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In spite of the institute’s attempts to curb it, academic malpractice was a highlight of the previous online semester for a significant chunk of the student populace. Cheating seems to have become commonplace and even the norm, but it is still an issue that needs to be taken seriously. And while there are several moral arguments against any violation of academic ethics, the problem is a little deeper than that- academic malpractice is not considered very morally reprehensible in today’s world; it is usually sidelined in favour of better marks that take centre-stage in this grades-driven system. People see copying as a matter of convenience, and not something that is morally or ethically wrong, so they continue to do it without it weighing on their conscience.

We don’t expect to convince anyone to stop copying by merely reading this article, so we will instead analyze the structures that incentivize cheating and explain why a change in the system is necessary. 

 

Causes of Cheating :

Let’s have a look at some major reasons which motivate students to do such moral wrong.

Greed for grades instead of knowledge –  We’ve all heard that knowledge is more important than grades. But these ideals don’t work properly in a practical world where, in many cases, grades matter more than knowledge. It’s evident that CPI plays an important role in many aspects of our insti life; whether it is getting the most sought after course or getting shortlisted for a dream job. Not only in college but since school days, our level of success is gauged from marks. Our education system has evolved in such a way that we always tend to go after grades which are only beneficial in the short run and tend to ignore the knowledge aspect that could be relevant in the workspace.

The system only values grades, and consequently, so do we. 

Lack of interest in the course/curriculum – In our society, we tend to value certain fields of study more than others, with engineering being one of them. Within engineering, the brand of IIT is the most prestigious in the country. Thus, for the sake of getting into a particular IIT, many students take up a branch in which they have no interest and don’t want to pursue a career in. Now, the curriculum just feels like a burden to them. In this case, the argument of acquiring knowledge over grades doesn’t hold. The disinterest in the curriculum is itself a good reason for them not putting enough effort to study and then using unfair means to score well because CPI is the only thing that matters to them.

Peer PressureThis reason is more relevant to the online sem where approaching people during quizzes and exams was pretty easy. People who usually don’t cheat got involved in it due to their peers. Saying ‘No’ to a friend asking for an answer is hard and thus some people start participating in this wrongdoing. Sooner or later, the other student actively indulges in cheating. This starts a domino effect, and in some cases leads to mass cheating.

 

Work Ethic : A Futuristic Viewpoint

It is important to step back and view our actions in the context of the long run. An exam offering a chance to cheat is just one among several in a single course. One course is just among half a dozen or so that people sign up for in a semester, which in turn is just one semester out of 8, for most. Scaling this up a bit more – the experience of studying at IIT Bombay comprises a short 4 years of our lives. After leaving IIT Bombay, students enter the workforce, in varied roles in academia, industry or go for further studies, to pursue a career that ultimately lasts for decades. Viewed this way, we can say that developing a coherent work ethic to perform well at different opportunities and challenges we might encounter in our lives that span several decades is vitally important. The highly competitive environment at IIT Bombay offers us a chance for such personal development.

Why is cheating wrong? : It’s a matter of principle

Now coming to a slightly abstract (and perhaps a tad preachy) argument on the ethics of it all. Cheating gives an individual an undeserved advantage over others and deprives those actually deserving of the benefits.

If someone cheats but receives the reward nonetheless, it lowers the value of actually working hard and no one receives any additional benefit from actually working, prompting everyone to resort to cheating. This in turn results in individuals who are incapable of actually working and contributing to society.  

Reiterating on the long term vision thought, most of us have been ingrained to run behind marks by our family, teachers and the society. Getting marks, whether, in school, entrance exams or any assessment has been quite emphasized on, without giving any significant importance to academic integrity. Some parents, though aware of their child’s malpractices during exams, don’t completely discourage the use of such means because the mentality and “society” both value report cards more than knowledge.

However, while the system may be flawed, cheating is a personal choice which cannot be blamed on social conditioning.

 

Measures against cheating

While the system does incentivize cheating through its various mechanisms, it still tries to minimize cheating through the threat of punishment in case one is caught. In our institute specifically, there are several such punishments that might make you think twice before copying in an exam again. While everyone is aware of the risk of an FR/DX grade in case academic malpractice is detected, a lesser-known but considerably more severe punishment is that of suspension for a semester. 

Clearly, this level of punishment should be enough to deter even the gutsiest cheaters, if there was a reasonable chance of getting caught. Since it doesn’t seem to have worked, there is a clear issue in the proctoring methods implemented by most professors, which allows cheating to occur undetected. So while the punishment does seem formidable, the chance of actually being awarded such punishment in most courses is quite small.

Importance of better systems

The way a system works is that it incentivizes certain actions that it finds desirable, to ensure the best possible outcome according to certain set parameters. The problem with the prevalent academic system is that it attempts to measure everyone by a standardized metric, which is not a great measure of capability. 

It is important for there to be systems that are fool-proof and disincentivize students from engaging in malpractices. This argument is not intended to condone cheating in any way, but to point out the importance of our environments in shaping us. No person is outright “good” or “evil”. Although there might be some inherent tendencies within us, we all strive to enter systems and environments that challenge us and help bring out the best within us. According to the recent survey conducted by the institute to gauge the efficacy of proctoring methods, it was found that the institute-recommended guidelines for proctoring were followed in only around 35% of the courses. 

There is much that professors could do to implement more foolproof evaluation methods. In fact, implementation of proctoring guidelines issued by the institute worked to prevent cheating in most cases, making it as difficult to cheat as it would be in an offline mode. Various other methods can also be used, such as open-ended assignments, randomized question papers, or personalized data points based on one’s roll number, etc. that don’t compromise on the quality of academics. Although some professors have undertaken such initiatives, by and large, the pedagogy hasn’t changed.

 

Conclusion

The lockdown and the resulting online semesters have been tough for many, and it is easy to understand the perspective of mere opportunism in the context of cheating. Although malpractices might easily fetch oneself a grade upgrade now, we must recognise that by doing so, one is also foregoing the opportunity to better understand and improve oneself to develop useful practices and a good work ethic. This is especially true in the challenging environment of online learning. At the same time, more can be done by the institute and professors to tailor the curriculum and evaluation to better align with the online mode of teaching.

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