Harvard Professors: We Should Trust Students Not to Cheat

Harvard University
Elise Amendola/AP

Multiple Harvard professors say their colleagues should just “trust” students not to cheat on their exams during the shift to online classes due to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.

As colleges have moved to online classes due to the Chinese virus pandemic, Harvard professors say that they have faith in their students not to cheat on their exams, because Harvard students have “academic integrity,” according to a report by the Harvard Crimson.

“Do I think that some students in the United States higher educational system have cheated? Yeah,” said Harvard Kennedy School professor Robert N. Stavins. “But I also think that professors should trust students to do the right thing and it improves the learning atmosphere for everybody involved.”

Stavins added that he decided to change the final exam for one of his courses to an “open-book” exam, which means that students are allowed to refer to their textbooks while taking exams.

“In my experience, the vast majority of students at Harvard demonstrate very high levels of academic integrity,” insisted Stavins, adding that “making the exam closed-book at remote settings, without opportunities for monitoring and enforcement, could lead to inequities among students.”

Economics professor Christopher Foote echoed Stavins’ sentiments, noting that he decided to move to “open-note” tests, and that he has chosen to rely on Harvard’s “Honor Code” in trusting students not to cheat on their exams.

Harvard professor Stephen Chaudoin said that more than half of his students had already taken the final exam in person before the college was told to evacuate. Therefore, Chaudoin has decided to give his remaining students a closed-book exam.

“In International Relations, when people talk about arms control, they sometimes say ‘Trust but verify.’ The same applies here,” said the professor. “We have to trust the students, and the online exam tools give us a partial way to monitor things.”

Chaudoin added that he uses a proctor tool developed by the Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE) to monitor students during exams.

But the OUE does not recommend online proctored exams, reports the Crimson.

“I have urged every colleague that will really listen to me — that we think it’s better at this sort of specific moment in time to focus on the Honor Code and not get bogged down in what can be rather complicated proctoring scenarios,” added Harvard professor Robert Lue.

Harvard lecturer David Dockterman also chimed in, suggesting that it is more important to emphasize individual growth rather than competition to maintain integrity.

“You’re trying to do a quick culture shift that has a higher focus on learning and learning how to learn in a new environment, rather than on competing for grades,” he said.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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