From Collaboration to Cheating: Where Do We Draw The Line?

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Cheat

(v) – act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage
(n) – a person who behaves dishonestly in order to gain an advantage

Oxford English Living Dictionary

We’ve all grown up with the idea that cheating is wrong. It’s bad, it’s against school rules and it just generally shouldn’t be done.

Are things different in the EFL classroom?

Well, in many respects EFL classrooms are very different to other classrooms. We like to think that learning English should be a fun and enjoyable event so we do everything we can to make our EFL classrooms as different to the stereotypical classroom as possible: we don’t stand at the front of the classroom for the whole lesson, we encourage questions, we involve our students in every stage of the lesson and we foster participation and interaction.

Which brings up the sticky issue of: when does collaboration turn into cheating?

If we want our students to work together and we know the benefits of peer teaching and teamwork and co-operation, why is it a problem sometimes when our students do exactly that?

Quite frankly, we don’t think it is.

The aim of learning English is being able to use and understand English, not to pass a test. If they need to work together in order to help them grasp a concept or problem solve a language issue, then so be it. This will surely only serve to help them in the learning process, whether they are asking or answering the question.

BUT (and it’s a big but), before we get our heads bitten off, we must reassure you that t’s and c’s apply.

If you are teaching in a school and are giving your students a placement or level test, then it makes sense that we would want our students to work individually – because otherwise you would not be testing their individual performance. Even if you are giving an end-of-the-week test you may want to limit the groupwork and enhance the individual work.

In these cases, there are things you can do to try to avoid the problem of cheating: arranging the classroom so it does not encourage peeking, keeping an eye on your students during the test and dealing with clear instances of cheating quickly and quietly.

Hopefully in this way cheating will not become an issue in your classroom. If you find that it is, consider the reasons that may lie behind the cheating. Is there a lot of pressure on your students to perform well? Are your students not paying attention during your lessons so they are unprepared for the test? Are the tests inadequate reflections of their learning?

Above all, it is necessary to instil in your learners that cheating is not useful for their learning. Collaboration is, given the right circumstances, and so should be encouraged during class time, but cheating will never help anyone. Hopefully, if your learners appreciate they are learning English for a purpose – i.e. communication in the real world – then their enthusiasm for learning will negate the need to cheat.

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