Cheating: Has its definition become blurred?

Chime! Your phone notifies you that you’ve received a text in the honors economics group chat. Someone’s found the test online and they’ve sent a link to it. What do you do? Take the questions, find the answers, and review them? Write them down on a notecard? Ignore it and continue studying? Do you even consider whether what you choose is right or wrong, or is it all instinct? Is it predetermined that when you take hard classes in high school, if you find a way to cheat, it’s warranted?

Sometimes it feels like students put more effort into cheating than it would take to just study or complete an assignment. Spending an hour studying could very well get you an A for the effort it takes to search intensively online for answers or to write down facts and formulas on an index card.

However, not all cheating is on make-or-break semester exams and SATs that dictate your future. The BHS student handbook says, “Academic integrity violations include but are not limited to: cheating, copying homework, plagiarism, unauthorized use of technology, sharing of assignments, accepting credit for work completed by another, searching the internet seeking to avoid thinking and learning.”

By that definition, cheating encompasses using the internet as a resource for nightly homework or getting the answers from a friend. But how many of us are concerned with getting in trouble for cheating that way? To plead with the disappointed educators reading this and wondering if this is how all the homework they assign gets completed, think about how some of this “cheating” is really used as a constructive learning tool.

For instance, take Slader or Sparknotes. Slader is a website with the answers and work for all the problems to just about any math or science textbook. Now, don’t panic—this doesn’t mean you need to stop assigning homework out of the textbook. You know as well as we do that if we copy one night’s entire assignment in a rush, we’ll still have to learn it later. Otherwise, a more important test grade will show the negative results.

But Slader can help students learn. If there’s something they didn’t understand from class, and it’s 11 o’clock at night and their teacher won’t respond to their texts in the remind this late, they can use Slader to learn how to do the problem. It’s no different from having their teacher go over it in class the next day for them to copy down to comprehend.

Sparknotes operates similarly. Yes, you can get out of reading a chapter of The Scarlet Letter or Hamlet. On the other hand, perhaps you really did read the whole thing, but you didn’t understand every line of older style English because apparently every word is symbolism. Plus, your teacher won’t answer any questions before the quiz. So you reread the chapter using the Sparknotes summary and analysis to help you through it the way a teacher would in an open discussion. Ultimately, if a teacher wants to avoid having students use Sparknotes, give them that discussion instead. Cover what’s on the quiz beforehand or just don’t give it because different people recognize different things in a text, and that’s understandable.

It’s also important to consider why students cheat. We all agree that finding a copy of the test in the copy machine, memorizing the answers, and sending it to everyone is wrong. We feel bad about it (we swear!), but when it comes down to getting an A in the class and maintaining a GPA, that pressure builds up and students have to squeeze out a coping strategy before they pop from anxiety. For many, coping becomes cheating, one way or another.

Consequently, there’s something to be said for the assessments on which you can’t cheat. Or furthermore, wouldn’t. When your English teacher decides to do a discussion recount of the chapter rather than a quiz, your responses are much more low-stakes. You can give honest responses from what you actually retained and you can worry less about your grade. When the pressure is taken off and our assignments are actually made about learning, like an open discussion or a problem set to work on, we’re able to be the honorable students you expect us to be.

Additionally, teachers, don’t jump to punishment. Ask why the student cheated. Try to change the attitude of a student giving into pressure from “everybody cheats” to “here’s why I should do better, and this is how I will.”

Ultimately, cheating is something our generation has submitted to under the influence of online resources and group messages. We need to find a way to bypass the pressure and not give in. But sometimes what can be considered cheating is really a pursuit of knowledge. To reinforce teaching when it doesn’t click in school, fraudulent resources can be utilized effectively, not always with immoral intentions.