The Cheating Curve: Why All Assignments at F&M Should be Open Book in the Age of COVID-19

By Rohail Spear || Layout Assistant 

Cheating on in-class tests, quizzes, and essays – once difficult, risky, and in most cases impossible to achieve without being caught – has now become universally easy and rewarding in the age of online classes.

If your camera is not required to be on, cheating is as easy as looking up everything you need in your textbooks, notes, and on the Internet. Even if your camera is required to be on, you can still get away with strategically taping notes on your walls or keeping your textbook flipped open to a specific page off-camera. Students who seize this opportunity can benefit enormously, especially in classes primarily relying on skills such as memorization and vocabulary. It only becomes a problem when some people cheat and some people don’t.

Students who choose not to cheat are at a disadvantage because they are not using class-related information that may help them on the assignment that other students who do cheat are using. Ironically, students who choose the virtuous path are being punished, whereas students who choose to disobey the rules are being rewarded. The important thing to note is that those students who are cheating will, 99% of the time, never be caught because it is simply too difficult for teachers to tell if their students are cheating over Zoom.

The situation becomes more complicated when you have a class where some students are in a physical classroom and some students are online. Those students in the classroom tend to not cheat because not getting caught is more difficult, whereas the students online will tend to cheat because it is easier to do so inconspicuously. Here, there is a disadvantage to being in the classroom and an advantage to being online; there is an appeal to being online and a detraction to being in person. Not only does this go against the main purpose of physically being in an F&M classroom, but it contradicts the idea of many professors at the college, which is to attend in-person class if you can.

Fortunately, most professors have learned how easy it is to cheat online and, therefore, most allow all assignments to be open-book/open-note. Those who don’t, however, are inadvertently creating an unjust environment for the students that do not cheat.

The solution is simple: For every professor to allow all students to use their textbooks, notes, and the Internet for all assignments.

There are concerns that this solution may discourage students from learning and memorizing the material thoroughly and in its entirety, but this may not be the case. The students currently cheating are most likely already not learning the material to the extent that they should be. If their goal is to get the best grade that they can with minimal effort, implementing this solution will not make these students study any less than they already are. Similarly, the students that refrain from cheating will most likely not be affected: Their goal is to learn the material for the purpose of learning the material, and if they were allowed to use outside sources they would most likely still learn the material in its entirety because to do otherwise would detract from achieving their goal.  

If we punish students that are not cheating and reward students that are cheating, we are failing all students and creating a contradictory, inconsistent atmosphere impossible to justify. While this solution may seem drastic and unprecedented, these are drastic and unprecedented times. So much of our daily lives have been altered to deal more effectively with this new world, and how students complete assignments cannot be overlooked; creating a fair environment for all students is crucial in maintaining F&M’s equal-opportunity mindset.

First-year Rohail Spear is a layout assistant. His email is rspear@fandm.edu

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