Cheating Scandals at Yonsei: Why is cheating so tempting?
December 14, 2020 by Sara Rousalova
As the second completely online semester at Underwood International College (UIC) is nearing its end, the reality of online exams is now very familiar to most students. While in the 2020 spring semester, offline exams were at first canceled for all, most of them were later simply moved to the online settings. Although many professors decided to modify the testing process to accommodate the new teaching environment’s demands and opted for essays or research papers, several classes persisted in its attempt to recreate the offline classroom exam experience as closely as possible. Besides the numerous technological and administrative barriers, taking exams online also raised a great deal of concerns regarding the fairness of the process. It didn’t take long for some students to figure out a way to make everything easier, resulting in what would undoubtedly be considered as cheating.
Since COVID19 moved classes to the privacy of students’ homes, numerous cheating scandals have become a hot topic all over South Korea. One of such (in)famous incidents occurred at Inha University’s School of Medicine. Involving 91 students – 83% of all freshman and sophomore students (source: Kang Heejin, ABC News) – this event made headlines in multiple Korean media outlets. The students reportedly gathered into small groups to solve test questions together and also shared their answers online. A similar case was later covered by Chosun Ilbo, this time concerning a Yonsei University course with over 300 students. Here, the exam answers were shared amongst the students using KakaoTalk chatroom, and this fact only came to light through some student’s Instagram. While official articles reported cases outside of UIC, it is highly probable that such practices are common even within this institution. It seems natural for students to attempt to reduce the stress and fear of failure in the face of the exam week, especially at times when online classes often require more self-learning and do not provide as easily accessible support from professors or fellow classmates. Even the most capable students can be tempted to engage in such behavior but what exactly makes cheating so attractive? And what can the professors and universities do to stop it?
Several research studies have tried to examine the appeal of cheating, revealing a full range of reasons as to why students turn to banned methods when facing academic evaluation. A 2017 survey by Challenge Success suggested that cheating is often perceived as a must to retain high grades. Whilst it is not something people can engage in without feeling a sense of guilt and shame, the competitive educational environment along with the cheating behavior exhibited by others around them makes individuals easily susceptible to join on it as well. “I think most students in Yonsei feel pressure to excel academically and some of these students decide to take the ‘easy way’ and cheat on their exams,” said Hyejin (International Studies Major at UIC) when asked about the appeal of cheating. The severity of the pressure was also documented in a study by Miller, Murdock & Grotewiel, listing the risk of receiving low grades, worry and pressure as one of the main reasons for cheating in schools highly focused on performance goals such as grades or test scores (Miller, Murdock & Grotewiel, 2017). Reflecting on the bigger perceived easiness of cheating after COVID19, another UIC student noted that “students often choose to cheat because it's very easy, especially if the exams are done online. The larger the number of people involved, the less guilt per individual.” The peer pressure and the idea of “cheating or be cheated” is yet another important factor making cheating much more common and explains why most students engage in cheating collectively rather than on their own (source: Challenge Success, 2017). This is true especially as the online environment tends to normalize such behavior even more.
The question then remains, what can be done to stop the spread of the cheating disease? As long as cheating is deemed unacceptable, some form of action on behalf of the university should follow. Yonsei University, similar to other Seoul universities, decided to conduct a survey during the spring semester to collect the students’ opinions regarding this matter. The questions of what happened to the survey results and if some effective measures have been put forward since then remain unanswered to this day. Many have called for stricter punishments or a more thorough investigation of the suspected cheating cases. “School should address this issue and look into ways to prevent cheating, especially for online exams. I think bigger negative consequences would deter students from cheating.” said one UIC student. However, many also point out that solely raising the punishment would only add to the increasing pressure, only to make students more creative when inventing various cheating methods. Last semester, some professors accordingly decided to take an opposite approach, and made exams mostly symbolic, using attendance and creative assignments instead to deduce the students’ grades instead. Whilst this approach is not easily applicable to all courses, it raises the question of whether it might be better to shift the focus from the cheating to the conditions that lead students to engage in such behavior in the first place. Potentially addressing the persisting academic pressure and the obsession with grading might end up being much more effective in ensuring fair academic environment than simply switching from one type of assignment for another.