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By: Sierra President, Ethics and Policy Intern

Today, cheating is easier than ever. Regardless of its ease, cheating is still frowned upon in most traditional academic settings and will lead to negative consequences if caught. And yet, people continue to cheat. The recent advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), an overload of online resources, and a lack of student understanding regarding academic policies make it more likely that students will cheat and get away with it. Since we are in a digital age, where notebooks are replaced with screens and pencils are traded for keyboards, academics must find ways to regulate the use of these new technologies. If they don’t, learning and integrity may be put on the back burner while students still reap the benefit of their ill-gotten degrees.

What is cheating?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, cheating is defined as “to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud.”[1] However, this blog is focused on cheating in an academic environment. Many universities have their definitions for cheating and typically consider it academic dishonesty.

For instance, the Office of Student Conduct website says, “Generally, academic misconduct can be thought of as any behavior that involves the giving, taking, or presenting of information by a student that unethically or fraudulently aids the student or another on any work which is to be considered in the determination of a grade or the completion of academic requirements or the enhancement of that student’s record or academic career.” [2]

The website also describes the most common forms of cheating, which include:

  • Copying from another assignment or test,
  • Collaborating with others on an assignment with the professor has required independent work,
  • Using outside resources when completing an assignment or test,
  • Falsifying test answers or grades.[3]

Under its Code of Student Conduct, NC State also expands its definition of cheating to account for technological advances. Specifically, the code says, “Using materials, equipment, or assistance in connection with an assignment, examination, or other academic exercise which have not been authorized by the faculty member, including but not limited to notes, calculator, or other technology.”[4]

Many universities nationwide have policies like NC State’s. Students should acknowledge these definitions, but educators must also recognize the benefits of using online resources.

Why are students cheating?

According to the International Center for Academic Integrity, 68 percent of undergraduate students say they have cheated on their assignments.[5] It might seem obvious why students cheat, but the University of Buffalo’s Office of Academic Integrity released a list that describes multiple reasons why students cheat, including some that may not immediately come to mind.[6] This list includes:

  • Poor time management,
  • Stress,
  • Wanting to help friends,
  • Fear of failure,
  • Because everyone else is doing it,
  • Unmonitored environment or weak assignment design, and
  • Lack of academic policy understanding.

In an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Owen Kichizo Terry expanded on the reasoning as to why students cheat by saying that the emergence of AI, like ChatGPT, makes it harder to get caught.[7] In the article, he provided a blueprint for how ChatGPT can be used to write an essay without detection. Terry argued, “In reality, it’s very easy to use AI to do the lion’s share of the thinking while still submitting work that looks like your own.” He said that ChatGPT can give students multiple ideas for a singular prompt. So, if a student uses one of the chatbot’s options and changes the words, then a professor may not think twice about who wrote it.

Kathryn Hulick wrote a ScienceNews article arguing that since ChatGPT and similar programs create new material, it is hard to consider plagiarism because plagiarism is when someone else’s existing work is copied without credit. Hulick also argued that, while there are many illegitimate uses for the technology, AI can also help with writing, like how calculators help with math, and Google helps find facts. Hulick also said that ChatGPT, for example, can help students struggling with sentence structure and grammar.[8] It is likely that when universities do not have policies about tools like chatbots that use AI, students may not see it as an issue to use them for assignments. While most universities are actively developing their AI policies, professors have recommended that students unsure about when and how to use AI should come to them for a conversation. This is particularly important since students may not realize the potential negative impacts of using AI.

What are the punishments for cheating?

Punishments for cheating can vary based on the assignment, professor, and academic institution. Ironically, I asked ChatGPT what can happen if someone cheats on an assignment. ChatGPT outlined several penalties that universities could require for cheating, which include:

  • Receiving a failing grade
  • Academic probation
  • Loss of privileges (access to campus facilities or activities)
  • A note on the student’s permanent record
  • Required completion of an academic integrity course
  • Suspension or expulsion
  • Legal action

It is important to note that ChatGPT only provided an overview of the possible penalties, meaning that it is possible for a student not to receive any punishment or to receive something that is not on this list. Each professor, department, and university has a different way of handling cheating, some of which may include a warning system.

In 2020, Georgia Tech had a cheating scandal when it was discovered that multiple students in an online physics class were using Chegg to get complete answers to their final exam.[9] Chegg is a company that provides digital homework help. Since users can freely post on the website, the answers to some assignments are posted in their entirety, giving students another way to cheat. The physics class received an email stating that if they admitted to using Chegg, they would be offered a second chance to take the exam. If a student did not admit to cheating but was found to have been using Chegg during the exam, they were reported to the Dean’s Office for Academic Misconduct and recommended to fail the course. Similar Chegg investigations were also underway at Texas A&M and Boston University.[10] Chegg states in their honor code that they do not condone the use of their website for cheating and will act against anyone who violates this, which should deter students from these actions.[11]

Jarrod Morgan, the founder of online test proctoring site ProctorU, said finances are a huge stressor for college students.[12] The possibility of having to repeat a course and pay for it again can add to their stress.

How can professors and administrators limit cheating?

The easy answer is to bring back in-person paper and pencil tests. However, the ease of using technology in classrooms makes this an unlikely option. As of 2023, 87 percent of classrooms globally use digital teaching practices.[13] There is now an “arms race” between technological advances that make cheating easier for students and technologies meant to detect or prevent cheating. Below are some tools and initiatives that can help educators monitor online cheating.

Vicky Harmon, the instructional design and manager of professional development at Arizona State University-Tempe, said, “If a student is going to do it, they’re going to do it, but we try to make it as difficult as possible.”[14] As a result of professors trying to manage cheating concerns, below are some helpful tools:

  • Online Test Proctoring which monitors and records a student’s test taking to ensure outside materials aren’t used.
  • Plagiarism Software which helps professors cross reference written assignments with possibly plagiarized information.
  • AI Detection Software is discussed more in-depth in Ethics of College Students Using ChatGPT
  • Lockdown browsers require students to download software on their computers, which limits the number of browsers that the student can open while they are taking exams.

AI Advancement Initiatives, Guidelines and Policies

Aside from using software to detect and prevent cheating, many universities are making students and faculty aware of changes in AI.

In Fall of 2023, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created the UNC-Chapel Hill Generative AI Committee to help students and staff adapt to AI. This committee included a broad range of faculty and staff members and provided guidance for employees and students about how to use AI in classroom, research, and administrative work. This guidance outlines the following main points about the use of AI in teaching and class assignments:

  • Students should only use AI to help them think, not to complete assignments,
  • AI should be used responsibly and ethically,
  • Students are fully responsible for their submitted work and cannot blame AI for anything wrong or false,
  • Students should document any time they use AI,
  • Professors reserve the right to change specific AI guidelines depending on the assignment/exam, and
  • Confidential or personal information should not be put into AI tools.

UNC-Chapel Hill also has a “Carolina AI Literacy” initiative, which currently provides three instructional videos for students on:

  • AI prompting and thinking,
  • AI misinformation and biases, and
  • AI plagiarism and citation.[15]

UNC-Chapel Hill also has Generative AI Training Modules for faculty members. These modules are split into these categories:

  • Module 1 – Introduction to Generative AI
  • Module 2 – The Art & Science of Prompting AI
  • Module 3 – Teaching with AI
  • Module 4 – Ensuring Academic Integrity with AI
  • Module 5 – Launching Your AI Trajectory[16]

The UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center provides tips that explain what generative AI is, how it can be used in education, and what the downsides of it can be.[17]

What is the takeaway?

In summary, there is no way around it: technology-based school learning is here to stay. Instead of trying to avoid it, professors need to be upfront with students as early as possible about what is and what is not accepted.

Professors should also take advantage of the online tools that are available to help them in their professional duties, including monitoring cheating.

With the quick emergence of AI, students may find out about new platforms before a professor can give the okay on its usage. To combat this, universities need to create and continuously update initiatives regarding AI. As a result of the fast-paced evolution of AI, UNC-Chapel Hill uses recommendations and best practices about AI usage, but in the future, this may shift towards requiring certain behavior through policy. It is also important for students and faculty alike to cooperate and communicate during this process since this new way of learning is new for everyone.


[1] Cheat Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

[2] Academic Integrity: Overview | Office of Student Conduct (

[3] Academic Misconduct | Office of Student Conduct (

[4] POL 11.35.01 – Code of Student Conduct – Policies, Regulations & Rules (

[5] Think Twice Before Cheating in Online Courses (

[6] Common Reasons Students Cheat – Office of Academic Integrity – University at Buffalo

[7] I’m a Student. You Have No Idea How Much We’re Using ChatGPT. (

[8] How ChatGPT and similar AI will disrupt education (

[9] Georgia Tech warns physics students who cheated: Confess or fail (

[10] Texas A&M investigating ‘large scale’ cheating case as universities see more academic misconduct in era of online classes – ABC13 Houston

[11] Honor Code | Chegg

[12] How Cheating in College Hurts Students (

[13] What Percentage of Schools Use Technology in the Classroom? (

[14] Think Twice Before Cheating in Online Courses (

[15] Videos | Carolina AI Literacy (

[16] Generative AI Training Modules (

[17] Generative AI in Academic Writing – The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (

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