As a current rising senior, I’ve been a college student prior to and during the pandemic. After working in my school’s academic honesty office, I’ve gained a further and unique perspective on academic integrity at my university. For many students around me, the pandemic and consequent switch to online learning blurred a lot of lines when it came to cheating. In a year where we relied on groupchats and verbal dialogue in class dwindled, our entire approach to learning and studying changed. So did our understanding of integrity. Personally, I’ve always believed it’s better to be safe than sorry. I didn’t toe lines when it came to things possibly breaking the honor code. Those around me, on the other hand, questioned how integrity evolved with remote learning, and how much they cared about it.   

When everything felt like it was falling apart, students did their best to control what they could, and some took the easy way out to maintain good grades. Factors like Chegg and take-home tests made it easier than ever for students to compromise personal integrity for control in an uncontrollable time. Feeling that everyone is cheating made comfortable what should feel remorseful and wrong. It brings back the go-to parenting question: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” Despite reassurance from the herd, the consequences of cheating don’t diminish at all. Instead, one could argue they’re worse than ever.

After hearing about my peers sliding by or seeing cheating hacks go viral on social media, it slightly worries me that these students will become our future teachers, politicians, or doctors. Furthermore, it’s frustrating to be a student that follows the policies, watching those who put in only a percentage of the work receive a better grade. Like a lot of my peers, my grades have dropped. It’s extremely difficult to focus on pre-recorded lectures over PowerPoint slides and I found it a challenging way to learn. From a practical standpoint, I don’t foresee how I could build on unlearned material in my future upper-level electives. Through a more important lens, I believe taking the easy way out would cheapen my degree, something I’ve worked so incredibly hard to earn so far. I believe the challenge comes down to students holding each other accountable, but even more, the responsibility of professors.

This past year, students were constantly questioning if their personal integrity should be compromised, if online learning made some actions okay, if they should care because all their friends were doing it, or if the good grades were worth it. For me, the difference in immediately recognizing the answers to these questions or a quick choice to turn to google for credit can be meaningful conversations with professors. I’ve seen the people in my school’s academic honesty office work so hard to maintain the integrity of our university, and I’ve done my best to pass that message along to future students. But the classroom is where these questions are answered, and professors are responsible for the integrity of their classroom. They should not only be reporting students for cheating, but also, explaining what cheating looks like in their course. Professors need to show compassion and understanding as we transition back into in-person learning. They need to understand why students struggle, where the temptation to cheat comes from, and how to help prevent it.

What are your students saying about academic integrity? Comment or tweet @TweetCAI