I am teaching Calculus 2 and 3 this semester from a common text, and a significant number of my students are handing in perfect homework assignments that are clearly copied from Chegg, et al. As homework grades are a minuscule part of their overall grade, I'm not concerned that some of them are "getting away" with this, because they'll get washed on quizzes and exams if they can't do the work.

That said, I am concerned about what cheating does to their willingness to ask good questions in class or come to office hours. Students are already hesitant to ask questions of professors, but I believe cheating on homework creates two additional roadblocks:

  1. Students may be worried that asking questions will make it more obvious that they have no idea what they're doing, despite the fact their work looks perfect.

  2. Students may be worried that coming to office hours will allow them to be cornered by me, since their lack of understanding will be evident in a one-on-one conversation.

While they have chosen their own path by deciding to cheat, I would like to have a better understanding of what I can do to remedy this situation. The question of the cheating itself has already been addressed in considerable detail here, but I am more interested in how best to solicit more questions from students.

Does anyone have any thoughts or experience with this situation?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't give grades to homework and make it optional, so that only those interested in learning something will do it and they would not cheat (this is what I do since a few years and it works reasonably well). $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2017 at 23:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I've considered a variety of solutions to the "cheating problem," but I don't love any of them. I'm most interested in the "questions problem" at the moment, though the two problems are obviously related. Ungraded homework is a half-solution in my eyes--it will stop the cheating problem but it doesn't directly teach the weaker students that careful homework completion is a prerequisite for success. And if they don't do the homework at all they'll likely be so adrift that they won't be able to ask decent questions anyway. $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2017 at 0:02
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @JosephO'Rourke: One problem is that there are many (most?) K-12 environments nowadays, even some college classes, where no one is ever failed no matter how poorly they do. So students may simply not believe there is any problem, even in the face of multiple test failures, until they get their first real "F" at the end of the semester. $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2017 at 1:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DanielR.Collins: Almost any environment in which students hand in homework done when not directly supervised (and in which there does not operate a strict, applicable, and enforceable anti-cheating disciplinary regimen) is an environment in which widespread cheating is accepted by the instructor, whether the instructor realizes it or not, and whether the cheating actually occurs or not (in a graduate course, students want to learn, so many actually won't cheat, but that's irrelevant to the claim that they could). $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DanielR.Collins: This reminds me of the following quote from a real email I once received from a student after the end of a semester: "But nobody told me that I would fail the class if I don't do the homeworks." $\endgroup$
    – zipirovich
    Oct 11, 2017 at 4:26

1 Answer 1


Imagine a scenario where you don't have a hypothesis about your students' unwillingness to ask questions in class or during office hours. Your question may just boil down to: "How do you get students to interact with you in class, without expecting them to initiate?"Absent your hypothesis, you might:

  • Ask them to (anonymously?) submit their answers to a general question, such as "What is something you wish we spent more time on in class?"
  • Have them work on a problem in groups of four students and write up, as part of their solution, what they though was the hardest part of the problem, and one thing they still aren't sure of. Read the responses to the class, and comment on them as necessary.
  • Make "asking a question" part of their homework. Give them examples of "good questions" you might want to see.

We all know that some students cheat. I open the internet and show my classes Wolfram|Alpha and the Mathematics stack exchange, and that they can find answers to most of their questions in relatively little time. I have a serious conversation with them, warning them that they will most-likely fail if they can't figure out how to work on their own. I make myself available. However, I know that many students have just been brought up (scholastically speaking) with this as their mode of learning. They will not be bothered to physically come to my office, during a certain window of time, and ask me stuff. And I completely understand this!

However, I think the best questions can be asked in class, and I have a greater chance of hearing them if I make them (questions) part of the assignment.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm planning on giving a midterm evaluation, so I'll definitely put a question based on your first bullet. On second bullet, group work has been a bit of a slog anytime I've tried it this semester, but maybe I just need to give it more of a chance. I really like your third point--great idea. I've also shown my students WA and described how it can be used for good, rather than evil. In each class I tell them they should be emailing me or visiting my office with questions, and I have had some success with that. I'll definitely look for places where I can assign questions moving forward. $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2017 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed @ building problem posing ("asking a question") into the homework. $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2017 at 3:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.