Case Study for Use to Teach Ethics of the Coronavirus

Online Instruction During COVID-19

Advice to Institutions of Higher Education

Eighty-six percent of college students claimed in a recent survey they have cheated in some way while in school. According to Kessler International, a firm that provides private investigation services, forensic accounting and digital forensics: “The advent of online schools and increasingly sophisticated mobile devices have made it easier for students to cheat.” This raises questions about cheating during COVID-19, where all education and assignments may be completed online.

Kessler surveyed 300 students from both public and private colleges, including online universities. The results of the survey include:

  • 97 percent of admitted cheaters say they have never been caught.
  • 86 percent claimed they cheated in school.
  • 76 percent copied word for word someone else's assignments.
  • 72 percent indicated that they had used their phone, tablet or computer to cheat in class.
  • 54 percent indicated that cheating was OK. Some said it is necessary to stay competitive.
  • 42 percent said they purchased custom term papers, essays and thesis online.
  • 28 percent said they had a service take their online classes for them.
  • 12 percent indicated they would never cheat because of ethics.

These results should raise alarm bells for instructors and college administrators because of the accelerated use of online-driven education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a given that if students were asked why they cheat, most would say because everyone is doing it or instructors don’t monitor it or they need to get good grades to get good jobs. A more alarming result is that only 12 percent of those surveyed indicated they would never cheat because of ethics. This means 88 percent of college students either don’t have ethics or push them aside when it serves their self-interests.

Ethical blind spots refer to obstacles that make it difficult for us to see our own behavior. The person we are may does not match the person we would like to be. In cheating, students compromise their values to get ahead so they are blinded to the fact that cheating is wrong.

There are many ethical issues to consider about online education and testing of college students. Here are just a few that pertain to testing:

  • Have students sign a form that “certifies” they haven’t cheated online to complete assignments or during testing.
  • Students can be watched by a human via webcams or special software. Companies like ProctorU exist entirely to provide a team of people who can keep a watchful eye and ensure that no online student has a chance to cheat.
  • Services like ProctorTrack take advantage of technology similar to what allows a mobile phone to keep track of whether its owner is looking at the screen or not. In this case, though, the software monitors what's happening on the screen, on the webcam and through the microphone to look for any behaviors that might indicate an attempt to cheat. Cheating in college

The next issue is grading. Here, students should be given the choice between finishing the course and receiving a letter grade or grading on a pass-fail basis. Since grade-point-average is important, especially if a student plans to go to graduate school, most students will likely choose based on the grade they expect to get.

Given the disruption in the academic year, and the fact that not all students are created equal with respect to having a laptop or other electronic device (i.e., they may do their work on computers provided by the college), administrators should allow students to make a grading decision prior to having their final grade assigned.

Another issue is evaluating instructors. Given that online instruction is not the main way to teach college students, although institutions like the University of Phoenix have been doing it for a long time, colleges should skip evaluations for the spring term. It’s unfair to educators to be evaluated using a form of delivery that they may not have been prepared to use and weren’t trained to do so by the educational institution, especially when they are under great stress to develop online teaching tools and examinations.

The upside of online education during the coronavirus ordeal is that most instructors will be well-equipped to do online education on the other side. Online education is a pedagogical tool that should be used today given the vast resources available and ability to provide access to higher education for students who may live long distances from any college or have to work and can’t attend classes.

Finally, academic institutions should consider that there is a disproportionate number of minorities that may not have access to electronic equipment. The way to solve this problem is to allow such students to check out a laptop and return it at the end of the term. Fairness dictates that all students should be on an equal footing and the playing field should be leveled.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 23, 2020. Dr. Mintz recently published a book Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior that is available on Amazon. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics.

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