The Benefits of Cheating

Today brings the final post by guest contributor Dr. Tricia Stapleton, Assistant Teaching Professor of Social Science & Policy Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Her previous posts are here, here, and here.

While the Stars & Triangles simulation was beneficial, it did have some drawbacks.

First, it needed to fit better with a political science approach to trade issues. The activity on Biz/ed is for economics courses. That being said, materials required only minor tweaks to complement the textbook and meet time constraints.

Second, some students initially exhibited derision for the “arts-and-crafts” nature of tracing shapes and cutting them out. However, this attitude disappeared almost immediately once the students began the simulation, and I never experienced a student refusing to participate fully in the activity.

Third, instructors need access to particular materials (paper, rulers, scissors) for the simulation. Based on class size, this might mean an out-of-pocket investment by the instructor. Alternately, instructors can request that students bring their own rulers and scissors. Because of these possible constraints, the simulation may be better suited to smaller class sizes.

CheatingFinally, I’ve had several instances of students trying to “cheat.” Typical forms of cheating include the “less industrialized states” attempting to create star and triangle templates that they can trace in an effort to improve output, and both types of teams attempting to cut multiple sheets of paper at one time. Normally, I prohibit any sort of cheating by students; however, these instances can provide teachable moments that enhance the activity.

If “less industrialized states” attempt to manufacture their own templates, it opens up a conversation on efficiency measures, research, innovation, and the creation and dissemination of knowledge—which in turn can be a stepping-stone for a discussion of Global North and Global South relations. Also this kind of cheating can be used to start a discussion on intellectual property rights, patents, and copyrights, helpful for courses that focus more on international law.

If either type of team attempts to cut multiple pieces of paper at once, efficiency measures and innovation are still appropriate topics for discussion. But, while the top sheet may produce a star or triangle that meets standards, the rest usually fail. This type of cheating can be used to open up conversations on regulatory institutions and product safety. Misshapen stars and triangles don’t present any real risks, but defective real-world products such as cars, foods, or toys do.

When employing games in a classroom, instructors should consider the potential for cheating, where it may occur, and how they can respond to it. Anticipating where cheating might occur helps make it possible for instructors be to use those instances as teachable moments.