Dec 16, 2020 by

12.16.20 – Texas Tribune

Texas A&M investigating “large scale” cheating case as universities see more academic misconduct in era of online classes

Universities across Texas and nationwide are seeing an increase in online cheating since the start of the pandemic, as students take more virtual courses and test remotely with less supervision.

By Kate McGee


Excerpts from this article:

The Texas A&M honor code says, “an Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.” But officials are investigating a ‘large scale’ cheating case in a finance class this fall as universities across the country see an increase in cheating in remote classes. 

An already unusual fall semester was wrapping up when Texas A&M University officials sent out an email in early December to the hundreds of students in an online finance class that set off a panic.

Faculty reported concerns of cheating “on a very large scale” to the Aggie Honor System Office, after they noticed some students in the class answered online test questions too quickly. Later, faculty discovered entire exams posted on a “homework help” website that has become synonymous with cheating.

University officials told guilty students to self-report by 5 p.m. on Dec. 8. If they didn’t come forward but were found in violation of the academic honor code, they could face suspension or expulsion.

“If you engaged in this behavior, I would like to encourage you in the strongest way to reclaim your personal integrity,” said Timothy Powers, director of the Aggie Honor System Office, in the email to students.

University officials at Texas A&M and experts elsewhere said academic misconduct cases have increased during the pandemic as remote courses and online assignments create more opportunities for students to push the limits.

At Texas A&M, academic dishonesty reports have increased by as much as 20% from last fall, Powers said. The University of North Texas saw a 20% increase, and Texas State University saw reports of cheating increase by one-third over the previous fall. The University of Houston saw reports more than double from last fall to 456 cases as of Dec. 14…

In the case at Texas A&M, students interviewed by The Texas Tribune said they used a website called Chegg to access answers on assignments. The website started years ago for textbook rentals and has since expanded to include online tutoring. For a monthly fee, students can submit questions that someone around the world will answer within a few hours. While critics said the site can be helpful for students seeking tutoring, they argue many students are misusing it to pass off another person’s work as their own.

According to Powers’ email, Texas A&M’s online learning platform, CANVAS, tracks how long test questions are displayed on a student’s screen. He said there are “hundreds of examples” where students answered a question faster than it would take to read it.

Powers said in the email ”many, many” students in the finance class had already admitted to either posting questions online so someone else could answer them or searching for already answered questions to complete assignments and tests.

Complaints about the tutoring website from university administrators are widespread. This spring, Georgia Tech University took action against students in a physics class suspected of using Chegg to cheat. Boston University also investigated students in some science classes for inappropriately using Chegg.

In a statement, a Chegg spokesperson said they support academic integrity

According to its honor code, Chegg prohibits cheating and will share user information and activity with universities if they suspect foul play.

Batiste would not say whether Texas A&M requested student activity regarding the finance class. Texas A&M would not discuss details of the investigation, including how many students self-reported the cheating. Neither of the two doctorate students who taught the class responded to a request for comment.

Texas A&M’s honor code reads: “An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.” The refrain is ingrained in students starting at freshman orientation.

Some students who self-reported cheating to the university said the stress of the ongoing pandemic and the shift to more virtual classes made it more difficult to find study partners or connect with professors in person for help. Those factors contributed to their decision to create an account on Chegg.

“The culmination of the pandemic and its effect on learning, the assignments being open-note and the ease of access to Chegg made the decision to use outside help a lot easier for most students,” a junior in the class told the Tribune via email. The student self-reported and asked not to be named because of fear of hurting his future job prospects.

The junior said he started using Chegg to help him with homework because he was struggling with the course material and the online format. Then, he saw exact questions from Chegg appear on a quiz.

“The moment I realized actual exam questions were on Chegg, I should’ve canceled my account,” he said.

While students were allowed to use their notes and textbook during quizzes and tests throughout the semester, it’s against policy to access and review test questions before an assessment.

In a letter submitted to the university as part of its investigation, a different unnamed student said professors should have provided more explicit communication about what is acceptable given that many of them were taking a variety of online, hybrid and in-person courses.


 A student letter in response to the Texas A&M cheating allegations.


“Using the internet in an attempt to help a student figure out how to solve certain problems, not specifically to give them the answer, was a gray area throughout the course,” the student wrote. “When the professor did not ever talk about this gray area and did not monitor the suspicious activity from the beginning, this shaped the general understanding that students held as the course progressed.”

Academic integrity experts said providing proactive reminders about what is acceptable helps deter students from cheating. But, they said, common sense should dictate to students when their behavior is considered cheating.

“There’s a difference between students using online tools to prepare themselves and learn about things,” Powers said. “It’s completely different for a student to walk into an exam and have seen the identical questions with the identical multiple choice answers before. That should be different and… they should realize this is inappropriate.”

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