In our role as student misconduct attorneys, we never know what our next student conduct case is going to look like. Sometimes, we fill our days listening to students accused of sexual misconduct by another student. Other days, all our calls center around students accused of violating their college or university’s newly enacted COVID-19 conduct code rules designed to prevent the spread of the virus on campus. Those types of cases are pretty predictable; you didn’t really think that students would stop gathering once they left the nest, did you?
What we have been surprised about is the increasing number of students who are being accused of cheating online from home or, if not living at home, engaging in academic misconduct from their college dorm or apartment. We have already discussed how students have used the online company Chegg to get answers for exams and quizzes. Believe it or not, we know of students who have typed test questions into Chegg and copied the response verbatim into the test, not realizing that other students were doing the same type of cheating. Once this is flagged, universities can contact Chegg and confirm that students in the class were logged on during the examination time and that they posed the test questions to a Chegg resource for responses. This is crazy stuff – and it definitely was not available to most of us when we were growing up.
Colleges are taking more steps to prevent online cheating
Colleges are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the use of anti-cheating software. In one article , professors reported that through the use of Canvas, they can literally watch their students on Zoom as they take their tests and see if they are taking an exam properly – no differently than if those students were physically in the classroom. Other universities use “anti-cheating tools” or software to determine if students are looking away from their screen and on other materials when taking an examination to flesh out cheaters. It’s as if there is a looking glass or two-way mirror where every eye flutter is being monitored.
We have seen many examples of students getting caught trying to cheat the system. In one example, a student tried opening a new tab to research a test answer. In another fact pattern, a student was seen looking away from the screen and into a second monitor to seek answers to an exam. In both cases, the students were BUSTED. At the same time, and while we don’t approve of this behavior in any way, it does feel creepy thinking that your child’s every move is being watched by a machine.
What happens after a student gets accused of academic dishonesty?
Parents always want to know what can happen when these types of allegations of cheating online are made. At best, a student can be given a failing grade for the test at issue or even the entire class due to the academic misconduct. At worst, a student can be suspended or expelled for academic dishonesty. If the suspension is noted on a transcript, a student’s chances of being accepted to graduate school are deeply compromised. And the consequences of cheating can impact future employment prospects, as cheating on exams reveals serious questions of integrity and character.
Many parents want to know what types of defenses are “good” defenses against academic dishonesty and misconduct allegations. Many parents tell us that their child cheated due to being tired or stressed. In our experience, many stressed and tired students don’t succumb to cheating temptations and even if they did, the excuse won’t be well received by a college. The simple response would be to get more rest or take the lump and get a bad grade. After all, surviving one bad grade is far better than explaining why a person cheated on a test.
The Best Defenses Against Academic Misconduct and Academic Dishonesty Allegations
We prefer explanations that point to a complete defense based on a reasonable explanation or a disability. For example, many students with ADHD eye dart into the air and are not looking at other materials. Many students with anxiety stare away from the computer just to think and cogitate. It is possible for any person with or without a disability to look away from a glowing screen and not to look at anything at all. We have all had moments when we drift away to collect our thoughts.
Other defenses can be found in the professor’s own syllabus. Many students jot down thoughts during an examination to flesh out a long question or equation. This type of processing is not necessarily cheating. Again, a lot of the defenses are fact–specific and tailor– made to the student in question. A one–size–fits–all approach does not work.
Our takeaway is that the technology to catch students cheating on examinations grows more sophisticated by the nano-second. Parents must have conversations with their students and stay on top of the technology. After all, you can’t have a conversation regarding a problem that you don’t know even exists.
And, if you want to know what’s going on with kids at school, feel free to give us a call. We would be happy to have a real talk with you. If you have any questions about this article or would like to learn more about online cheating allegations, contact Susan Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org / 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (email@example.com / 216.736.7217).