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.
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.
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.