Online misconduct in the COVID-19 era

As the coronavirus continues its spread around the world, we have all had to learn to keep our distance from one another. But this distance has been especially tough in colleges, universities and even grade school and high school, now that all classes, lessons, office hours, and even exams, are going online.

Taking classes, quizzes, tests, mid-terms and final exams all remotely and online creates special risks for students and concerns for the schools.

Taking exams online, in particular, has made professors and school administrators nervous about the increased possibility of online misconduct like cheating.  Remote proctoring through various applications and dedicated browsers/test portals are being widely used and create their own host of anxieties among both students, professors and college and university administrators.

What is online misconduct?

Online misconduct is any academic misconduct or other student misconduct prohibited by a school or university’s code of conduct that students conduct and/or engage in via the Internet.

This can include behavior during an online class, student conduct during online testing and exams as well as even interaction with other students even when students are not on campus during this period of virtual classrooms and distance/remote teaching and learning.

Some examples of online misconduct include:

  • Cheating on online exams
  • Plagiarism
  • Title IX violations like sexual harassment during online classes or outside classes
  • Disorderly conduct or inappropriate behavior / dress during online class
  • Threats / inappropriate comments / bullying during online classes or outside classes
  • Online impersonation
  • Sharing someone’s personal information without their consent

What are the consequences for online misconduct?

Every school has different policies for different transgressions. These penalties may differ depending on your degree, your school, your behavioral history, and any number of other factors.

Unfortunately, most schools have not yet directly addressed the penalties or created a specific set of rules regarding online courses and technology-based learning.

Nonetheless, all schools do have existing student conduct codes and academic honesty, academic honor codes already in place, which means that even if the school doesn’t specify COVID-19-inspired rules, you will probably be expected to have assumed what is and is not allowed.

If you are found guilty of online misconduct, however, the penalties can be very severe.

Consequences can include any and all of the following:

  • Verbal reprimand
  • Written reprimand
  • Failing grade (for the class or assignment)
  • Dismissal from the course
  • Academic, disciplinary, or athletic probation
  • Loss of privileges (sports, clubs, etc.)
  • Suspension
  • Loss of scholarships
  • Expulsion

What are some examples of online misconduct I may not know about?

Online and technology-based courses are new territory for students, teachers, and administrators alike.

This means that until more specified rules are set into place regarding what is and is not allowed during class time, students may not even be aware of what professors consider cheating.

Here are some of the sites / methods you may not know count as ways to cheat online and can subject you to accusations of academic misconduct, including cheating on your online final exam or test.

How can I defend myself if I’ve been accused of cheating?

If you’ve been accused of cheating on an online final exam or any other form of online misconduct, you’ll want to hire an attorney with experience working to defend students accused of cheating to advise you. You may or may not be able to bring this attorney to your student conduct hearing as your advisor, but a skilled attorney will help you strategize for the hearing and all other important meetings so that you are prepared for anything.

Here are some ways you can help your attorney organize your case before it even begins: 

  • Read the accusations against you carefully and speak with someone who can give you good advice and possibly help you pay for an attorney.
  • Do not discuss the accusations against you to any other students on campus, including your friends.
  • Do not reach out to the professor who’s accusing you (or anyone else on campus) to try to defend yourself until you’ve spoken to your attorney.

Shanlon Wu is an experienced defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who focuses his law practice on advocating and defending college students accused of academic misconduct, including online cheating on exams as well as other kinds of online misconduct, including Title IX violations..