21 August 2014


The Unified State Exam season for Russian high school students is over, and once again educators are discussing the results. In a survey on the State Exam's official Web site, about 12% of survey respondents admitted to cheating, and another nearly 9% said that, in effect, they would probably have cheated if they hadn't been prevented by cameras or proctors.

Here's the survey along with another recent survey on the official Unified State Exam site:

"Did you take the exam honestly?" Responses, top to bottom:
  • "Yes, I completed and turned in an honest exam." (79.04% as of today)
  • "As it turns out, yes, because there were no opportunities to cheat on account of video cameras / proctors in the exam hall." (8.94%)
  • "No, I used crib notes." (5.74%)
  • No, I used my mobile phone." (6.27%)

"How do you feel about video surveillance at the Unified State Exam?"
  • "It doesn't bother me." (39.3% as of today)
  • "At long last my fellow test-takers won't cheat." (14.29%)
  • "Not happy at all; I won't be able to cheat." (30.71%)
  • "You're kidding--there will really be video cameras?" (15.7%)

In my own classes in Elektrostal, I've tried not to let the cheating issue spoil the classroom atmosphere. I usually encourage students to help each other ("but please do it in English") and consult dictionaries. After all, teamwork and research are adult skills, not crimes.

Homework assignments consisting of letters and essays are a bit of a different problem. If I thought students were helping each other and consulting reference materials, I would not be displeased. I'm a lot less happy when a student turns in an assignment that has been copied word for word from an online repository of such texts. We use a popular curriculum for our Unified State Exam preparation class, and texts (of wildly varying quality) have been uploaded for every conceivable topic found in all such curricula.

One method of reducing such online plagiarism is to take the time to compose original assignments not found in texts, or to ask the students themselves to create assignments. That doesn't eliminate mutual assistance among students, but it does reduce reliance on online banks of prepared texts. My other approach has been to teach students how to find and cite other authors properly. Want to use someone else's words? Fine--just make sure you tell your readers who said it and where you found it--and don't forget to tell us how this other author contributes to your own argument. Over and over, my students tell me that this skill isn't taught at the high school level.

As I try to weigh the importance of controlling cheating and introducing a higher level of ethical sensitivity, while still creating a creative and collaborative relationship with students, I've decided to write an article on this subject for our Institute's next conference, coming up in October. I'm going to conduct a brief survey (in Russian) for teachers of humanities subjects, along the following lines. If you'd like to respond to the English version below, please feel free! There are places for you to recommend your own questions.

Alissa Wilkinson: "Is Religious Journalism Haunted?"

Foreign Affairs: What role might the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe have played in today's troubles among Russia, Ukraine, and the West? John J. Mearsheimer. Mary Elise Sarotte.

"Russia Shutters 4 McDonald's for Poor Sanitation..." and the Runet responds. (Guardian story here.)

"Global warming slowdown 'could last another decade'."

Here's what Ruthie Foster does with a Johnny Cash classic:

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