Are Online Students at an Advantage?

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Peter Sloniewsky, Staff Writer

For the entire 2020-21 school year and for the foreseeable future, a certain group of students has been permitted to attend school online permanently.  Despite their seeming disadvantages in terms of both convenience and retention, online students consistently score well on tests, to the point that it is not unheard of for in-person students to shift online for a day or two if they have stressful tests then.  While some may argue that the cause of this is comfort or extra sleep, I believe that online students have both motivation to cheat and ease in cheating, and therefore have a massive advantage over in-person students.

Firstly, online students have more of a reason to cheat: it’s just harder to pay attention in online classes when paying attention is essentially optional.  You can’t hand a teenager a box that has every game ever invented, every video ever made, all of the assorted knowledge of humanity, and school, and expect them to choose school every time.  In my conversations with online students that I know, they describe a situation where, after days of sitting down and watching a Chromebook screen, their attention span decreases.  As such, the majority of online students are less prepared for the tests they have to take, and as a result are more likely to turn towards cheating.

In addition, because cheating is significantly easier for an online student, cheating is an appealing alternative to intensive studying.  A teacher can’t see anything outside of the camera angle, like a phone or a monitor behind the Chromebook that the student is taking the test on.  Because the teachers put all of their lessons online, an online student can just pull up the slideshow on their phone to look at all of the information.  While this may seem to put them at an eventual disadvantage when finals season comes around, the advent of online finals and the cancellation of most Regents exams won’t punish them at all for a year of cheating.

While there’s no perfect solution to this problem, the easiest way to prevent the large number of online students from benefitting at the expense of in-person students is just to bluntly decrease the benefits of being online at all.  If online students do not have access to a slight curve set in place for in-person learners, or if the weighting of GPAs is reduced slightly for students who attend this school year online, while some honest students will be negatively affected, the actions of many academically dishonest students will be set back before they even cheat.  In addition, to students who go home to take tests online, a slight setback will discourage the behavior, and tests can still be excused for sick students.  While online students experience an advantage due to cheating and a motivation to cheat, it can be counteracted with measures to preemptively push back against cheating, with only a slight benefit to in-person students or a slight pushback against online learners.