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Wednesday, Dec. 23rd 2020

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY IN THE AGE OF COVID-19

ACADEMIC-INTEGRITY-IN-THE-AGE-OF-COVID-19-Cohen-Duncan-Attorneys-student-lawThe Wall Street Journal, in an article published December 23, 2020 explores the topic of online cheating by high school students, commenting that some parents say its OK due to the stresses of the pandemic on their children. Of course, academic institutions from public and private high schools to colleges and universities do not intend to abandon their historic disapproval of cheating. The arguments against cheating are perhaps obvious but bear repeating:

  •      It gives the cheater and unfair advantage over other students
  •      Cheating undermines appropriate feedback and erodes measures of student learning
  •      Cheating leads to meaningless degrees
  •      Cheating is forbidden by societal and religious values and standards
  •      Cheating harms the reputation of the school
  •      Cheating in school correlates with cheating in adult life
  •      Cheating betrays the trust of the instructor

There may be other reasons to disapprove of cheating but it is safe to say that no student caught cheating will succeed in arguing that he or she was justified in doing so. But since the inception of the pandemic, our practice has seen a dramatic rise in the number of student clients seeking help with an accusation of academic misconduct. These accusations typically allege a violation of an academic integrity policy in the student handbook of their college or university. 

Academic integrity in the context of a traditional proctored exam in a classroom or testing center has typically involved questions of students speaking to each other during an exam; passing notes; accessing a smartphone with prohibited material or links to prohibited websites. But in today’s remote learning environment, the efforts by colleges and universities to discourage breaches of academic integrity now include requirements that the student use their phone camera to scan their room to prove that answers and “crib sheets” are not posted on the walls or other surfaces, or that other electronic devices are not turned on with access to exam answers or other unauthorized assistance.

We are even seeing requirements that students, while taking an exam remotely, maintain eye contact on their screen as proof that they are not getting unauthorized help from somewhere in the room. A recent article in the Washington Post discusses the use of cheating-detection programs which analyze student behavior during remote exams through web camera observation of head and eye movements. These “online proctoring” companies are capitalizing on the major reshaping of education during the pandemic. These protocols have led to abuses such as penalizing students for leaving their desk to use the bathroom. One system reportedly uses gaze-detection, face-detection and computer monitoring software to flag students for any “abnormal” head movement, mouse movement, eye wandering, computer window resizing, tab opening, scrolling, clicking, typing and copying and pasting. A student can also be flagged for finishing an exam too quickly, or too slowly, clicking too much, or not enough.

If you are the subject of a pending charge of an academic integrity violation related to an online exam or other charge of academic misconduct, you still have due process rights if you are enrolled at a public college or university. Even if at a private institution, your student handbook will explain your right to some kind of hearing and an opportunity to defend yourself. Cohen & Duncan Attorneys, LLC offers help to any student accused of online cheating or other academic integrity violation. 


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