Cheating in the age of COVID

A year and a half ago, many students were staying up until two in the morning studying for tests. Today, those same students are able to go to sleep early knowing that when they log on to take their online tests, they can find any answer they need on the internet with no one there to tell them not to.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and closed schools last March, students and teachers alike had to adapt to a new digital learning environment. This created struggles with accessing classes, assignments and even internet connectivity. But, the ability to attend class within the comfort of students’ homes has made cheating much easier than in years prior.

Since it is impossible for a teacher to constantly monitor each student in a virtual setting, the opportunity to switch tabs during a test or text a friend for the answers has grown exponentially. The virtual learning environment has put a massive strain on students’ motivation and mental health, and many times this has resulted in academic dishonesty.

A survey was sent out for Dulaney students to anonymously reveal their work habits this past year and if they had ever cheated on an assignment. The survey asked for students’ grade and the academic level (Standard, Honors, GT, etc.) of a majority of their classes. They were then asked if they have been academically dishonest in any way on a minor or major assignment, in what way and why they resorted to cheating.

Out of the students that responded to the survey, 84 percent had cheated on at least one minor assignment, and 48 percent had cheated on at least one major assignment. Most students said they opened a separate tab to help find an answer, and many others used their phones or texted a friend.

Teachers throughout the school have had instances where they caught their students cheating this year.
United States history teacher Daniel LaHatte has his own strategy for finding out if his students plagiarize any information for their essays in his classes.

“I’ll copy and paste some phrases into Google and it, more often than not, spits out exactly where it came from,” said LaHatte.

English teacher Meekah Hopkins shares similar issues in regard to students’ essays and other written classwork. She even has attempted to modify her coursework to avert students from being academically dishonest.

“For me as an English teacher, it’s usually about plagiarism,” said Hopkins. “I’ve changed assignments to make it more difficult or not worth the time to pursue that.”

However, this method only works on writing assignments. Other assessments, especially those in a multiple-choice format, are nearly impossible for teachers to notice any cheating that may occur.

“It would not surprise me if students were finding other means to obtain information for multiple choice and other answers that all I receive is a score for,” said LaHatte.

In addition to the types of assignments students have cheated on, the survey also asked why students cheated. The most common reason for the cheating was lack of motivation, with the length of the assignment and other school work as other frequent explanations.

“Some [students] are pressed for time and are looking for the simple solution, some of them, I think. It is a lazy, dishonest process,” said LaHatte. “The substantial amount of students who are not engaging and not attending [class] probably didn’t get the information.”

In contrast, Dulaney’s Vice Principal, Dr. Robert Murray, feels that cheating this year has not been any more of an issue than in prior years.

“Is there cheating that goes on every year in every school all over the world? Yes. Do we ever know about it all? No. Is it widespread? Not that I know of,” said Murray. “I think that, for the most part, people are honest…they know that their teachers are very flexible with grading and things of that nature—especially during this pandemic.”

Murray understands that students may be looking up the answers to questions on quizzes, but he believes students can benefit from it.