Questions arise about students’ academic honesty with HM Online


Although students can now wear pajamas while taking math tests, the HM Online experience also has its challenges, forcing many teachers to change their curriculums in order to try to create a fair learning environment. In the midst of virtual school, many faculty have been changing their assessment schedules and procedures to ensure that students are following the school’s Honor Code while they are at home.
There is no doubt that HM Online has changed the way the school operates, Madhav Menon (11) said. With students learning remotely, all graded assignments must be completed at home. Without teacher supervision, cheating may become easier, and dishonest work has the potential of becoming commonplace, he said.
However, even with the changes in teaching style and location, the school’s policies regarding academic integrity have remained the same, Head of Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. “It is important that we stand by the rules that we used even when we were physically at school. Our policy for honesty has not changed.”
“There are multiple factors that could contribute to an uptick in cheating,” Scarlett Goldberg (10) said. Primarily, the liberties that HM Online grants, such as the inability for teachers to physically see students’ work, make it easier for students to be dishonest with their work and not get caught, which is a temptation for them to complete assignments unfairly, she said.
“In a remote learning environment, we have opened up opportunities to cheat,” Levenstein said. “Even though teachers can see students’ faces, they can’t see what’s going on behind the screen.” This aspect of virtual learning is a potential incentive for students to submit work that is not their own.
In addition to the physical absence of a teacher, the new learning environment allows students to access information during tests they were not previously able to obtain, Maya Nornberg (10) said. By using Google’s search feature and looking through class notes during an exam, students can avoid doing the required studying, she said. All students are aware of this, which makes cheating seem more accessible than before, she said. Some teachers have adjusted for this possibility by modifying assessments so they can be taken open-book or open-note.
However, it is not only the various freedoms of remote learning that incite rule breaking, Goldberg said. Because most people are perceived to have more free time, some teachers have been assigning more work than usual, she said. “This can definitely add to stress and give people incentive to cheat.”
The administration has already taken this concern of added assignments into account. “I could imagine people feeling stressed about [more classwork], and I am actively working with our faculty to scale back and remove units from their curriculum,” Levenstein said.
Sometimes, cheating comes from a skewed perception of deadlines, she said. “When students cheat, it’s generally because they are in a frenzy. They have worked themselves up into a mindset that causes them to think that there is no other option,” Levenstein said. “There’s always another option.”
Although Levenstein expects the best behavior from high school students, she and other members of the administration have been taking precautions to ensure that the frequency of cheating does not increase during this time, she said.
“The entire UD has been asked to think critically and creatively about any assessments that we give,” Dean of Students Michael Dalo wrote in an email for this article. This applies to any work assigned to students during HM Online, he said.
Though there have been no rules put in place by the administration for assessments, teachers “are also conscious of the fact that it is stressful in many ways, not all the same, for all of us,” Dalo said.“The UD faculty is doing its best to keep this in mind and find a balance between actively engaging students to provide them with the academic and intellectual stimulation that they are used to and not adding any additional stress to the already difficult situation.”
The online system, which is still very new to both the faculty and student body, is constantly changing as the academic year continues.
“I think we can be pretty creative in how we assess in the last few weeks of school,” Levenstein said. “We don’t need to stick with the standard timed assessment schedule. There are new ways we can learn in this environment.”
Many students have experienced changes in their original planned assessments and have been adapting to a different standard, Goldberg said. Brett Karpf’s (10) math teacher had the class take their timed exam over Zoom so she could see their work being done. “She only gave us five minutes to hand it in after we finished, otherwise it was an automatic fail,” he said. This definitely stopped people from being able to cheat, he said. On the other hand, some math teachers have changed their assignments to be take-home, open-note problem sets, Goldberg said.
Halley Robbins (12) has an upcoming take-home test, but her teacher is allowing the use of more resources than a normal take home assessment. According to Robbins, the test will be open-note and open-textbook, and students will be able to access explanatory videos on the PowerSchool Learning class page in order to complete the test. The only restriction on this exam will be the exclusion of the internet, but Robbins does not believe that this will make a difference, she said. “Maybe there’ll be a few people in the class who do look at the internet, but at the end of the day, when everything else is open to you as a resource, I don’t know how much of an advantage that will be.”
From Nornberg’s experience in online testing, the average grades per exam seem to remain consistent, she said. On her last chemistry test, Nornberg said she did not notice any grade inflation among her peers.
Menon has also experienced changes in his teacher’s original plans for the school year. Some of his teachers have had him sign documents similar to the Honor Code when handing in graded assessments, having students promise to retain academic integrity in their work.
Along with these standard changes in assessments, Levenstein wants to make sure that teachers’ expectations for the school year have changed as well. “Teachers need to understand that they are going to be ending the school year having completed a different set of subjects than they originally planned,” she said.
HM Online may make cheating more potentially possible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean students will become more dishonest. “Actually, I don’t think there are as many people cheating as [one] would expect,” Menon said.
Because people are faced with the sudden and harsh reality of a global pandemic, cheating out of laziness can suddenly seem unimportant, Menon said. “There’s just no point in cheating with everything that’s going on in the world.”
Also, due to the intensity of the global situation, students have started to look to the school community as a source of guidance. “I don’t think people adhere to the Honor Code as much as they should when they are [physically] at school,” Menon said. “Now though, the Honor Code is the only sort of rule system that we can have. I think people have realized that and started to respect it more. The scenario we’re in causes people to follow the guidelines.”
Nornberg, similar to this evaluation, takes her own morals into account when working from home. “In many of my classes, I would feel really behind if I didn’t keep up and learn things myself. Part of that is studying and taking my tests and quizzes based on my merit. In the end, you end up losing if you don’t know the material that’s being covered,” she said.
Robbins said that whether or not someone cheats depends on the person. For many students, the idea of cheating is heavily associated with guilt, though that does not apply to everyone at the school. “I know that some people are very comfortable cheating,” she said.
Additionally, the term ‘senior spring’ describes a notorious part of a student’s high school career as the last semester before leaving the school, so seniors have been known to “slack off,” Robbins said. As a result, cheating is not likely to increase within the senior class. “For the most part, it’s not going to affect their college placement, so I think there’s less of a motive,” she said.
Cheating is unhelpful and deceptive, but it might also become unnecessary and excessive, Menon said. “There’s not much else to do besides schoolwork, so some people will genuinely be putting more effort into school and will be doing better,” he said. “We have more free time. There’s really nothing else to do except focus on school, which is the only normal part of my life right now.”
The school administrators and faculty members know that this time is unexpected and unprecedented, Levenstein said. “I think it’s going to be important as we settle into this reality that both students and teachers recognize that this is not normal,” she said. “Our goals for you have changed, and your expectation of yourself should change as well. We have to recognize how completely bizarre this moment is and how many pressures there are.”
Even though the Honor Code may have a completely different use in this difficult time of the remote school year, the community of people used as a support system have not changed,” Levenstein said. “Doing your own work is what will give you honor in this school, but recognizing that we are a community of individuals is what will get you through the rest of the school year. We may be apart, but we are here to support one another in every way that we can.”