Harvard to adopt student honesty pledge

  • Published
Harvard UniversityImage source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Harvard University students will have to promise not to cheat

Harvard University is going to introduce an "honour code" in which students will promise not to cheat.

It will be the first time the prestigious US university has asked students to make a public commitment not to plagiarise or cheat in their coursework and exams.

In 2012 the university faced its biggest-ever cheating scandal.

The proposals will mean students at Harvard from 2015 agreeing to an "affirmation of integrity".

"Honour codes" - or "honor codes" in the American spelling - are used by a number of US universities as a way of discouraging students from cheating in exams or submitting material that has been copied from the internet.

This has never before been required of students at Harvard.

'Culture of integrity'

But the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has voted to introduce an honour code and to create a board to supervise it.

Harvard, as with other universities around the world, has faced the challenge of how to prevent students from copying information from the internet and how to make sure that material is properly attributed.

The university has been working for four years on the idea of a code to promote a "culture of integrity" - and has simultaneously staged a high-profile investigation into claims of widespread cheating.

The honour code will mean that Harvard students will have to commit themselves to academic work that "adheres to the scholarly and intellectual standards of accurate attribution of sources, appropriate collection and use of data, and transparent acknowledgement of the contribution of others to their ideas, discoveries, interpretations, and conclusions".

It will say that cheating, plagiarising, academic dishonesty or "misrepresenting the ideas or language of someone else as one's own" would be a violation of the "standards of our community".

How this promise will be made, and how often it will have to be affirmed, have still to be decided.

The debate over introducing the honour code included evidence that such ethical codes really did work as a deterrent.

Checking identity

An experiment on cheating with students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale had asked half the students taking a test to sign an understanding that this test was covered by the institutions' honour codes.

The experiment found that those students who signed this understanding were less likely to have cheated - even though in fact there were no such honour codes.

It seemed that the process of making such a promise, even to an imaginary ethical code, was a deterrent factor in cheating.

Plagiarism has become a major issue for universities, with many using software to detect material taken from websites.

This has become an essential part of the academic process. When one of the major detection systems stopped working in December, a number of universities in the UK had to extend essay deadlines.

The growth in interest in online university courses has raised other questions about checking students' identity - and there have been tests with iris recognition, webcams and keypad recognition systems that recognise individuals by the way they use a computer.