Controversies arise as high schoolers turn to AI for cheating

Hadley Carr and Benjamin Chait

The room was quiet, except for the sound of rustling papers and the furious scribbling of pencils. These conditions are typical of AP-style essay exams, which demand total silence and are written exclusively on paper. A Jackson-Reed history class was taking a written test earlier this year in preparation for the AP exam set to occur in a couple months. Out of nowhere, a deep voice pierced the silence. The voice belonged to Steve Heimler, who produces informative YouTube videos to help his students ace their AP classes. At the moment, Heimler was explaining key concepts the class was being tested on. 

Unfortunately for the student, Heimler’s voice was not a welcome addition to the cacophony of handwriting.This conspicuous example is a microcosm of a larger culture of cheating at Jackson-Reed, one which is present in every classroom. 

“I think cheating is everywhere, always, all the time,” the student, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “At home, I can guarantee you that every single person in this school has used the internet to help them with homework,” the student continued.

Why students cheat

The student noted the various pressures that brought them to that class, with Heimler in their pocket and the intention to cheat on their exam. 

There was academic pressure: “I cheat because if I don’t do well on the test, it will invoke stress and I just want to get the good grade and get out of there.” But the student also cheats when they don’t feel comfortable with the content. 

“When teachers make us feel not smart or make us feel bad, that makes me just want to say, ‘Alright, I’m done with you. I’m cheating,’” the student said.

“I cheat out of fear for failing,” another student said. “If I know I don’t have enough time to study, I’m going to cheat.” The student feels that too much work is given in too little a time frame. 

Another student added that “teachers introduce a subject and then two days later give a pop quiz about it or use tests about it as a input on your grade.” They estimate that they cheat twice a month when they’re “lazy”. 

Other students feel social pressure. One student cheats “to get a good grade and to not be embarrassed in front of my peers.” With regard to cheating, the student said “it’s really prevalent. Almost every kid has done it.”

Math teacher Alex Jacoby noted another group of students who cheat: students who are behind.

“Students who are so far behind and are embarrassed to admit it. They’re a little ashamed and they’re trying to hide how far behind they are and how lost they are,” Jacoby said. 

History teacher Eduardo Canedo has experienced what he describes as two major cheating incidents. “When I’ve had students cheat, and I’ve asked them about the culture of it, they’ve said that they thought a lot of teachers didn’t check,” he said. “Students feel like their material doesn’t get read, and then there’s a chain reaction where they can cheat a number of times with impunity.” Canedo sees this as a result of school overcrowding. “Part of the overcrowdedness is that you grade quickly and for completion. Students are aware that teachers are overwhelmed.”

“If you don’t care about integrity, why wouldn’t you?” Canedo continued. “If everyone else is doing it, why are you going to have discipline?”

Canedo accidentally caught a student cheating in his class. “One time, a student seemed to be off task. So I took his computer and I saw different chatbot conversations for all of his classes; it wasn’t just my class. It was like tabs, almost. I think people who discover ChatGPT get enamored, it’s hard not to go full in,” Canedo said.

Artificial Intelligence

The introduction of widely available chatbots, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, has only made the problem worse. “The increasing technology of ChatGPT is adding on to existing patterns of problematic behavior,” Canedo said. 

ChatGPT has quickly become a favorite among students who wish to expedite their work. 

Given the state of modern technology, science teacher Will Gomaa said “at this point if I were an English or History teacher, I don’t think I could assign [larger assignments] at home because I wouldn’t know if students did that work or not.”

English Teacher Amarah Webb has noticed that cheating “seems to have increased from last year because of the rise of ChatGPT.”

“AI makes it harder to track and harder for students to [face consequences],” Webb said. Webb has started to make quizzes and essays handwritten to combat ChatGPT. 

To help combat cheating, science teacher Daniela Muñoz started randomizing questions and answers on quizzes. She noted that the use of laptops have created more widespread cheating.

“There’s been truly a shift. This culture has always existed. Now they’re slightly more sophisticated ways in which it can be implemented,” Muñoz said.

The pandemic

Some think that cheating increased during and after the pandemic.

Canedo says that during the pandemic, “the standards dropped so low. I don’t think there was too much concern about cheating simply because the problems were so much greater than that.”

“Once patterns of behavior are established, it’s hard to break with them and ramp standards back up,” Canedo added.

As a result, Canedo said, “the amount of work that students are willing to put into their school work diminished rapidly because they weren’t expected to do much during the pandemic.”

Webb shared this sentiment. She noted that, for various reasons, students were given a degree of leniency. 

“Now, [students] still want that grace and that leniency and they aren’t willing to try any harder than they were before [the pandemic].” 

Muñoz said that online work, while important, has allowed for a greater range and scale of cheating.

“Allowing folks the ability and the freedom to learn from home is an accessibility thing, but at the same time there has to be some form of accountability from the university or from the higher ed system or from us.”

The classroom environment

Some say that cheating reduces student values of actual learning.

Muñoz believes that it prevents her students from learning. “I want my students to leave with higher levels of critical thinking. If they’re taking the work that somebody else has done, they’re bypassing what I believe my core value as a teacher is; what I want my students to leave with.”

Webb sees increasing numbers of students caring less and less about classwork. “I’m concerned that there’s a level of apathy when it comes to learning and apathy when it comes to integrity.” 

Jacoby sees negative effects of cheating on both individual students and the class as a whole. “I feel like you lose some of your self respect when you start taking those shortcuts and being dishonest.” Jacoby added that “it creates this atmosphere of mistrust.”

  • Many feel like the prevalence of cheating disincentivizes integrity. One student said “I do my work. I know kids who I see Chat GPT all their work and they’re still getting into [prestigious universities], like, what’s the point?” •