Friday, February 10, 2006

Cheaters seldom win 

As a department chair I have noticed an increased number of complaints by my faculty about students cheating. Sometimes it's so obvious that you have to do something just to discourage those at the margin that would cheat if they thought it was easy to get away with it. But like Alex Tabarrok, I seldom find anyone ever got a good grade from cheating.
Almost invariably the cheaters get abysmally low grades even without penalty. Some people I know get annoyed when students without evident handicap ask for and receive special treatment such as extra time on exams. I comply without rancor as the extra time never seems to help. Over the years I have had a number of students ask for incompletes. None have ever become completes.

I call this the law of below averages.
You still need a credible threat of enforcement (Alex suggests that the Lucas critique applies here), but you may be able to create this at relatively small cost. And having had the student in the room who denies it even when the faculty member has prima facie evidence (and administrative reluctance to pursue these cases), you do not want to have to play the punishment card too often. Sounds like another place for game theory.

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