Cheating in a hybrid world puts academic integrity to the test


Kate O'Brien

Quizlet is one of several unauthorized resources students are turning to during online assessments.

Charlotte Castle, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Many of us have been there. You’re halfway through an online test, pressed for time, and Quizlet is calling your name. Without the traditional classroom setting and usual teacher supervision, it can be tempting to turn off your camera, open up another tab, and turn to Google or texting. 

Although all Potomac students are required to sign the Honor Pledge at the beginning of the year that states they will not engage in academic dishonesty, not all students have kept that promise. While breaches in the Honor Code are nothing new to the hybrid-learning world, and existed even when school was fully in-person, many teachers are using new modes of test taking as a form of precaution.

Teachers are not aware and are trying to head off cheating. Economics teacher Giorgio Secondi said, “I take some common-sense precautions if I give a timed test while students are on Zoom, such as requiring that the camera be on, monitoring their Google Docs, etc. Of course, none of these measures can prevent cheating altogether. Students can always choose to be dishonest, no matter the mode of learning.” 

Some of the motives behind cheating stem from Zoom fatigue, lack of preparation, and time constraints. The stress of receiving a good grade also motivates some students to cheat. To combat the challenges virtual learning has presented, many of the tests have been open-note.

“Teachers are trying to reimagine the idea that an assessment is trying to measure your comprehension,” English teacher and Chair of the Honor Council Franz Ritt said. “Now, we’re asking how do we achieve that within these weird constraints?” 

Members of the Honor Council and Mr. Ritt declined to comment on whether there have been more violations of academic integrity reported this year. 

“I will say this, we continue to see this year the impact of stress on students’ choices (we don’t use the word cheating because it is not helpful in describing student motivations) that are maybe not within the bounds,” Mr. Ritt said.

“We are seeing a lot of difficulty around the virtual platforms because there are a lot of temptations to use resources online. It’s different than being in a class because you don’t have the teacher in front of you, you don’t have the same sort of environment around you. It’s a different game,” he continued.

For the students that continue to cheat despite the accommodations their teachers have given them, disciplinary action will be taken, and if teachers suspect a student may have cheated, they are supposed to alert Mr. Westermann. 

“If I suspect a misunderstanding between collaboration and submitting their own work, that is a time for a conversation with all involved. If I find people are just copy and pasting answers, that goes straight to the Honor Council,”Mr. James Gillespie, computer science teacher and robotics coach said.

Students have also been asked several times to reflect on what the honor pledge means to them, and how their personal decisions and actions have an effect on others. 

“I’ve encouraged my students to reflect on why the pledge is important and why they should make sure that they earn their achievements the right way, without cutting corners,” Mr. Secondi said. 

Olivia Agolini, a sophomore member of the Honor Council, echoed this sentiment. “It’s not just about yourself. All the Potomac teachers have been working really hard to make sure that all the students can learn their best, so if you’re not going to follow the Honor Pledge, you are essentially undermining all of their efforts,” she said. 

Mr. Ritt emphasized that academic dishonesty is not a decision that only affects a single student. It has wider effects that damage the entire Potomac community. “That’s where I start worrying about the school community. Schools are interactive, we’re here working and learning together, so if we’re not able to trust each other, that breaks at the fiber of our community and it makes it harder for teachers and students to do their work well,” said Mr. Ritt.

Though this year has been challenging in unprecedented ways, the Honor Council urges students to remember Potomac’s core values while completing their assignments.“Keep your integrity in check,” Student Chair of the Honor Council Maya Sardar said. “Obviously we are all going to feel pressure to get the best grades all the time, but you have to remember that your best work is the best you can do. You have so much support from your teachers and classmates that you will be okay.”