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Can You Cheat On Online Classes: Reality And Consequences

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: August 4, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: August 4, 2020


Even some of the best students may admit to having cheated at some point in their academic career. And, whether they have or haven’t, they may wonder, “Can you cheat on online classes?” as it may seem easier to do so than in a regular classroom environment.

But cheating not only puts you at risk of facing serious consequences, it also can bring down the overall reputation of your school. In an online program, students may think it is easier to get away with cheating, or that it’s much more common among students. But here’s why it’s wrong to think that way and why you should think twice before you attempt cheating in an online course.

How Can People Cheat In Online Classes?

Students may cheat in their classes for all kinds of reasons. It may not be necessarily because they want to break the rules, but because they’ve been overwhelmed in their coursework and they want to make sure their grades are not jeopardized. By cheating, they can put some of their worries aside.

Yet, cheating in a college course can actually leave you with more worries than had you not cheated in the first place. If you cheat, you can risk failing in your class, being put on academic probation, or getting kicked out of school.

That being said, some students may wonder if certain types of cheating are a lot easier to get away with in an online class than it would be in a physical classroom. Although you won’t be able to peek at someone else’s test to steal an answer, couldn’t you look up answers while taking an online test? What about asking a friend to take a quiz for you? And isn’t plagiarism much easier to do since your teacher has never met you in person?

These are just some of the ways students may think about cheating in an online class.

Why Not Cheat For A Good Grade?

Considering plagiarism is one of the most common forms of cheating in an institution of higher education, students may find other ways around writing that essay than copying and pasting paragraphs from sources online. These days, students are also paying for writers to write their essays and papers for them, which is a form of plagiarism many professors may not be aware of or pick up on, as the writing is still original. This may lead some students to think that a little cheating can go a long way in an online class, earning you an easy A.

In a physical classroom, this type of plagiarism may be easier to recognize as most professors can tell if the student’s writing reflects their personality or not. At the very least, they can sense a disconnect or inconsistency in their papers. Students may also fear cheating in this way in a physical classroom because if they do get caught, they’d have to face the professor in person, creating a stronger sense of accountability for the student, but may not be as worried in an online class.

This can make online schools more vulnerable to cheating, but because professors are aware this can happen, they often go that extra step to check if their students are being honest.

Cheating And Academic Integrity Go Hand-In-Hand

Not all online colleges are breeding grounds for cheating, and if they are, that’s probably a school you’ll want to avoid. If cheating is easy to do and therefore rampant in an online school setting (especially a for-profit school), it can bring down the overall quality of the school itself and thus the quality of your degree.

Therefore, if you’re not concerned so much that you’re going to cheat but that other students in your online program are, then you’ll want to make sure you attend an online school with a solid reputation. One that invokes some sense of responsibility and accountability among the students through face-to-face interaction, as well as coursework that demonstrates originality and personality that would be very difficult for a student to cheat on, even if they wanted to.

University of the People takes academic integrity seriously. We care about the quality of our school and hold all of our students up to the highest standard.

Laptop in a study cubicle in a library
Image by thumprchgo from Pixabay

3 Common Myths About Online Cheating

There’s quite a lot to understand about cheating in an online school. And, even if you’re not the type of student to ever consider cheating, you might be wondering if other students are getting away with it. Can this actually hurt the overall quality of your institution?

Additionally, since plagiarism is always a major concern, you might be wondering how easily it is to be caught plagiarizing, even if you didn’t intend to do so. This is a concern students have in physical classrooms, too.

Nowadays, with so much information easily accessible, some students may be plagiarizing a little bit, without even realizing it. Is this something you have to worry about?

Time to conquer the myths about online cheating.

1. Online Universities Don’t Mind Cheating

One would think that, in general, online universities wouldn’t mind cheating. But this is a myth. All online schools have their own ethics and standards that are in line with those of traditional academic institutions.

Plus, as most online schools are using some type of Learning Management Systems (LMS) instead of a simple email correspondence, this demonstrates that online schools care about the integrity of the course by keeping all students in check. If students are caught cheating, they will face whatever consequences are outlined by the school, regardless if it’s held online or in person.

2. Online Instructors Can’t Recognize Cheating

Speaking of Learning Management Systems, if you’re wondering whether or not online instructors can identify online cheating, the answer is: They can. Many of these LMS programs have cheating/plagiarism detection software integrated into them. This makes it actually quite easy for online instructors to identify cheating, perhaps even more so than in a physical classroom setting.

3. Plagiarism Checkers Don’t Work

Have you ever wondered how plagiarism checkers work? Well, in an online classroom, you can think of a plagiarism checker as a checkpoint. Because plagiarism checkers can be integrated into the LMS, some systems won’t even let you submit your paper if they can catch plagiarism right away. They catch cheating very well, indeed.

Are Online Students More Likely to Cheat?

Plagiarism-checking software aside, couldn’t a tech-savvy student find a way to get around the software that’s checking for cheating? Theoretically, maybe. But if a student is going to great lengths to get around all the mechanisms in place to catch cheating, perhaps they don’t need a degree as much as they think.

The fact of the matter is that if students are going through the effort to enroll in an online school, it may be because it’s too difficult to earn their degree in a physical classroom setting. Perhaps they have children to raise, a full-time job, or even a disability that makes online learning easier.

A study by Kessler International discovered that every 9 out of 10 students cheat in school, and it doesn’t matter if it’s online or in-person.

How Are Cheaters In Online Classes Caught?

Just because cheating in an online class may seem easier to do, as a student, you’re expected to be held up to a certain standard regardless. Just as you’re being watched when you take a test in a physical classroom to ensure you’re not cheating, there’s advanced technology that can detect all different types of cheating.

1. Proctors In Online Tests

One might think that in an online class, a student can have another student take the exam for them, and no one would ever know. But, just as you would have a test proctor in a regular classroom during a test, there’s technology that aids in online test proctoring to ensure students are not cheating. This is done through software that uses technology to scan your biometrics to ensure you are who you say you are. Webcams are also used to record students while they take their exam to look for any signs of cheating.

2. The Integration Of Plagiarism Detection Software

Because plagiarism checkers like Plagscan can be integrated directly into LMS software, your paper can and will be checked automatically for intentional or accidental plagiarism. Unlike a physical classroom where you may submit your paper printed out, your professor would have to go the extra mile to check if you’ve plagiarized. That’s not the case in an online classroom.

3. Advanced Technology: Keystroke Recognition, IP Tracking And Biometric Scanning

Even when you think you’ve found a way to avoid getting caught by a webcam and plagiarism checkers, there are other ways you can be caught cheating in an online class.

Some Learning Management Systems can detect your keystrokes to ensure you’re not copying and pasting or to detect typing patterns for a particular student. Others can track your IP address to check if another student in another location is posing as you.

Lastly, all this, combined with biometric scanning that can use facial recognition or fingerprint scanning to verify your identity, can actually make it quite easy to get caught cheating in an online classroom setting.

Student’s hand holding pencil above a math test
Image by tjevans from Pixabay

The Consequences Of Cheating In An Online Class

Think you’ve found a way to cheat without getting caught in an online class? Before you take that risk, it’s important to be aware of what the consequences are for cheating if you do get caught. Perhaps this will dissuade you from taking your chances.

If you cheat in an open online course, the first thing you should know is that you’re only hurting yourself. By cheating — especially if you do it frequently — you’re missing out on an opportunity to learn and ultimately feel that you earned your degree fair and square.

Not only this, the time you spend trying to avoid getting caught cheating could be better used to just prepare you for whatever assignment you need to do or test you need to prepare for.

Secondly, by cheating, you’re also risking damage to your institution’s reputation. Schools are only as good as their students, and if you and others cheat frequently (and get away with it), then you’re hurting that reputation.

But, most of all, if you cheat in an online class and get caught, there are risks. First, your teacher may fail you for the assignment, which can hurt your overall grade. Secondly, you could fail the entire course and have to retake it. Finally, depending on your school’s rules and regulations and the severity of your cheating, you may be expelled, which can make it harder for you to get into another school down the road.

Everyone Cheats, So What’s The Big Deal?

Cheating, unfortunately, is rampant in institutions of higher education. This may have some students thinking that it’s okay to do it once in a while. However, knowing that both physical and online schools are cracking down on cheating may stop you from trying it. The measures that online schools go to in order to preserve the academic integrity of an online institution is important to the students who attend there and the staff that work there.

If this integrity is important to you, then consider earning your degree at UoPeople. Here, we take cheating seriously in order to protect the reputation of our institution and ensure all our students feel assured that they are performing on a level playing field.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.