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Why ‘cheating’ research is wrong: new departures for the study of student copying in higher education


In this ethnographic study, I will show that students at Czech university departments employ copying strategies as part of the dominant educational practices centred on the ‘replication’ of authoritative knowledge. In the teaching/learning situations that we observed, teachers ‘transmit’ knowledge to students, who are expected to ‘replicate’ it in exams, which students manage by either memorization or copying; either way, students are excluded from knowledge construction. This educational configuration is re/produced not just by students and teachers but also by buildings and spaces built for frontal instruction; by projection technologies transmitting fixed knowledge; by students’ community websites that enable sharing and electronic replication of lecture or crib notes; and by public policies of higher education funding or quality assurance. In conclusion, I will argue that many fundamental aspects of research on student so called ‘cheating’ need to be re-examined because this study demonstrates that student copying is integral to the dominant configuration in Czech higher education. This ‘normality’ of student copying challenges the moralist consensus of the literature, expressed in the very term ‘cheating’ as well as in proposals to counter student copying by instilling academic integrity in students, while ignoring complex higher education configurations.

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    Vignettes and quotations in this article are based on ethnographic fieldnotes that were written down predominantly in Czech and then translated into English for the purposes of this article. Some fieldnotes were taken in English when it was the medium of instruction and conversation.


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This article has been written within the project ‘Ethnography of university departments: mass higher education in institutional settings’, supported by the Czech Science Foundation (GAP404/11/0127).

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Correspondence to Petr Pabian.

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Pabian, P. Why ‘cheating’ research is wrong: new departures for the study of student copying in higher education. High Educ 69, 809–821 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-014-9806-1

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  • Higher education
  • Ethnography
  • Cheating
  • Copying
  • Authoritative knowledge