Professors should be understanding and change exam formatting in order to help students be successful

Professors should be understanding and change exam formatting in order to help students be successful

Photo Credits: AGGIE FILE

Creative solutions are needed to discourage cheating and reduce student stress

Before the pandemic, it was a familiar sight: Hundreds of students shuffling into a large room, silent except for the proctors’ footsteps and the scratching of #2 pencils. The university made a real effort to give every student an equitable chance at doing well on tests, from providing a quiet workplace to granting academic accommodations. 

Today, the scene is very different. Some students have access to a chaos-free place to study and take tests, but many do not. A student sits down to take a midterm in their family’s kitchen, trying to focus despite their barking dog and crying baby sibling. Another student is working through a math exam, but their housemates start screaming with laughter at a TikTok. 

Equitable testing opportunities no longer exist, so why are some professors still assigning conventional exams? This testing model doesn’t translate to online learning and adds to the stress students are already experiencing. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, reports for cheating to the Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs (OSSJA) are more than double what has occured in previous years. 

This increase is not limited to UC Davis. Universities nationwide have seen a rise in cheating since the transition to online learning. Not only is it easier to cheat at home, but students are stressed and not necessarily in an environment to learn responsibly. 

Many students are stressed about entering the job market during economic downturn and uncertainty. Others are worried about paying the bills they have now; the California Student Aid Commission conducted a survey reporting that in the spring, 71% of California college students experienced a pandemic-related drop in income.

The pandemic has negatively impacted students in other ways as well. In a Texas A&M University study of college students, 89% of respondents reported having a hard time concentrating, 71% were more stressed because of the pandemic and 86% weren’t sleeping well. Taking these statistics into account, it’s no wonder that 82% were more worried about their grades.

In light of the struggles everyone is facing, the Editorial Board urges professors and administration to be courteous and creative in their responses to pandemic challenges. 

Many students have received mass emails from professors declaring that any students who have cheated in the class have already been reported to OSSJA. These emails are ominous and create unnecessary anxiety for many students, who suddenly find themselves worrying about what counts as cheating. Using websites like Chegg is always cheating, but will a student fail the whole class for Googling one homework problem? And when, exactly, does collaboration become cheating?

It’s unhealthy for the students who have cheated, too. Even though what they did was wrong, the backlog of reports at OSSJA means that students wait weeks on end to be notified that they were reported for cheating. They are stressed-out students who made a mistake and this process prolongs the sense of dread and anxiety. 

This uncertainty creates an unhealthy environment for students. Some may avoid collaboration because they’re not sure if it counts as cheating, which is especially detrimental when many students are already feeling isolated and lonely.

There are alternatives to traditional exams that could not only reduce cheating but increase student learning and satisfaction. Many professors have already changed to offer open-note exams, which is a great step in the right direction. 

For some classes, long term projects and essays could replace timed midterms and finals. When that’s not possible, professors could write exams with longer time limits that focus more on free response than multiple choice. The extra time could act as a buffer for any technical problems. 

As finals approach, some students are also realizing that they registered for 8 p.m. exams before moving multiple time zones away. No one should have to take a final at midnight, so professors should offer 24-hour windows to start the exam, with the timer triggering when it’s opened. 

Many professors already had some of these changes in place, while others have refused to voluntarily adopt them. As we approach Winter Quarter, the Editorial Board urges UC Davis to set definitive guidelines for professors to follow rather than merely offering suggestions

Nobody wants to cheat. We’re all UC Davis students, paying tuition and fees because we want to better ourselves and our future. The pandemic is overwhelming, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, so we ask professors to be communicative, understanding and flexible about class expectations moving forward. 

Written by: The Editorial Board