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Dishonor Code: What Happens When Cheating Becomes the Norm?

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Dishonor Code: What Happens When Cheating Becomes the Norm?

Thanks to the Free Press for this article.

Students say they are getting ‘screwed over’ for sticking to the rules. Professors say students are acting like ‘tyrants.’ Then came ChatGPT . .

When it was time for Sam Beyda, then a freshman at Columbia University, to take his Calculus I midterm, the professor told students they had 90 minutes.

But the exam would be administered online. And even though every student was expected to take it alone, in their dorms or apartments or at the library, it wouldn’t be proctored. And they had 24 hours to turn it in.

“Anyone who hears that knows it’s a free-for-all,” Beyda told me.

Beyda, an economics major, said students texted each other answers; looked up solutions on Chegg, a crowdsourced website with answers to exam questions; and used calculators, which were technically verboten.

He finished the exam in under an hour, he said. Other students spent two or three hours on it. Some classmates paid older students who had already taken the course to do it for them.

“Professors just don’t care,” he told me.

For decades, campus standards have been plummeting. The hallowed, ivy-draped buildings, the stately quads, the timeless Latin mottos—all that tradition and honor have been slipping away. That’s an old story. Then Covid struck and all bets were off. With college kids doing college from their bedrooms and smartphones, and with the explosion of new technology, cheating became not just easy but practically unavoidable. “Cheating is rampant,” a Princeton senior told me. “Since Covid there’s been an increasing trend toward grade inflation, cheating, and ultimately, academic mediocrity.”

Now that students are back on campus, colleges are having a hard time putting the genie back in the bottle. Remote testing combined with an array of tech tools—exam helpers like Chegg, Course Hero, Quizlet, and Coursera; messaging apps like GroupMe and WhatsApp; Dropbox folders containing course material from years past; and most recently, ChatGPT, the AI that can write essays—have permanently transformed the student experience.

“It’s the Wild West when it comes to using emerging technologies and new forms of access to knowledge,” Gregory Keating, who has a joint appointment at USC’s Department of Philosophy and Gould School of Law, told me. “Faculties and administrations are scrambling to keep up.”

Amy Kind, a philosophy professor at Claremont McKenna, said that, at the prestigious liberal arts college just east of Los Angeles, “Cheating is a big concern among the faculty.”

Nor do students have much incentive to turn back the clock: they’re getting better grades for less work than ever.

Exhibit A: Greye Dunn, a recent Boston University graduate who majored in international relations and minored in Spanish. Dunn said he never cheated per se, but he benefited handsomely from the new, lower standards. His pre-Covid GPA was just north of 3.0; during Covid, he averaged a 3.5. And he knows plenty of students who flouted the rules.

“Many students want the credential, and they just want the easiest way to get that,” Gabriel Rossman, a sociology professor at UCLA, told me.

A sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious business school, who declined to give me her name, said: “They’re here for the Wharton brand, a 4.0 GPA, and to party.”

“The students see school as a stepping stone,” Beyda told me. He meant they went on to graduate school or to jobs at consulting firms like McKinsey or Bain or in finance at Goldman Sachs, and then a spouse, a house, children, private school, vacations in Provence—all the nice things in life.

“Anything that you miss, you can just learn on YouTube,” he said.

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