Mahal Miles, (pictured, photo credit Hamza Molvi ) is a 3rd year economics major at Oregon State University. Mahal offers her perspectives on academic integrity as a follow up to Isaac Parham’s recent post, and provides several research articles as additional resources for our readers. 

Another Student’s Perspective: A response to Issac Parham’s spotlight post

Isaac contributed some thought-provoking points to the academic integrity discourse. I am moved to build upon Isaac’s analysis. I will identify who students are and how students make decisions about cheating. Finally, I will explore what faculty, institutions, and students can do.

Who Are Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a strange reality for everyone. Coursework is restructured to continue remotely, meaning that students have the same academic responsibilities despite simultaneously facing challenges in terms of meeting basic needs.

Under normal, pandemic-free circumstances, 25% of students experience food insecurity (Shelnutt et al.). And now, with social distancing mandates, jobs are disappearing. It can be hard to prioritize academics when you are worried about food. Students may also have additional challenges with housing during this pandemic. Before COVID-19, housing insecurity was greater among college students than the general population (Broton et al.). Students are more likely to live in informal situations, sharing rooms and units with others. This can create uncertainty in that roommates may have contact with people out in the community. Imagine doing homework when you are worried about your roommate exposing you to COVID-19!

Students are humans who are navigating academics, work, and life during a time of crisis.

How Students Make Decisions About Cheating

Isaac mentions that remote learning may increase academic misconduct. I agree that some cheating behavior is based on opportunity. However, my review of literature suggests that remote learning may not increase opportunities for students in the way that Isaac assumes. Since most cheating occurs when students panic, and there are fewer opportunities for panic cheating in the remote setting, we may not see significant increases in misconduct (Grijalva et al.). There has not yet been a large-scale study which examines the effects of remote learning on plagiarism (Jamieson et al.).

Cheating may reflect the higher stakes faced by students in a time of crisis. Imagine a student without secure housing who is completing an exam from a McDonald’s parking lot in order to access internet connection. This same student may need to pass their course to maintain satisfactory academic progress and financial aid—they may be more at risk of using references to complete the exam.

Like everyone, students are doing their best to get by in the face of adversity. For some, the decision to cheat is rational, even if it falls outside of other people’s expectations about moral behavior.

What Faculty Can Do

Instead of concentrating on catching students who engage in misconduct, instructors could instead shift their focus to learning measures. There are ways to keep honest students honest: writing an additional test version decreases the probability of cheating by an estimated 25%. A simple warning before each assignment or exam is shown to reduce cheating by 12.5% (Kerkvliet et al.).

While shifting to digital proctoring and using same testing strategies is a natural pivot, it has significant risks. Software like ProctorU imposes an unexpected financial burden on students. It collects biometric data such as facial recognition and keystroke measurement. The surveillance associated with facial recognition has historically affected minority communities disproportionately (Guariglia).

What Institutions Can Do

Universities can lower the stakes of measuring achievement through grades during this global crisis. Universities conscious of equity—including Oregon State, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Princeton, and others—have expanded “pass/fail” options. From my perspective as a student, passing a class during this time of crisis is the achievement, not the grade.

What Students Can Do

Students have the best chance of succeeding academically when basic needs are met. SNAP and Unemployment are financial resources that students may find helpful. Tools to manage mental wellness, like the Sanvello app, offers students access to mental health support.