Why You Should Never Cheat in Online Courses

Online cheating is never worth it.

Photo: Thinkstock

By Christopher Geno

Academic dishonesty has been around as long as colleges themselves. Students cheat—some get caught and some don’t.

Cheating in free online classes is just as bad as cheating in regular online classes.

Students cheat for many reasons. Sometimes they are struggling with a full load of classes, or maybe they don’t have time balancing school and a full-time job, or maybe they just don’t feel like doing the work. While students who take classes online can’t necessarily sneak a peek at someone else’s test, there are still plenty of opportunities to cheat in online classes.

How are people cheating in online classes?

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article on the ease with which students can game the system just by working together. In this example, a group of students in an online course would post the questions and answers to online quizzes and tests via Google Docs. The first student would be the guinea pig and take the test with no preparation. While he might get a bad score, he could relay all of the questions to the rest of the group. To make it fair, they’d all take turns being that first student.

Students who have to submit papers for online classes will sometimes turn to plagiarism, that is, passing off someone else’s work as their own. Plagiarism is so common that even students taking free MOOCs on Coursera.org, the world’s largest MOOC website, reported cases of students plagiarizing work. It begs the question: Why would students cheat in a free class that doesn’t offer university credit or a degree?

Sneakier still, students who fear getting caught for plagiarism can buy papers online or pay people to participate in online discussions for them. Colleges and universities, and even high schools, now use websites like TurnItIn.com to check for plagiarized papers. While turnitin.com is a great plagiarism detector, purchased papers are technically original, and much harder to detect.

The Consequences of Cheating

All major colleges and universities have serious policies against academic dishonesty that can lead to immediate dismissal from school. Imagine spending all that money on tuition and time in class only to be expelled from college or university without a degree. The consequences don’t end there. It will be difficult to find another college willing to accept you if you want to finish your degree. You will also destroy your relationships with your professors and school faculty who are valuable mentors and could potentially write letters of recommendation, which are important in finding a job and pursuing higher education.

Aside from that, as cliché as it sounds, cheaters only hurt themselves. If you cheat without grasping the knowledge you are being tested on, you will never fully understand the material. This becomes even more applicable if you take classes that build on one another. If you cheat in an algebra class, what will happen when you take geometry next semester?

Cheating in Massive Open Online Courses

Cheating in free online classes is just as bad as cheating in regular online classes. You won’t lose money from tuition, but what’s the point? When you take a MOOC, it’s because you’re interested in the topic, not because you need a grade.

Even though cheating in MOOCs doesn’t have as many consequences as cheating in a college or university course at the moment, colleges are beginning to offer credit for certain online courses. If you cheat in a MOOC for college credit, you would still be subject to the same consequences as a regular class. Remember this before you’re tempted to behave dishonestly.

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