Friday, March 26, 2010

MIT Physics Students, and Copying Homework

This paper was interesting to read, in part because of the obvious insights it contained:

At MIT, as elsewhere, students and faculty agree that doing homework is essential to learning to solve problems like those on the tests. Why then do our students engage in the acknowledged self-destructive behavior of homework copying?

The differences in temporal patterns between repetitive copiers and other students suggest the proximate causes: they put very little effort into their homework until the last day before the deadline and are several times more likely not to finish by the deadline. In addition, homework copying increases over the term, increasing very significantly after midterms. These observations are consistent with the explanation that students copy homework in response to time pressures that build over the term and are exacerbated by delaying the start of serious work on the weekly assignment until the day it is due. However, the strong correlation of task orientation and copying suggests that those who are primarily oriented toward obtaining grades vs learning predominate among those who choose not to invest sufficient timely effort in their assignments.

It shouldn't take MIT professors to tell us that, but it's good to know that they'll confirm what most high school teachers already know. But let's read more:

In summary, by far the strongest correlate of copying is delaying the start of effort on the homework until close to the due time. Lack of skill is a weak correlate of copying.

OK then.

So, who's the most likely person to cheat in physics class?

Predominately male students who are more interested in business than science or engineering, in getting an MIT degree than learning their major subject, in obtaining a passing grade than learning in introductory physics, and who do not consider copying homework as morally wrong as other students are far more likely not to allocate (perhaps by choice) enough time before the due day to make much progress on their homework and copied it in order to receive the credit.

Business majors.

I wonder if the "numbers" people are more likely to plagiarize in composition class. Probably not--everyone knows that math, science, and engineering-type majors are people of the highest intellectual and moral fiber.


maxutils said...

I actually read that article, live, in the MIT student union!

DADvocate said...

When I started college, I goofed off and barely got by. Midway through my sophomore year I got married and had a kid on the way. Realizing I had a choice between manual labor of a career and a white collar career, I began a serious approach.

I finished all my assignments the day before they were due, did all my reading as assigned, completed all my studying for exams the day before the exam. I never did a quick last minute review in the classroom just before the test. I might have done a review earlier in the day if the test was in the afternoon. I figured if I didn't know it by the time I walked into the classroom, I wasn't going to know it and hectic review would just confuse me.

I pulled a 4.0 for 5 straight quarters after starting this approach. My GPA before this was 2.0, after 3.75. I raised my cumulative from 2.0 when I got married to 3.15 by the time I graduated. In graduate school I pulled a 3.97 GPA using this method.

Another technique I used was index cards for concepts/definitions I needed to memorize. Putting the concept on one side of the card and the definition on the other I would learn them so that I could recite the definition from reading the concept or the opposite, recite the concept from reading the definition. Since these were on cards, I could carry them anywhere, even on my part-time job, and review them any time I had a few spare moments.

College is more of an endurance contest than an intelligence contest. Slow and steady wins the race.

Ellen K said...

It has been my observation that this generation of students wants everything laid out for them-their clothes, their work, their lives. To have to actually go through the work of learning is alien to them. Too often they avoid it by cheating. Cheating is rampant at all levels of education and I think it's a personal responsibility issue. We have students who do not see the use of studying and expect every aspect of life to be interesting and entertaining. I fear that these sloppy habits are and will continue to seep over into our society which may help explain the last general election. Instant gratification does not produce quality. These kids just don't understand that point.