Online Cheating - Frequently Asked Questions

Online Cheating - Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I use a disability in my online cheating defense?
  2. If I face accusations of cheating online, can I use ‘confusing technology' as a defense?
  3.  If I get caught cheating, should I just tell the truth about what happened?
  4.  If I get caught cheating online, what happens next?
  5.  If I get caught cheating online, will other people find out?
  6.  Since it's all online, there may not be a traditional ‘paper trail' documenting my actions. What evidence can I use to support my case?
  7.  What is online cheating?
  8.  What is plagiarism?
  9.  What is accidental plagiarism?
  10.  What is identity misrepresentation?
  11.  What is distance learning?
  12.  What consequences can I face if I cheat online?
  13.  What do I do if I get accused of online cheating?
  14.  Who determines if I have cheated online?
  15.  Why is it easier to cheat when you're a distance-learning student?
  16.  Why do students cheat online?
  17.  Why is it even easier to cheat right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  18.  Will I still get punished if I did not know I was cheating?
  19.  What if my school's code of conduct says that I can't bring a legal advisor to student conduct proceedings?

Can I use a disability in my online cheating defense?

If you believe that you may have a disability that affected your actions, you may be able to use it in your defense. Many conditions may qualify as mitigating circumstances, including even the stress you may be under while undergoing a global pandemic.

Although other circumstances may also allow for a defense and/or mitigation, a strategy involving a student's disability would be strongest if your disability is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the school was previously put on notice regarding the disability.

Consult with your advisor if you plan to present a disability as part of your defense. You should also contact your school's disability office to learn more about any offered accommodations. 

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If I face accusations of cheating online, can I use ‘confusing technology' as a defense?

As many students have moved to remote learning very quickly, there has been a corresponding steep learning curve. If you stand accused of online cheating, you may be able to claim that the new academic norms are partially to blame. You may cite unclear instructions, new technology, or reason that you weren't able to ask your teacher for help.

Your academic misconduct advisor will be able to help guide you through your defense. If you are using novel technology as a reason for your misconduct, you must wait for legal guidance before proceeding with an academic investigation.

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If I get caught cheating, should I just tell the truth about what happened?

Before you admit to any misdoing, you need to consult with an academic misconduct advisor. While you might feel the ‘right' thing to do is confess, this may not be the best course of action.

Once your school catches you cheating online, you are in breach of your school's code of conduct. This means that you and your school are now on opposite ‘sides' of a misconduct case. Anyone associated with your school, including your teachers, will act in the best interests of the school - not your own.

Your academic misconduct advisor will work in your best interests. They will investigate whether you can cite a disability or lack of accommodations in your case; they may argue that chaos caused by the pandemic constituted rationale for your actions. If you confess before your advisor can mount a defense, you may not have the opportunity to reduce your culpability. In this case, you may be at the mercy of your school regarding any consequences for your actions.

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If I get caught cheating online, what happens next?

Your school will publish its specific grievance procedures in your code of conduct. However, your school may not have adapted their processes to account for online learning. As a general process, once your school finds that you are allegedly cheating online, your school will launch an investigation. You may have the opportunity to plead your case. After the investigation, your school will mete out punishment, which may range from a low grade for that project to dismissal from the school.

An experienced student discipline advisor can assist you with your case. They may be able to help you study your school's academic misconduct policy, find a rationale for your conduct, and guide you through the investigation to a more favorable outcome.

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If I get caught cheating online, will other people find out?

How many people find out about your academic misconduct will depend upon how your school notices your alleged misdeeds and your school's specific policies. News of your alleged misconduct may stay within your institution.

On the other hand, if your school notes your misconduct on your transcript or disciplinary record, future institutions (such as graduate schools or some employers) may learn it in time. This may have an impact on your future career.

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Since it's all online, there may not be a traditional ‘paper trail' documenting my actions. What evidence can I use to support my case?

If you stand accused of academic dishonesty in online learning, you need to find all documentation that may support your case. Save all documents, even if you're not sure of their relevance, to a hard drive (or print out paper copies). Search through social media accounts, texts, web histories, or apps on your various devices. If you're unsure of how a specific item affects your case, run it by your misconduct advisor for more information.

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What is online cheating?

Online cheating is, very simply, the process of cheating while using online applications or while depending upon the Internet as a resource or conduit for studies, projects, and tests. Students may find it easier to cheat online because there is no teacher watching. The Internet also presents an enormous temptation, as it is a treasure trove of instant information and communication. This makes cheating easy, fast, and attractive to some.

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What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of taking another's work and using it as your own. Although plagiarism has existed long before Internet usage was commonplace, the immediacy of the Internet has made plagiarism much more common.

As a more concrete definition, the Bowdoin College Academic Honesty page offers up the following three-part guide to common types of plagiarism:

    • Direct plagiarism: This type of plagiarism involves word-for-word copying of work found in any source.
    • Self-plagiarism: It's a common misconception that you can't plagiarize your own work. You can. Even when you're borrowing from your past projects, you need to cite yourself (and the specific project, class, and professor) as a source.
    • Mosaic plagiarism: By far the sneakiest type of plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism involves borrowing phrases, ideas, and general sentence structure and meaning from another. Sometimes known as ‘patchwriting' or very close paraphrasing, this type of plagiarism is still dishonest and punishable. Using quotation marks and footnoting can help you avoid plagiarizing.

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What is accidental plagiarism?

Accidental plagiarism is precisely what it sounds like: Committing plagiarism unintentionally, or as an accident. It can be very easy to plagiarize, especially when you're under stress. Some people may not be aware that more subtle forms of plagiarism, such as mosaic plagiarism or paraphrasing, are illicit.

While many universities may offer less severe consequences if a student admits their plagiarism was accidental, others find accidental plagiarism fully punishable. It's a good idea to follow anti-plagiarism procedures, such as this tutorial from Duke University, whenever you're preparing to submit a project.

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What is identity misrepresentation?

One way to cheat — frequently popularized by movies and sitcoms — involves paying another student to take a course or a test for them. In the new paradigm of online learning, this is easier than ever. In the past, schools have addressed these issues with various identity authentication programs. Now, schools are scrambling to test ways to ensure that even remote learners are doing all of the work themselves.

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What is distance learning?

Distance learning is a scenario that allows students to take courses without having to go to a physical classroom. This setup allows students outside of a particular geographic location to attend the university of their choice. It also reduces the need for in-person contact in a communal classroom — an increasingly attractive option.

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What consequences can I face if I cheat online?

Your school will list the consequences you may face for violations of its academic misconduct policy in your student handbook. The specific punishment you may face will depend upon the severity of your offense. Typical penalties may include:

  • A loss of a grade or course credit
  • A notation in your academic transcript
  • Suspension or expulsion from your school
  • Reduction of privileges
  • Loss of an academic scholarship or grant

Since these consequences vary widely and can hugely impact your future, it is wise to seek legal counsel early on in your academic misconduct case.

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What do I do if I get accused of online cheating?

If you face accusations of cheating online, it's important to keep silent, research your school's policies, find an academic misconduct advisor, and gather as much evidence as you can.

You may wish to confide in your friends, confess immediately, or ignore the problem. None of these are helpful solutions. Understand what you did, what is likely to happen, and find reliable legal counsel before you respond to the allegations or take any other public actions.

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Who determines if I have cheated online?

Your university will determine if you have cheated online. This process will be very similar to any judgments of cheating that may have happened in in-class cheating assessments. Most schools have specific investigative and disciplinary procedures that they follow to gather evidence and determine guilt. Disciplinary proceedings for academic misconduct can be complicated, and you should consider having an attorney-advisor on your team to protect your interests.

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Why is it easier to cheat when you're a distance-learning student?

When you're learning from a distance, in many cases, there will not be a professor observing your work. You may have access to resources and tools that you wouldn't be able to use in class. You may sit exams that your professor does not proctor, and your school may not have developed methods to promote academic integrity in a distance-learning scenario.

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Why do students cheat online?

The enormous pressures of surviving school and securing a decree may only intensify when your school opts for distance learning. Cheating can alleviate some of that pressure, especially for a difficult assignment, conflicting studies, or overwhelmingly confusing circumstances. Cheating online can be an attractive option specifically because the experience is virtual, as it can feel far less “real” than cheating in person.

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Why is it even easier to cheat right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Due to the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the swift timelines imposed upon universities and teachers for the launch of distance learning, many institutions have had little time and few resources to figure out how to do distance learning well. Many schools have not adapted their courses, technology, or codes of conduct to account for an entirely (or mostly) remote system.

In the midst of this turmoil, students may find it easy to commit small academic misdeeds behind their teacher's backs. Other students may unknowingly commit academic fraud (such as accidental plagiarism) and go unnoticed for some time because their teacher is too busy to look.

Many schools are working quickly to reimagine their codes of conduct for virtual learning. Until that happens, it can be much easier for students to act dishonestly. It can also be much easier for students to be falsely accused of misconduct or to have difficulties with new technologies and remote learning systems that put them at a significant disadvantage.

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Will I still get punished if I did not know I was cheating?

If you can prove that you did not know you were cheating and you admit to your wrongdoing, many schools may offer reduced punishment. However, this can be a risky course of action. Once your school catches you cheating, you may be at the mercy of your school, and your school may mete out harsh consequences regardless of your intent. Before you admit to anything, it is crucial you work with a student discipline advisor who prioritizes your best interests.

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What if my school's code of conduct says that I can't bring a legal advisor to student conduct proceedings?

In short: Bring your legal counsel to any misconduct meetings, regardless of what your student handbook says. Even if your advisor cannot be in the physical room with you during a hearing, they can still assist with your preparations. Your outcome will almost certainly be more favorable if your advisor assists with gathering evidence, analyzing your school's code of conduct, and helping you prepare answers for expected questions. In many cases, your school will allow you to have support personnel in the room with you. Even if your advisor cannot fulfill this role, they may be able to coach your support to aid your proceedings.

If you face allegations of online cheating, there is far too much at stake to go through disciplinary proceedings alone. It's best to secure experienced legal aid as early on in your case as possible to help you work towards a favorable outcome.

Attorney to Represent Students Accused of Online Cheating Across the United States

Joseph D. Lento is a hard-working, seasoned student misconduct advisor. For years, he has fundamentally handled hundreds of student discipline cases. He is ready to help you fight for your rights during your online cheating case. Call the Lento Law Firm today for support and guidance during this stressful time. The number is 888-535-3686; or, alternatively, you can fill out our online contact form for more information.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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