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The Cost of Copying Homework

A recent study led a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor reveals troubling statistics for students who copy a large percentage of their homework from their peers, according to the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog.

The study, called "Patterns, Correlates and Reduction of Homework Copying," examined the homework habits of four physics classes at MIT. The researchers tracked students' homework submissions through an online homework program called MasteringPhysics, which analyzed how much time it took students to complete each problem and the number of errors students typically made on each assignment. They used that data to determine a profile for a rampant homework copier, and had students fill out an anonymous survey asking about copying at the end of the study.

They found some alarming news for chronic homework copiers: students who copied more than 30 percent of their assignments were four times more likely to drop out of classes in the course of a two-semester sequence than their peers who completed homework legitimately.

What was mostly to blame for the chronic homework copying? Interestingly, the data revealed that a lack of skill was a weak correlate to copying. The most important factor is "delaying the start of effort on the homework until close to the due date." (That's MIT's fancy way of saying "procrastination.")

And what can teachers do to dissuade students from copying?

"Providing more instructor contact, giving shorter and more frequent assignments, switching from pass-no record to grades, and discussing the correlation of copying and course performance with students" were all suggestions in the MIT report. During the study, the researchers found that these changes to a course's format reduced homework copying by a factor of four.

"We came upon homework copying through our research on learning in an online environment, rather than through moral concern," said Pritchard. "But our results are so compelling that they place a moral imperative on teachers to confront homework copying and to reduce it."

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