Cheating on the rise ­­­— is technology to blame?

Graphic by Carolina Alvarez | Mercury Staff.

In an era of technology that puts the world at one’s fingertips, cheating has not remained within the realm of simply looking at a friend’s paper.

A report from last year revealed a higher number of UTD students referred for Academic Dishonesty than before. The last four years averaged between 300 and 400 referrals, but the 2016-2017 academic year saw a total of 603.

UTD defines academic dishonesty as being the use of unauthorized materials, information or study aides in any academic exercise, as well as the use of sources unauthorized by the instructor. Megan Schaedel, the director of the Community Standards and Conduct Office, said the majority of academic dishonesty policies are primarily based around the different inclinations of each professor and what they will or will not allow within their syllabus. What technology has affected is not necessarily the definition of academic dishonesty, but the steps that the university must take in order to minimize occurrences.

“I think what has changed is the outreach and advice we give to faculty members in how to structure their courses as well as language for their syllabus,” Schaedel said. “So we’ll say, ‘Hey, this is something that a lot of student have access to (your) exam on Chegg, you might want to consider changing your exam or staggering your questions.’”

Mechanical engineering junior Bryson Rector said because most of his classes are math-based, using tools such as Chegg or GroupMe might not be a problem as long as the concepts and underlying principals are understood in the process.

“I think it’s a grey area in my head of what’s cheating and what’s not,” Rector said. “If homework is due in 20 minutes and you don’t understand the concept so you log onto Chegg and you copy down the answers, that’s cheating because you didn’t make any effort to actually understand what you’re doing. I think if … you log onto Chegg and go through the answers and understand what they’re doing and then you repeat that — not necessarily copying letter for letter — but repeating the process that they used, I don’t think that’s cheating.”

Schaedel said it is not necessarily the technology itself that she finds problematic. Rather, the issue lies in an academic culture encouraging students to take whatever steps necessary to ensure academic success.

“Obviously, technology can be our best friend and our biggest enemy,” Schaedel said. “What I worry is that a lot of students are so academically-driven that they just want to get that ‘A.’ And so what they end up doing is trying anything for that ‘A’ instead of doing anything to learn the material.” 

Schaedel said in regards to what steps can be taken to ensure that technology remains a mechanism for faster learning and not one that perpetuates dishonesty, the answer lies not with the university, but with the students.

“I think the best thing to curb some of these instances of academic dishonesty is to encourage student to focus on their values and what’s important to them,” Schaedel said. “Looking at the Comet Creed, it says, ‘As a Comet I pledge honesty, integrity and service in all that I do,’ and I hope that students remember that and come back to that if not for themselves then for their community.”

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