Cheating or collaboration

Storm Bermudez

Collaborate (v.): to work with others. Cheat (v.): to use unfair or dishonest methods to gain an advantage. In the dictionary, their definitions are distinct; in reality, the line begins to blur. Outside of the clear confines of dictionary definitions, what is “cheating?”

On assessments and essays, it’s easy to classify any form of “collaboration” as cheating. On assignments, mindless copying with no intention of finding the answer yourself is similarly discouraged. But does it really deserve to be called “cheating,” an accusation that evokes panic in conscientious students?

Does it even deserve to be called “collaboration?” This would imply mutual effort: a combination of ideas and perspectives to achieve one goal. But honestly, do students who copy (in the manner described above) really intend to give much effort? Probably not.

Just as there have always been questionable and quick shortcuts, copying has happened for a while. In reality, however, a bunch of kids gathered for a “study session” may end up hosting a “copy session.” With class projects and mooching partners or during late-night sessions of essays, lab write-ups, and that last lingering worksheet or vocab assignment to do, we are all tempted to copy. It’s time-efficient and ridiculously easy.

However, the idea of being caught copying, regardless of any attempted justification, is not ideal and likely comes with various reprimands. But we still do it.

Copying floats in that realm of “lite” cheating, and is, in some cases, virtually untraceable. But the true question is not whether calling it something else will make it okay, but this: is it harmful? Of course, the extent of how much copying affects us academically is relative to the assignment—copying vocabulary isn’t as damaging as copying multi-step problems.   However, school (ideally) fosters a person’s ability to think critically, flaunt knowledge, and express ideas—universal skills to be practiced. The shorter, easier route may provide temporary relief, but what about long-term benefit? The tiniest review could help ingrain knowledge requiring rote memorization, however boring.

Nonetheless, copying could also be indicative of a teacher’s relationship with their class. Are the students willing to give education their best effort? Is the teacher doing their job by only assigning things that they truly believe will help the student (and not just busy work)? If either answer is no, then copying is more likely to happen.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide how they manage themselves, just like every enforced rule. Because assignments are given to learn the material, the student will likely see the consequences of their efforts on their next test grade or grade report. Whether or not copying is cheating is not as important as the question that should be asked to any student intends on learning: above all, are you choosing to cheat yourself?