Online students grapple with morality when faced with TEMPTATION to cheat

Shravani Page | Staff Writer

 Although cheating isn’t a new phenomenon, with the interjection of a pandemic, online students have been put to a test of integrity in whether or not they will take the “easy way out.”

Juniors Rachel Bair and Rishi Manoharan chose to go online because they felt it would be best for both of their families. They will both also continue their online learning next semester as well. 

Bair and Manoharan utilize the SchoolsPLP and Apex learning platforms. SchoolsPLP accounts for more widely-available classes while Apex is used for Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Online learning on these platforms has created increased opportunities for students to cheat on assignments in order to “keep an A” or bring their grade up. However, both Manoharan and Bair believe cheating is more based on ethics and morality rather than opportunity. 

“Cheating would definitely be more tempting for a lot of people,” Bair said. “You’re right there and nobody’s watching. It’s like a moral test. Are you going to cheat? Are you going to open a new tab?”

Manoharan agrees cheating rates may be higher online, but he also says that the choice to cheat in general is up to students. “No one monitors the rules, so students may feel there is no real need to act morally or ethically correct,” Manoharan said. “You can make your own decisions and those are up to you.”

For both online and in-person learners, Manoharan believes that the temptation to cheat is far deeper than what’s seen on the surface. Manoharan feels it stems from Mason’s academic culture which expresses priority on the aspect of grading instead of learning.

“There is a greater focus on taking a lot of courses and bumping up your GPA rather than meaningful learning,” Manoharan said. “But that impacts you in the future because if you’re going to a job, you will only want to do what’s required to barely succeed rather than what’s required to be a great employee and a good person.”

Bair believes that cheating is not only a problem regarding the fundamentals of the school system, but a mentality and stigma surrounding good grades. Bair “still wants to work hard and get good grades” but wants to refrain from focusing on the pressure to be the “perfect” student — a culture she said is commonly found in Mason.

“I think not so much pressure should be put specifically on what your grade is and what you get in a certain class or even just on the test,” Bair said. “One B isn’t going to ruin your whole life. It’s a setback, but it’s not the end of the world. I think a lot of people feel like it is.”

For most online teachers, classes consist of the teacher talking to a black screen–especially when many of the students’ cameras and microphones are turned off. It can be hard to tell if students are grasping the material, or even if they’re in the room. According to Online Chemistry and Physical Science teacher Linette Graham, the online platform can contribute to a lack of built trust and communication between students and teachers. Both groups are left in the dark when it comes to the understanding of classroom content.

Many students adhere to the ideal of the “perfect student”. A mix of good grades, test scores, and extra curriculars seemingly impresses everyone. But sometimes in reaching these ideals, students may go overboard — and that’s where cheating can come into play.

Graham believes that students face these sorts of competitive ideals everyday whether it’s from friends or family. She worries for her students and believes that cheating isn’t preparing them for harder classes or more challenges in life.

Online learning might open up a window of opportunity for students to get more comfortable with cheating- comfortable enough to carry on these choices when they are back in person. Graham is concerned for underclassmen and worries their grades may “tank” junior and senior year, years which are vital to students looking to attend university.

“I am a little concerned, especially for the freshmen,” Graham said.“The freshmen will [become] sophomores, and they will continue to follow through these habits. Then their junior year, they will not have had experience with good learning skills because they depended too much on Google.” 

Graham said that the line for what qualifies as cheating has become blurred. She thinks there’s a different definition of cheating now and that cheating can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Graham said some students could just be viewing this academic dishonesty as “using [their] resources.” 

Some of these students who have made the transition to online learning aren’t aware when they cross that line. “They don’t know [because] there’s no severe consequence,” Graham said. 

Graham believes the issue of cheating can be fixed, but only to a limited extent. However, as Bair and Manoharan said, she agrees there needs to be a change in mentality in order to hold students more accountable.

Many high school students, especially underclassmen whose first experience of high school is through a screen, share differing academic values. Some may feel a tendency to refrain from the cheating culture, but some may give in because it’s what they did in online school. Graham says that this could all be due to the pressures students face from society and that there may not be an exact physical fix. 

“[The school] could research and get a program that would allow teachers to see every student’s desktop,” Graham said. “But there’s a certain culture here, as we are very diverse. When you have generations of people stressing the importance of education and good grades, you feel pressured. It’s a culture clash.”

Graphic by Rachel Cai