This year’s model of schooling from home has turned students’ worlds upside down. Homework has drastically increased to fit the shortened amount of class time at Berkeley High School (BHS), and with lack of monitoring from teachers, cheating on assignments is now easier than ever.
Ariana Hernandez, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), said she has personally felt tempted to cheat this year. “I have personally [been tempted] and I think others have too, just because your computer’s right in front of you and there’s no teachers actually around you to see what you’re doing, so cheating is a lot easier now,” Hernandez said.
Sasha Gomes, a sophomore in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), said that she thinks students are now balancing the moral pros and cons of cheating on some assignments, considering how accessible it has become.
“A bad grade is one thing, but if you’re not even getting a bad grade from it, like if your teacher isn’t checking for cheating, then what’s the consequence?” Gomes asked. “Sometimes it’s like a cost [versus] benefit type of thing, where you need to assess whether cheating is worth it. And I don’t know, in some circumstances, maybe it is.”
Many students are struggling to maintain their mental health, and schoolwork can be detrimental to that. Gomes explained that, while she would never want to cheat, it may be the best option for students when schoolwork is too much or too stressful now.
“I just feel like [school] is draining, especially if you don’t go out as often,” said Hernandez. “Every day is the same, and then, on top of that, you still have to do schoolwork.”
According to BHS Chemistry teacher Aaron Glimme, teachers know the mental toll that the pandemic and distance learning are having on students.
“This is a stressful time. There’s a lot of mental health issues that students face, and teachers are aware of that, and are trying to work with students to come up with better systems,” said Glimme. “The pandemic is obviously very stressful, and it causes kids to not make the best decisions at times,” he explained.
With this knowledge, teachers can help students to prevent possibly increasing rates of academic dishonesty. Firstly, Glimme explained that having a strong bond between teachers and students can discourage struggling students from cheating. “You don’t want to disappoint somebody who you have a relationship with,” Glimme reasoned. “We use that to try and convince students that it’s not in their best interest to take shortcuts.”
Glimme said that the connection between students and teachers has been weakened this year, so he goes to extra effort to form those bonds in his online class. He said he tries to remind his students that he is a person with thoughts, feelings, and hobbies, and hopes to start conversations and interactions that could happen in a normal class.
Additionally, lowering the stakes of schoolwork in general decreases the pressure students feel that may result in cheating, according to Glimme. He has made tests less impactful on overall grades than in previous years, aiming to make students feel less desperate to cheat.
“What we’re trying to do is use [tests] as an assessment that’s important feedback, both for students and teachers to understand what they’ve learned, so that we can make changes and adapt — not a one-shot at getting a grade,” said Glimme.
Advanced Math teacher Emily Gilden said she believes de-emphasizing grades in her class lowers the stakes for her students, and is a strategy to prevent the need for academic dishonesty.
“I think the way I structure my class, academic dishonesty is not necessary because I’m structuring it so that if you make a mistake, then you have a chance to try again. There’s no tests, there’s nothing super high stakes,” said Gilden.
Additionally, Gilden has a no tolerance policy for cheating. If she catches a student cheating, she said she will make an example of them by giving them a zero and not allowing them to make up the assignment. But she also explained that if a student is simply honest about not knowing how to do the work, there will not be the same consequences.
Nonetheless, there haven’t been any instances of academic dishonesty in her class this year, which can likely be attributed to her more relaxed teaching style.
Gilden made the decision to not give any tests this year, after determining that it is too easy to cheat when tests are given online. However, as an Advanced Math teacher, she does worry that the lack of tests in her class this year could leave students unprepared for math in years to come.
“I often have this fear that my Advanced Math [Two] students are not going to be prepared for Advanced Math Three because I didn’t do enough. And I guess I won’t know if that’s true or not until next year,” she explained. Other students and teachers alike may not see the effects of this year’s academic dishonesty until next year.