Remote learning is not an open invitation to cheat

Honest students and professors are inconvenienced by the poor decisions of exam cheaters

Don’t be tempted by what looks like an easy way into a good grade. Photo: Maxwell Gawlick/The Peak

By: Michelle Young, Staff Writer

As of March, in-person classes have been adapted into online courses. This has brought numerous changes to students’ learning experiences, such as asynchronous lectures and remote finals. The switch has also exposed a potential abuse of remote learning: cheating. 

As one could imagine, it’s much easier to Google answers, refer to textbooks, or review Canvas slides when writing a take-home test. But cheating isn’t only harmful to the individual engaged in cheating — in a remote environment, it creates unnecessary hardship for everyone involved, from professors down to students taking the exam honestly. 

Let’s first consider what goes into discouraging cheating in an online environment. Professors and TAs have had to implement new, additional measures to try and ensure their students don’t cheat. This has involved asking students to turn on their webcams or microphones, or prohibiting them from coming into any form of contact with anyone else during the exam. Professors have also implemented time-limits to limit when students can access their exams, mimicking the restraints of being in-person. 

This is already an extra strain on faculty who then have to monitor dozens of students’ individual computers from a distance and record anything that may look like cheating. Aside from the gross invasion of privacy this entails, consider also the number of grey areas that could occur with technological limits or other unique circumstances of students each taking an exam in a different environment. 

What if students get an emergency phone call or need to contact someone due to technical difficulties? Additionally, students may not have access to a webcam, nor are they guaranteed to have laptops that have the capacity to use a webcam simultaneously paired with taking the online exam. If webcams or internet connections fail and students have near-identical answers, how can professors determine whether it was because of cheating? It’s not unreasonable to assume that remote exams have heightened instructors’ vigilance against cheaters. Students who are rightfully caught cheating will only increase the need to strengthen checks for academic integrity and increase the number of honest students who may be exposed to the stress of an accusation of academic dishonesty. 

SEE ALSO: SFU community group formed to advocate for student and staff during COVID-19

And let’s not forget that cheaters miss out on learning the material they’ve paid good money for. Plus, students who get caught face a series of penalties which may include suspension or the cancellation of their degree. No matter how easy it may look like to get away with it now that we’re all learning remotely, the fact remains that faculty still know what to look for and cheaters will ultimately get caught. The effort spent figuring out how to cheat the new online system could much more easily be spent actually learning the material, at no risk to the students involved.

There are of course still going to be students who are tempted to cheat behind the safety of their screens — however, it ultimately isn’t worth it. Academic dishonesty isn’t only a disservice to the cheater, but also to their peers and the staff who have to deal with the aftermath. It’s not fair to those who have good intentions to either be accused of academic dishonesty due to some arbitrary new policy, or to put effort into studying for their grades when others are too lazy to do so for the same result. 

Students are trying as frantically as professors to adapt to our new online environment. No one needs the additional stress of adjusting and readjusting the way we learn because some cheaters thought they could get away with it.

The use of digital proctor software at SFU and the potential for academic dishonesty in a remote learning environment is an ongoing story. Stay informed with future Peak articles on this subject.