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Harvard cheating scandal? It could be bad teaching.

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Platt, who brought the suspected cheating to the attention of Harvard authorities, has also acknowledged that the course was “one of the easiest classes at Harvard,” one student told the Boston Globe. That’s why it was popular with student-athletes like Kyle Casey, the top scorer on last year’s Ivy League champion basketball team, who is reportedly sitting out next season rather than risk losing a year of eligibility if he suits up and is later suspended. “I gave out 120 A’s last year,” Platt told the students on the first day, according to one student, “and I’ll give out 120 more.”

So students were surprised when their exams included terms and concepts that had not been covered in the class or course readings. “I felt that many of the exam questions were designed to trick you rather than test your understanding of the material,” one student wrote in Harvard’s “Q Guide,” a student course-evaluation site. “The exams are absolutely absurd and don’t match the material covered in the lecture at all.”

Put these two things together – what appears to be indifferent teaching and unclear assignments – and you have an almost perfect formula for cheating. In a 2007 survey of undergraduates at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, educational psychologist Gregory Schraw and his colleagues found that students’ perceptions of instructors' effectiveness was the factor mostly likely to decrease cheating.

“If you really like the teacher and they teach really well then you’re not as likely to cheat,” one student told the investigators. But when students think the instructor “doesn’t care,” another student added, they try “to get [the teacher] back by kind of undermining what they’re trying to do.”

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