Academic Integrity Post-pandemic: Deception and Dishonesty in the Digital Age

Across the world, universities have reported a rise in cheating and academic dishonesty since the pivot to remote learning due to the pandemic. Students have been tempted to cheat since the odds of getting caught were lower and there were more opportunities for creative and resourceful ‘file sharing’ and going to the extent of posting about ways to beating the proctoring system during online exams. 

Additionally, the overwhelming challenges (and chaos) that the pandemic caused impacted students’ mental well-being. The ripple effect of this was that students perceived it to be easier to address their wants instead of their needs, and to be less accountable, which led to their increased appeal to engage in cheating or other dishonest behaviours. 

Students who report higher levels of stress and anxiety adopt more generous beliefs about and behaviours toward cheating, contributing to a vicious cycle that increased academic misconduct. In other words, when students felt besieged (particularly during the pandemic), they found it easier to cheat, collude, plagiarise or copy from their peers.  

A substantial number of studies have been done on students’ perceptions of online cheating. Students are more likely to cheat if their friends cheat, and they were cheating even when they were being invigilated. A survey conducted in July 2022 by Alpha Academic Appeals (AAA) showed that one in six students in the UK have admitted to cheating, and disclosed that they had messaged their friends, asked their parents for help or Googled the answers when taking online tests.  

Proctoring data on 3 million tests worldwide found that one in 14 students breached test regulations in 2021. What is more alarming is that students were normalising cheating as they became more accustomed to online assessments. 

Interestingly, across the spectrum, educators and learners seem to perceive academic integrity in distinctly different ways, plausibly due to the generational divide between them. One-third of 900 undergraduate students surveyed in the study by AAA responded that they considered cheating in online exams to be mildly wrong or not wrong at all.  

To reduce this rift in terms of values and the definitions of academic integrity, educators must first discuss academic integrity with the students to be able to reach a shared understanding of what constitutes dishonesty, the importance of ethical values, and its impact on their future. Indeed, there is a link between academic integrity and professional behaviour. Studies have shown that people who are fraudulent in academic settings are more likely to engage in cheating or to demonstrate unethical behaviour in their professional life.

Research also suggests that a holistic strategy is necessary for enhancing academic integrity, considering the contextual shifts in terms of the approaches to teaching and learning from the traditional face-to-face to an online or hybrid environment. 

Moving into the hybrid or blended model of teaching and learning, it is time to reconsider assessments, and, as David Rettinger, Professor of Psychological Science and Director of Academic Programmes at  the University of Mary Washington mentioned during a recent Wiley webcast, “help your students understand why that assignment is there, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and what their learning goals are…” 

 

Vijaya Sooria Sangaran Kutty
School of Arts
Email: vijayask@sunway.edu.my