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Teaching ASL:  Dealing with cheating in the American Sign Language Classroom


In the following message, an ASL instructor asks about cheating. The instructor's name and email have been edited to protect her and her student's privacy.

Hello Bill,
I have a serious question. Recently I gave an exam to my students. Due to problems in the past with certain students voicing during class I had a student assistant come in to proctor during the exam and help listen for voicing (I am Deaf). The proctor caught one of my students cheating twice on the test. She [the proctor] told me after the test was completed.
What should I do? Give the student an F on that test? Fail her from the class?
Please advise.
- Jane

Dear Jane,
You mention "voicing" and you mention "cheating." Was the cheating voice-based or was it based on some other process? Meaning, "Did your proctor go to class to listen for voicing and just "happen" to catch someone looking off of someone else's paper?
Voicing during an exam is only one-half of the cheating equation. A person does not personally benefit by voicing, but rather he/she enables or benefits someone else (the listener). Do you also know who is the "other person" -- the one who benefited from the voicing?

If you accuse the student of cheating which you did not personally witness it becomes your proctor's word against the individual. If the individual flat out denies that it took place (which is likely) then you may get to "enjoy" the appeal process.

A college administrator friend of mine who has had to oversee numerous appeals, grievances, etc. on such issues tells me that when this type of thing goes to an appeals committee the evidence of cheating "has to be very compelling and first-hand by the instructor of record." In the situation you have described, the evidence would probably not be sufficient to uphold a charge of cheating.

If you are positive of the cheating then you can either reduce her grade for the test, give her zero for the test, or flunk her for the class. However, the longer you wait to take action the more problematic any discipline will become.

You may wish to inform the student that a proctor has witnessed behavior that had the appearance of cheating and that rather than giving her an "F" you are going to "allow" her to retake a different version of the test in "isolation."

One more way to deal with it is rather than reducing her grade for cheating, you can reduce it for TALKING in the first place since she should not have been voicing. Or tell her that she was observed cheating and that you are reducing her grade. If and when she denies cheating then simply tell her that rather than debate the issue -- you are reducing her grade for voicing.

Earlier this semester I caught a student cheating. I was doing one-on-one expressive exams where I interview students and then I ask them to sign certain sentences or phrases for me that they read off of a monitor. I like to give students a moment to read through the sentences before they begin signing. Prior to beginning the exam for this particular student I stepped out of my office for a moment to get a quick drink of water. When I came back into the room I was floored to note that in the very short span of time that I was gone the student had whipped out her phone, accessed my web site, and was in the process of viewing one of my instructional videos demonstrating those sentences!

I saw it, there was no doubt in my mind. I caught her red handed (or "phone handed") and there was no doubt in my mind what she was doing.

Hmmm, what to do? Give her zero? Fail her?

It was a complex situation. Technically the test hadn't started. The sentences were on my computer screen but I had not explicitly stated that those would be what she was being testing on. Additionally, had I been in the room the whole time it is certain that she would not have engaged in such behavior. (Locks do not keep dishonest men out rather they help keep honest men honest.)

Even when you are "sure" of the cheating, it doesn't mean that you will be able to convince an appeals panel. Imagine if it got to the appeals committee and the student stated that the test hadn't started yet and that while waiting for me she innocently decided to check her email and that her phone naturally defaulted to the most recent screen which was my videos that she had been studying earlier -- and that is the moment when I walked in.

So, what did I do?

I simply switched the sentences to a new set and gave her the test and then at the end of the test I explained to her that her signing was very good and that had she not attempted to cheat she would have gotten an "A" (on the test) but that she would be receiving a lower grade on it. I reduced the grade, she accepted the reduction and left -- end of story. Had I given her zero and had it caused her to not pass the class she would likely have initiated the appeals process.

The process of disciplining a student for cheating is not that much different from what a district attorney goes through in using the "plea bargaining" process to handle a perpetrator. If a perp has nothing to lose, he will likely go to a full trial. From a student's perspective it is often easier and/preferable to drag an instructor through the "appeal process" than it is to retake a class. Thus when informing students of what I'm going to do I sometimes tell them of all the things I could do, (give them and F for the class, have a note placed in their permanent record, initiate expulsion from the school, etc.), and then when I simply reduce their grade they seem rather relieved.

Some general tips:
1. When your classroom is overcrowded, consider separating your students into two groups, half the class in each group and give the exam twice (once to each group) that way you can spread the students out more.

2. Warn the students to not move their lips or open their mouths during the test AT ALL.

3. Bring a camcorder to class and set it up and aim it at the class. I brought TWO camcorders to one of my tests this semester.

4. Tell the students where to sit. Don't let them sit by their friends during tests. Make sure to position suspected students "front and center." In your seating arrangements, do be mindful of individuals with disabilities who may need to sit close to see better.

Bill Vicars


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