I set the timer and focus on my new goal: to grade a paper in twenty minutes. Everything starts smoothly; checkmark after checkmark, praise after praise. A quick glance at the rest of the paper reveals more of the same error-free, polished style. Hmm. I pull up the student’s writing diagnostic, previous assignments, and emails. All are riddled with errors and awkward phrasing. The plagiarism report, though, comes up clean.
Now what? Do I press on and gamely mark the rest of the paper, knowing in my gut that the student hasn’t written it? Or do I double-down and find proof of academic dishonesty? The first option is certainly the easiest. I can whiz through, click the top boxes on the rubric and move on to the next essay. No fuss, no muss. Nevertheless, it feels disingenuous. I am not doing the student any favours by playing along. And it seems a disservice to the others who have worked hard on their papers, so I go with plan B.
First, I check the file properties to confirm that the author is indeed the student. I then copy and paste phrases from her work into Google. This doesn’t yield anything, but when I plug the passages into an AI detector they flash red, signaling a high probability of AI content. Like a gumshoe detective, I start a folder for the “case” and fill it with screenshots and notes. Next, I email the student to set up a meeting. Total time on my first paper: one hour and ten minutes with twenty-two more yet to grade. Gulp.
I carry on with the rest of the essays and curtail the suggestions, underlines, and highlights, but I still don’t make my lofty “20-minute-per-paper” target. Thirty-five to forty minutes seems to be the average until I come across another gold-star piece of writing worthy of a graduate student. Then another and another. What is going on? A couple of days later, when I finally finish the grading, I feel like a train wreck. The back and forth with the students is exhausting. I don’t want to accuse them without hard proof. AI detection software is still new and not always reliable. Also, where do I draw the line? Are Grammarly and QuillBot okay for certain assessments or should they not be used at all? To add to the AI frustration, there are countless paper mills or “contract cheating” services in Canada. In a recent Globe and Mail article, Joe Friesen writes, “Allegations of academic misconduct – meaning unauthorized help, cheating, plagiarism and other acts of dishonesty or misrepresentation – have risen sharply at many schools.”
One by one, I meet with my students on TEAMS. Psychologically, I can’t add these hours to my grading total because it would make me insane. I show them my evidence, whether it be the red-hot results from an AI detector or an unrecognizable author’s name. Or, the most reliable, a side-by-side screen view of their original writing against their newly-minted work. Usually, they fess up quickly with a host of excuses and apologies. And most of the time, I give them a second chance.
Curious about what is driving the increase in academic dishonesty, I chat informally with the class (which is in person) about their motivations. A common theme quickly emerges among international students. The high fees and increasing cost-of-living expenses force them to get a job, which takes away time from their studies. In addition, many struggle with low confidence in their English abilities and a fear of failing the course. Add to this the homesickness and pressures from home, and the terrain is ripe for cheating.
What is the answer? My mind scrambles over the possibilities. Could we develop an ungraded, merit-based system, perhaps? One where students, individually and in groups, progress through a series of learning activities earning a point for each unit that they fully complete in class? In elementary school, we had a program where we chose books from designated boxes that matched our reading level, and once we met the target we graduated to the next box and so on. I remember the drive I had to reach that next box and the feeling of pride when I got there. Sure, there are problems with this scenario, such as the frustration of those who remain in one box while their peers move to the next. Nevertheless, we teachers would be there to provide feedback, motivation, and support. We’d also have more time and energy to devote to the students, having freed ourselves of hours of marking.
All I know is that I do not want to be a zealous, “I caught you red-handed” type of teacher. I want to spend less time pouring over essays and hunting for cheaters and more time generating creative lessons. I want to, well, do what I am good at and what I am trained to do.