“It Didn’t Seem Real”: The Quest to Undermine Online Cheating

Topics: Blog, Spotlight

Recently, an instructor was anonymously sent screenshots of a GroupMe chat for the course. The GroupMe for the class was initially created by the students to help share ideas and work together to understand the course content. Students are encouraged to study together to help them understand material and prepare for graded assignments but were specifically told to complete assignments individually. During an online quiz, some students corrupted the group by photographing their online quizzes and requesting assistance from their peers. Out of the large number of students enrolled in the course, the instructor could only report eight identifiable students. She could also only report the students shown on the screenshots that were shared from the anonymous student because she did not have access to the GroupMe.

In our office, students must meet with faculty members that accuse them of violating the Academic Honesty Policy in the presence of a trained facilitator. Meetings can last 15 minutes or over an hour, but over 95% of our caseload is resolved within the meetings.

During the meeting, the instructor was very upset. She pointed out that she already allows the class to use their book on the quiz, and she showed the students where they had acknowledged that they were completing the test on their own. Why, then, were students engaging in cheating behavior?

Different students provided different answers. Several students pointed to external factors, such as stress and a lack of preparation. Others said that because someone else in the GroupMe had done it, they thought it was allowed. While some students admitted to violating the honor code right away, others tried to obfuscate the issue by drawing attention to unrelated documentation.

One student, however, provided a unique response. “It didn’t seem real.” The online quiz, to this student, did not seem like a real assignment. In the student’s mind, the assignment did not count as academic credit, so why not ask peers for help? Because this quiz was online, the student felt it was acceptable to request answers without doing the work.

This student’s thought process reinforces the impending challenges presented by trying to connect technology with the integrity of the classroom. As we move towards a more technology-friendly campus and as the online learning community continues to expand, universities need to understand the threats facing the integrity of online exams. Instructor must find a format that combats a student mind-set viewing an assignment as “not real” and assesses a  student’s grasp of the course content.

What can we do to disincentivize this thought process? The instructor in this case took the first step in challenging the framework by reporting a potential violation. By forcing the student to confront the allegation and explain to what was done and why it was wrong, the instructor helped shift the student’s mindset. That one student will now stop and think before acting in a similar manner in the future.

We often hear that students claim that they made a mistake, and they will never do it again. Tearful confessions of wrongdoing may make students that go through our form of restorative justice think again before engaging in cheating, but is it enough to help the overall student population reframe their views of what counts as “academic work”? Until universities work together across departments, colleges, and offices, students might just graduate without the ethical values we strive to instill in them.

About the Author
Courtney Cullen is the Program Coordinator in the Office of Academic Honesty and Student Appeals. Courtney received both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in International Affairs from UGA. She previously worked for the UGA Athletic Association where she served as the Assistant Tutorial Coordinator.