cheat in order to get ahead.

We can certainly try to point the blame at our “winning at all costs” society. Politicians and celebrities tell blatant lies – athletes use performance enhancing drugs. Custom-written essays can be purchased online, and apps can print formulas on the inside of water bottle labels. Of course, there is also the proliferation of technology that takes cheating into a whole new realm beyond writing formulas on one’s palm. There are programmable calculators, smart watches, Google Glasses™ and even smart contact lenses (and I recently learning there is such a thing as a “smart ring”). All these devices have the potential to assist students in cheating on exams with minimal risk of detection.

What concerns me about this is not so much the “how,” but the “why”. Research into academic misconduct at Canadian post-secondary institutions indicates that the students who are caught cheating are often not those desperately trying to simply pass the course. They are frequently high achievers with good grades driven by an extrinsically motivated need for external validation.(4)  And yet healthcare is essentially an altruistic profession that requires intrinsically motivated individuals driven to be sufficiently competent to provide the best possible care to others.

I certainly don’t in any way have the answers to this problem. Smaller class sizes and more individualized instructions have been shown to reduce the incidence of academic misconduct. I simply think it is something we should all be aware of and concerned about. Students in RT programs who cheat on exams and assignments may not graduate possessing all the requisite knowledge to become competent practitioners in a profession that demands a high degree of knowledge and skill. If that happens, I think it is fairly obvious who is being cheated.

(1) Barthel, M. (2016, April 20). How to stop cheating in college. The Atlantic. Retrieve from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/how-to-stop-cheating-in-college/479037/

(2) Gillis, A. (2007, March 12). Cheating themselves. University Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/cheating-themselves/

(3) CBC News. Special Report. (n.d.). Campus cheaters. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/manitoba/features/universities/

(4) Gillis, A. (2007, March 12). Cheating themselves. University Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/cheating-themselves/

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