Anti-cheating in the age of COVID

The coronavirus pandemic has upended higher education, aggravating one of its worst crimes: cheating.

The pandemic has compounded the pressure on college students across the U.S. In the age of online instruction, some students have resorted to cheating in search of a higher grade. Accusations have emerged around the country. The Military Academy at West Point, for example, accused more than 70 cadets of cheating on a calculus exam that was administered remotely.

Many college students have turned to the internet to ask strangers to solve their homework. A study found that the number of questions posted on Chegg, a homework help site, increased by 74.92 percent between September 2019 and August 2020 compared to the year before. The same study found that the number of questions asked from March 2020 to August 2020 increased 196.25 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Some of these posts have translated to real-world consequences. Texas A&M accused hundreds of students of cheating using Chegg.

Finding an online testing scheme that ensures academic integrity has also proved challenging. Assistant Teaching Professor Michael Taylor, who teaches 15-112 Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science, often referred to as 112, said in an interview that the course initially stopped having quizzes when online instruction began. "We knew we had to figure out a process that balanced security with also making sure that this process isn't going to stress students out like crazy," he said.

Taylor said the 112 staff has tried to build "online testing environments" so students can run code during their quizzes. However, one online testing environment eventually led to them nullifying a quiz after it had bugs. Most recently, Taylor said that students took quizzes on their computers. In this setup, students would join a Zoom call on their phones, put their phones behind them, and point the camera at their computers.

Taylor assured that students with internet or equipment problems could receive accommodations. However, students at other colleges have expressed concern about some testing schemes, especially those that use proctoring software. Some software like Honorlock raise privacy concerns because they require sweeping permissions from a test taker's computer. Others, like ProctorU, hire proctors to watch test takers.

Problems with proctoring software have led some universities to stop using them or advise against them. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is discontinuing its use of Proctorio due to accessibility concerns. In addition, Taylor said lockdown browsers were not considered for 112 at the suggestion of the Office of Disability Resources.

Intrusive testing regimens can add to the stress of college in what is already a difficult time for college students. A college pulse survey in collaboration with the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education found that 70 percent of respondents identified staying engaged with online work as a "primary challenge," and 51 percent said they were at least somewhat anxious about COVID-19. Additionally, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that there were over 560,200 fewer undergraduates enrolled in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019. That represents twice the decline recorded between fall 2018 and fall 2019.

For a small number of the students who did enroll, the unique pressures of college during COVID-19 seem to have pushed them to cheat. Taylor confessed that, since remote classes started, he had seen several cases of students receiving illegal help from a family member.

"Now you've got even more intense family pressure with the family you're living with," Taylor said. He added, "I will not miss that when we get in person."