Even though trends differ depending on which one you look at, cheating continues to be a problem at Oklahoma's two largest public universities.
But while students once seemed to have the advantage — the entire Internet at their disposal — professors and other faculty have since leveled the playing field.
School officials say that more aggressive awareness campaigns have helped, as well, with the state's largest university enlisting the help of students in monitoring and investigating cheating.
Academic misconduct can include cheating on tests, unauthorized collaboration outside of class, falsifying university documents and plagiarism.
The University of Oklahoma, the state's largest school, reported 290 cases of academic misconduct last year.
Dr. Gregory Heiser, director of OU's academic integrity programs, said that figure is down considerably from a “high-water mark” reached after the 2004-2005 school year.
“We had nearly 400 that year, so it was a high-water mark in terms of those kinds of cases,” Heiser said. “Cases have stayed between 200 and 300 since then, so the long-term trend went up, and is now back down.”
Back in the 1990s, most of which was Internet-free, cheating cases were usually held under 100 per year. But that changed as more and more students became familiar with finding information online, including websites that assisted them in cheating.
After the 1999-2000 school year, OU reported just 92 cases of academic misconduct.
The next year it went up to 147, followed by 204 cases during the 2001-2002 school year.
Heiser believes the high mark set during the 2004-2005 school year coincided with a special crop of incoming freshmen.
“In '04-'05, it was the first year where we had a class of freshmen who had been using the Internet as a tool all the way through high school,” he said. “What they were using it for, as a tool, I mean, we don't know. But it seemed to match up with that high-water mark.”
At Oklahoma State University, reports of cheating have been climbing over the past five years.
Michele Tillman, coordinator of academic integrity at OSU, said reports of cheating aren't easily accessible before the 2006-2007 school year because the grade appeals board and academic integrity were the same entity. Since then, the two have split, and more precise records are available.
Tillman said reports of cheating have increased steadily since 183 were logged during the 2006-2007 school year. Last year, the 2010-2011 school year, she said 264 were reports of cheating were filed, nearly as many as OU.
But at OSU, the rise in the number of cheating reports may have more to do with students' awareness than an actual increase in cheaters.
“That's been the biggest thing in the past few years, getting more people aware of the academic integrity program,” Tillman said. “When you make students and faculty more aware of the policies, it's easier for them — when they do see something — to be able to act on that.
“For faculty, it tells them whether this is something that can be a teachable moment and or that this is more serious.”
As for this year, Tillman said it's probably too early to tell what kind of year it's going to be in terms of cheating reports.
“It hasn't been as busy this year, but it tends to fluctuate,” she said. “Around midterms and toward the end of semesters, when a lot of bigger assignments are due, is when we tend to see a lot of these pop up.”
Schools, professors have caught up
Both Heiser and Tillman say that professors and the universities themselves have made strides to close the gap in terms of knowledge of technology.
“The ease of cheating goes two ways,” Tillman said. “While the Internet certainly has made it easier to cheat for students, it's also made it easier for professors and graduate assistants to catch them.”
Both OU and OSU use websites like Turnitin, a website-based company who scans research papers to safeguard against plagiarism, the largest form of cheating at both schools.
Professors and faculty, many of whom were likely uncomfortable with the Internet when it first became widely used in the late 1990s, are now more tech-savvy, Tillman said.
“I think so,” she said. “The older generation is figuring out where the younger generation is getting their information, so that's made it easier for faculty.”
Heiser agrees. He says there's no doubt that professors are more at ease using the Internet, giving cheaters more of a reason to sweat.
“Since '04-'05, professors have caught up, and we as an institution have caught up, as well,” Heiser said. “There's no questioning that.”
And at OU, students are now charged with the task of policing and advising on punishment for cheaters. Punishments are handed out on a case-by-case basis and can range from a warning to expulsion from school.
Heiser said the student-run Integrity Council launched at the beginning of this school year, a move approved by OU's board of regents in January.
Students involved with the Integrity Council aren't pushovers when it comes to recommending punishments for cheaters, he said.
“We are noticing that students tend to be a little tougher on these cases than professors often are,” Heiser said.