The University of Texas’ Student Honor Code states students “shall abide by the core values of the University and uphold academic integrity.”
While professors can expect this of their students for in-person testing, online testing is an entirely different sphere.
As students, we face immense pressure to maintain a high GPA. For many of us, our GPA helps us get our dream job, acceptance into graduate school and scholarships. During this pandemic, we have the added burden of familial obligations and ambiguous circumstances.
Many students don’t follow the honor code when taking online exams, and the few students who do are now at a disadvantage. Professors must switch to open-note testing with modified questions to help students succeed in online classes and make these classes more fair.
In one of my classes, when students performed exceptionally well after we switched to online testing, our curve was taken away.
Doing the “right thing” is hurting honest students.
Biology and sociology sophomore Wyatt Peters said he consistently followed the honor code last spring. However, while the class’ test average was significantly higher after the move online, Peters’ grade average became lower.
“It was frustrating for me because initially, I was making pretty high grades, probably the top percent of the class,” Peters said. “Then, I was making grades that were 70s and 80s in the bottom half of the class.”
With online, open-note testing, professors can modify tests by shortening the time or increasing the difficulty of questions to ensure students are truly relying on their notes.
“There are a lot of students that know that if the test is online that they will cheat, and they see nothing wrong with it,” chemistry associate professor Paul McCord. “Those are the ones, unfortunately, I have an issue with. But I also don’t know if because of them, I should inconvenience all the other students, so I went for (open-note testing).”
McCord said he made his questions slightly harder to account for the change.
However, not everyone agrees that online testing increases cheating and that open-note testing is a good solution.
“I think if students know ahead of time that open-notes are possible, then they can just find the answers instead of learning the material,” psychology associate professor Marlone Henderson said.
While this argument works for an in-person open-note policy, it doesn’t apply to online testing.
Blindly trusting the students to follow the honor code with the internet at their fingertips is essentially making tests a treasure hunt rather than gauging how well students learn. The difference, however, is that with open-note testing, questions and time limits can be modified so students can’t look up every answer.
“When a student does cheat, it does put them in a better position to gain certain resources like money in the form of fellowship or entry into higher education,” Henderson said. “I’m not going to worry about that. I’m a big believer in the long run. It will come back to hurt them and those around them.”
While it may be true that students who cheat will be worse off in the long run, that isn’t a valid justification for disadvantaging students who are working honestly. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a competitive GPA, you don’t obtain many of the opportunities you want to.
I didn’t cheat during online testing when everyone else was, and the people around me told me I was dumb for doing so. They were right. I lost curves in my classes and when I complained, professors chose to give the other students the benefit of the doubt.
As established, the online testing environment is much different and hurts honest students. It is important for professors to recognize this and implement a solution — administer open-note testing and modify questions — to make up for it.
Musharrif is a business and psychology sophomore from Houston, Texas.