Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck and schools have transitioned to an online format, Illinois State University has noticed and addressed an increase in academic dishonesty.
Many students rely on the internet to complete assignments, essays and exams. With the virtual format of courses, students have the internet at their fingertips, which has made cheating and plagiarizing an easy option for students to turn toward.
Assistant Dean Bradley Pearson noted there to be an increase in academic integrity violation reports.
“[In] the fall semester of 2020, [we] saw as many reports concerning academic integrity issues as Student Conduct and Community Responsibilities has regularly seen in a full academic year for the last several years pre-COVID,” Pearson said.
Pearson also said that many acts of cheating are not reported or go unnoticed, meaning the Dean of Students Office could never declare an accurate statistic about cheating occurrences.
Professor of English Aaron Smith stated that the online format has caused students to take the easy way out. Smith believes students are turning to the web more often now than ever.
“For me, the line is crossed when the student shows no evidence of trying to understand what they have been taught — maybe they didn’t get it or they weren’t paying attention in the Zoom environment — and then lifts verbatim sentences from easy-to-find sources,” Smith said.
Senior Specialist at the Dean of Students Office Jen Stevenson said that the areas of academic dishonesty being reported the most are plagiarism, using online sources and students communicating with one another during quizzes and exams.
Stevenson also acknowledged the differences between learning in person and online and how accessible assistance is for students.
“When [students] are working on an assignment [online] and don’t know the answer, they can’t easily raise a hand and get help. So, students do what they do when they have a question and there isn’t someone else around: they check Google,” Stevenson said.
Smith said virtual schooling has brought into question the definition of cheating and what constitutes it per circumstance or assignment. He gave attention to the students’ perspective and how it could be faulty.
“While on the one hand, it does seem like cheating when students take information from the web instead of consulting the material they are learning in class, I suspect that some of them think they are simply ‘using resources,’” Smith said.
In addition to more reports being filed, evidence for an increase in academic dishonesty also comes from professors identifying items in student work that were not taught in class. Smith said professors are very knowledgeable in their fields and can recognize plagiarism.
“If a student says something that you didn’t teach them or says something that you know is an idea that someone else in the field has — busted,” Smith said. “Also, when a student in an introductory course is using language that is indicative of someone with a PhD, that’s a tipoff that maybe it wasn’t their work.”
Stevenson indicated that when a student puts their name on an assignment, they are certifying that the work submitted is entirely their own.
“I think, sometimes, students get caught up in the idea that they just have to turn something in or that they need to get the assignment done and don’t really consider the potential ramifications of taking shortcuts,” Stevenson said. “Everyone is stressed and living with a lot of uncertainty, but I think this is when their values, ethics and integrity are most important.”
Pearson believes students must primarily grasp the expectations set at the collegiate level for progress to be made with regard to academic integrity.
“What is expected here is not necessarily the same academic standard they experienced in high school,” Pearson said.
He is optimistic about what can be done to deter academic dishonesty and how to encourage academic integrity across students.
“ISU can further promote services it has in place to support students in their academic efforts and to meet the rigor of the academy, such as through writing-focused courses, the writing workshops supported by University College and the writing assistance offered at the Julia N. Visor Academic Center,” Pearson said.
Smith views in-person learning as more effective than remote learning. He also believes the language used to refer to mandatory courses should be modified.
“I think it would be helpful if we changed our rhetoric about learning and getting a degree away from required courses, hurdles to jump through, etc. and got students thinking more about the fact that they really need to master certain kinds of information to be a professional in a certain field,” Smith said. “Perhaps, they would take the learning process more personally and understand it as a moment for intellectual growth, not just getting a passing grade.”