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Huber: Just because classes are online doesn’t mean you can cheat

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

I, like most other people, have grown up hearing from my parents, my friends, my professors and many different types of media that cheating is wrong. And yet, in my senior year of college, I still hear about instances of academic dishonesty time and time again.

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According to the Lexico online dictionary, to cheat is to “act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination.”

In college, cheating comes in different forms, whether it’s programming formulas into a graphing calculator, bringing extra note sheets into an exam or giving a friend your iClicker for attendance points when you don’t go to class. None of these things are necessarily right, but there are different levels of dishonesty and different levels of punishment.

That being said, according to Kessler International, approximately 86% of college students surveyed admitted to having cheated in some way during school. This statistic didn’t surprise me, but it did make me curious about the effects of online classes on the prevalence of cheating.

Ever since March 11, when Colorado State University first announced it was moving classes online, a lot has changed for students. My classes have all transitioned to prerecorded lectures, online homework submissions and discussion posts via Canvas. Aside from my senior design class, I’ve had much less interaction with my teachers and classmates.

An article published by The Quad Magazine suggests that “Online colleges that fail to produce a personal experience … and never create an opportunity for familiarity are especially vulnerable to cheating.” The many stay-at-home orders currently in place across the country have turned every college class into a virtual experience.

Ultimately, it is an ethical decision, but when making this choice, academic dishonesty should be viewed as what it is: not fair to other students.”

Despite this lack of communication during lecture time, I haven’t stopped talking to my friends about assignments, projects and exams — quite the contrary, actually. If anything, I’m more likely to text my classmates about the homework if I get stuck on a problem, as I have less opportunity to ask the professor for clarification. But there is a difference between asking for an explanation or guidance and asking for a solution, and the temptation is always present.

While it seemed to me as though people would be much more likely to cheat during their online classes, a study published by the University of West Georgia suggested that actual cheating rates were slightly higher for in-person classes than online classes. It also indicated, however, that students are “significantly more likely to obtain answers from others during an online test or quiz” than an in-person examination.

There are a few different policies that I’ve seen put into place to combat that. Some classes are making exams open note. Other classes are replacing exams with projects. Some are even using ProctorU to record students as they complete assignments to ensure that cheating doesn’t happen.

But there are always ways to get around those policies, and as always, the choice of whether or not to cheat is a personal one. Ultimately, it is an ethical decision, but when making this choice, academic dishonesty should be viewed as what it is: not fair to other students.

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Most students are familiar with CSU’s code of honor; “I have not given, received or used any unauthorized assistance.” It used to be printed on the front of my calculus exams, and in my hydraulics class, we still have to submit a signed copy with every homework assignment. 

This code of honor has come up much more frequently in my online classes than it ever has in person. I think that it is meant to remind us about the significance of our actions. Whether or not students are more likely to cheat, it is important to remember that cheating still carries the same implications of dishonesty and unfairness online as it does in person.

Allie Huber can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @a11iehuber.

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