Cheaters Never Prosper, Except During COVID

 “It is too easy to just copy a thought or idea from a website instead of using one’s brain to think and produce one’s own thoughts and ideas,” said Nabil Boudraa, Professor of French and Oregon State University’s French Coordinator, to Artur Pinheiro da Silva of the OSU Daily Barometer. That was true even before most education was conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was even true before there was an Internet. Now, though, it really is so easy that it’s difficult for any student, no matter how intelligent and talented, to resist. “This damages one’s personal integrity and leads to intellectual laziness, among other flaws,” Boudraa added. 

Cheating makes it harder to learn the subject matter and develop a broader understanding of the subject, but Boudraa doesn’t think that’s the worst harm that it does to a student. “The most important thing that students get from avoiding cheating is to maintain and develop their sense of moral rectitude and personal integrity.” 

Not only do students copy tests they find online, there are businesses on the Internet which deal in ready-made papers, or write them to order. 

Fortunately for professors, and unfortunately for dishonest or careless students, the same computer technology that makes plagiarism easier also makes it easier to detect, since a simple Internet search using a suspect phrase will quickly reveal if it has been lifted from even the most obscure source, provided it is online anywhere. 

  1. T. Bushnell, a Senior Instructor at OSU’s School of Writing, Literature and Film, told the Barometer,  “I think professors have to shift the way we think about testing when we move it online rather than hoping our moral indignation and accusations of ‘cheating’ will convince students to police themselves. The impulse to reach for a resource is natural and often academically legitimate. Professors themselves do it all the time. When I teach a new story in my literature class, I keep the text open in front of me, I consult it, I search for passages that illustrate my ideas and I test student ideas against the text. None of that is ‘cheating.’ It is engagement.” In any event, “[y]ou cannot use the same kinds of tests online that you would use in the classroom. You have to create test questions and testing methods that will drive students to engage further with texts, theories and information.”  

“I very rarely had a student try to pass off something as their own thoughts, but when that happens, I’m not interested in passing judgment,” Adam Schwartz, an Associate Professor at OSU’s School of Language, Culture & Society, told the Barometer. Instead, when a student uses someone else’s words or ideas, “it is time for a conversation. 

“With COVID-19, we’re all looking for ways to make life a little easier despite all the awful. My students are exhausted, but not necessarily lazy or intentionally dishonest,” Schwartz said. “Sometimes what a professor might read as plagiarism is also a sign that a student might be spending valuable time and energy taking care of family or seeking some extra sleep, if I see an instance of cheating, it usually means the student needs support or some kind of flexibility.” 

Besides the reasons for copying a passage that Schwartz gives, another problem is that standards for attribution of sources differ from one country to another. Regardless of the reason, though, the colleges and universities of the U.S. still consider plagiarism a serious matter, and will have to find some way of dealing with it.. 

John M. Burt