Texas A&M is investigating what it calls "large scale cheating" by students taking online classes.

The Texas Tribune's Kate McGee reports that as part of their investigation, the university's Aggie Honor System Office actually asked students to fess up by 5 PM December 8 or face suspension or expulsion.

Texas A&M sent an alert to hundreds of students enrolled in an online finance class in early December after discovering that some students had answered questions in online tests faster than it would take to read the questions, and that some exams had even been posted to a tutoring website called Chegg that's accused of helping students cheat.

Some students reportedly came forward to admit to cheating, and one student told the Tribune that the stress of the pandemic and the switch to virtual classes, along with the difficulty of finding study partners and contacting professors for help, prompted their decision to sign up for Chegg. The anonymous student said they'd self-reported and asked not to be named for fear of hurting their future job prospects.

Texas A&M isn't alone in facing an apparent cheating problem. They along with University of North Texas have seen a 20% increase in reports of academic dishonesty, while Texas State University has seen an increase of one-third over last year and the University of Houston saw their cases double this fall.

One student told the Tribune that professors never addressed the "gray area" created by sites like Chegg, but c'mon. Cheating is cheating, and you know it when you see it (or do it).

Two of the self-reporting students who talked to the Tribune said they'd been given failing grades and placed on academic probation until they complete an academic integrity program, and they are also barred from graduating with honors. That's tough, but it beats being suspended or expelled.

I get that the transition to online classes can be tough. I had a 4.0 GPA when I graduated with my associate degree, but when I went back to work on a bachelor's, I ended up having to take a couple of online courses. My brain just wasn't wired to learn as well that way, so I didn't do as well as I think I would have in an in-person class. Still, I never resorted to cheating. One of the things that defines a person is how they act when no one's watching them, and even if no one else ever found out I'd cheated, I would know, and that would be a lousy feeling.

Then again, I wasn't forced into those classes by a pandemic that shook up my entire college career, so while I don't condone cheating, I don't suppose I can understand the unique stress these students were under.

So, what do you think? Should students who came forward about their cheating be given more lenient punishment? What should happen to those who didn't come forward?

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