Academic dishonesty at Quinnipiac is on the rise amid online learning

Professors share techniques their departments employ to prevent cheating

Chatwan Mongkol, Associate News Editor

The number of academic crimes reported at Quinnipiac University has increased steadily every semester since 2017, Vice President for Academic Innovation and Effectiveness Annalisa Zinn and Director of Academic Integrity Lisa Bartone said.

One of the reasons was because reporting a violation became mandatory after the academic integrity policy revision in 2017. The trend also suggests that another reason is the transition to virtual learning as an impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of Academic Integrity disclosed to the Chronicle that many cases reported at Quinnipiac involved the use of online resources such as Chegg and Course Hero. That supports a recent study revealing that Chegg has seen an increase of nearly 200% in usage since March 2020.

Connor Lawless

As the existing policies already addressed dishonesty in an online environment, Zinn and Bartone said the use of those websites is considered cheating.

“Posting work on academic sharing websites with the intent to provide unauthorized assistance to other students qualifies as facilitation and is prohibited under the (academic integrity) policy,” Zinn and Bartone said in an email.

Yet, there have been over 17,000 documents — including study guides, assignments, essays and lab reports — uploaded to Course Hero from Quinnipiac. The majority, over 2,300, were from chemistry classes.

Associate professor and chair of chemistry and physical sciences department Carol Fenn said the department is aware of the access students have to online resources. However, she did not comment further on the matter.

Bartone clarified that a large number of postings on a sharing site does not necessarily mean that they are incidents of academic integrity because it is unclear whether information being posted is authorized or not.

To make it clear between the two, the contents of those documents need to be reviewed.

Zinn said she knows that most of the documents that were being uploaded were what students made to share among themselves such as their notes and their own study guides.

“It could be that a really large number, though, are students who have taken documents that they have created for themselves,” Zinn said. “We know from surveys that most students work with other students, study, (prepare) for exams, and that’s like part of what they’re doing.”

Professor and chair of math department Cornelius Nelan said math instructors also see the rise of cheating because of the significant advancement of technology. However, he said the trend was like this even before the pandemic.

“You can access websites that can answer your questions accurately and amazingly quickly,” Nelan said. “It is also fairly easy to use a camera to communicate with other students in the class or have previously taken the class.”

Besides Quinnipiac, other universities have caught more students cheating in the recent semesters using various tactics such as using group-texting applications GroupMe chat and Telegram.

Despite the increased cheating rate in the institutional and national level, professor and chair of Quinnipiac history and geography department David Valone said the rate within his department remains consistent with pre-pandemic level. 

Spanish professor and chair of the modern languages, literatures and cultures department Aileen Dever also said her colleague has only encountered one instance of cheating since the shift to online learning.

However, according to an anonymous survey the Chronicle sent out to Quinnipiac students, eight of 11 students admitted that they have cheated in some way in exams during online learning while only four of them did so before the pandemic hit.

Zinn and Bartone said it is unrealistic to believe that every student who commits an academic violation has been reported. 

Although, the university has provided faculty with resources to help detect and prevent violations both in the virtual and on-ground learning environments.

“SafeAssign continues to serve as a valuable resource to help detect plagiarism,” Zinn and  Bartone said. “In addition to the technological resources available to faculty, the Office of (Academic Integrity) provides instructors with strategies to help ensure integrity in online testing.”

Examinations also took a hit. According to the Washington Post, a test-taking service company that takes exams on behalf of students administered over 1.3 million exams between April to June 2020 while it took only 340,000 exams during the first three months.

That forced Quinnipiac professors to come up with different ways to minimize the possibility of cheating from happening in their sight.

The biological sciences department uses proctoring softwares LockDown Browser and Respondus Monitor. Those programs allow instructors to monitor students through their camera and microphone, as well as prevent students from opening new tabs or windows.

Department chair Lise Thomas said it has been using Respondus softwares several years before the pandemic mostly for its online classes during summer.

“The number of Academic Integrity violations decreased substantially when we started using the Respondus software,” Thomas said. “In particular, there have been many fewer cases of plagiarism in responses to open-ended questions.”

For the math department, Nelan said instructors require students to turn their cameras on and most of them ask that students turn the focus of their cameras to the papers instead of their faces. 

“Several of us make up multiple versions of the same test, which discourages unauthorized cooperation, while other instructors coordinate cooperation by putting the class into teams,” Nelan said.

After experimenting with numerous techniques, Nelan said the most effective one to discourage cheating in math classes is to make grades based on students’ presentation instead of only their answers.

“You provide organized, detailed explanations that show how you arrived at your answer and demonstrate you understand the material,” Nelan said. “The answer by itself gives you no credit.”

Other departments approach testing and assignments through different designs.

“In many of our language courses, we are using interpretive testing methods and have moved away from rote memorization,” Dever said. “Students are showing their understanding and ideas through writing.”

The history department undertakes a similar approach. Valone explained that most of the assignments within the department are written analysis of original and unique historical sources, and he said it makes cheating extremely difficult.

“We encourage instructors to create assignments tailored to their specific class and based on the analysis of sources they choose,” Valone said. “We also use a lot of project-based learning and experiential learning through activities like ‘Reacting to the Past’ role-playing simulations in which students must do their own work to participate in the class.”

While the majority of Quinnipiac students are working to uphold the academic values, professors said creating an encouraging and cooperative environment is needed to prevent wrongdoings.

To achieve that, Dever said her department makes sure that students understand that their professors are there to help them learn.

“Students are future professionals and most want to safeguard the integrity of their degree as much as professors do,” Dever said. “I also think most students want to be proud of the work they have achieved — honestly.”

Nelan and his department have students sign an honor pledge before taking a test in hope for physiological effects.

“Some people think these are ineffective, but studies have shown that they can be remarkably effective not just discouraging cheating, but promoting an atmosphere of honesty,” Nelan said.

The Office of Academic Integrity’s effort to expose students to the high standards begins as soon as students arrive on campus in their first-year seminar course.

“We remind students of the consequences of engaging in academic dishonesty,” Zinn and Bartone said. “Our office also provides information and resources to students throughout their time here at Quinnipiac.”

At the end of the day, Nelan said cooperation among the community members is needed to educate people on academic dishonesty.

“Education should be a cooperative effort between student and professor,” Nelan said. “Do students take pride in putting forth their best effort and achieving what they can honestly, or is it only grade the only thing that matter?”