Georgia State students warn about cheating through GroupMe

Illustration by Ruqayyah Muslim | The Signal

Apps like GroupMe could help students keep in touch with their classmates outside of the classroom, reminding each other of upcoming assignments and what happened in class if they are absent from class. 

This semester, students relied on GroupMe more than ever due to most classes being online. The app’s increased use led to more cheating scandals and inappropriate messages circulating in an environment meant to be educational.

With the increased use of technology and apps like GroupMe, universities all over the country had to integrate cheating via GroupMe into their academic honesty policies. 

LaRonda Brewer, assistant dean of students, said reported cases of academic dishonesty spiked since the university’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Brewer broke down the numbers of reported cases for fiscal year 20, spanning from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, and the current fiscal year that began on July 1 and is still in progress.

According to Brewer, most of the reported cases trace back to students cheating while using LockDown Browser or plagiarism by turning in assignments and answers found on the internet.

“On the Atlanta campus for fiscal year 20, we had 292 cases. For the current fiscal year, we have had 268 cases through Nov. 5. This number indicates that work needs to be done to educate our community on academic integrity issues,” Brewer said.

Students use GroupMe to coordinate a small study group to meet in the library and collaborate on an assignment. Collaborative efforts on assignments are considered cheating, according to the Dean of Students. Sending or discussing the answers to an assignment in a class GroupMe is the virtual equivalent. 

“Some students started collaborating on assignments that were designed to be individual work, but may not [equate] these activities [to] physically coming together with other students to jointly write a paper,” Dr. Michael Sanseviro, Georgia State’s Dean of Students, said. “Whether in a virtual space or in-person, the rules for cheating and plagiarism are the same.”

Despite the intentions students may have when creating a GroupMe for a class, students must always be aware of what kind of information is in the chats. The definition of cheating in a GroupMe may be difficult for some students to follow. 

Students may think the only individual reported to the Dean is the student who sends the answers to assignments, but this is false. Everyone in a GroupMe can be penalized for academic dishonesty, even if they were not aware of its occurrence.

A student may not consider that as flat-out cheating, but it is considered “preponderance of evidence” by Georgia State’s Policy on Academic Honesty.

“Even if a student is not involved in cheating activities, simply having access to the information is a violation,” Sanseviro said. 

“If you are a part of a GroupMe and witness inappropriate activities, capture the evidence, report it and then leave the group.”

Ashley Scott, junior at Georgia State, became a victim of academic dishonesty after someone in her organic chemistry GroupMe sent answers to a quiz. 

She joined the chat at the beginning of the semester and said she kept the group’s notifications on mute. Scott wasn’t aware of the cheating until her professor gave everyone a zero for a quiz and sent out an email explaining the situation.

“I got an email from my professor saying, ‘There’s been suspected cheating and anyone suspected will get a zero and will be reported to the Dean of Students,’” Scott said. “I never saw what happened in [the] GroupMe. I can’t even tell you what material was in it. I never used it or opened it, and when I tried to go look at it, the whole group was already deleted.”

Now, Scott’s professor adds Georgia State’s academic honesty statement to every quiz and exam in iCollege. Her professor did this to remind students of the concrete details outlined in the academic honesty policy, so no student can attest they misunderstood the policy.

Students usually send GroupMe links to their entire class via iCollege email, and professors can access the sent messages. So, from the start of the class GroupMe, the professor is aware of its existence. 

Carlos Jasso, a sophomore at Georgia State, created a GroupMe for his critical thinking course to communicate and get to know his classmates. Jasso quickly learned that this might have been a mistake. 

He explained that people were openly discussing quiz and exam material in the class GroupMe early into the semester. He noticed his professor sent a message to the group expressing his disappointment and anger. As the creator of the group, Jasso described feeling terrified. 

He emailed his professor to explain his side of the story, and to his luck, his professor was understanding and stayed as a member of the group to caution further cheating.

“He ended up staying in it for the rest of the semester, which was sort of cool because he would answer all of our questions or just clear things up,” Jasso said.

Jackson Novel, a Georgia State alumnus, explained his run-in with his peers distributing sensitive information in his criminal justice class’ GroupMe. He said his professor was strict on cheating and that students must complete every assignment without notes or student collaboration.

“Early on, someone posted [answers], and someone commented ‘Guys, isn’t that cheating?’ and immediately got kicked [out],” Novel said. “That made it click that I should leave this group, like, right now.”

The professor found the GroupMe and posted to iCollege that he had everyone’s name in the group, and if those students did not confess, the professor would report everyone to the Dean. Novel said his professor took no further action about the matter.

The procedure to resolve a file of academic dishonesty against a student is a lengthy process full of appeals and committee meetings. More severe cases involve the student, faculty member, department chair, college dean, Dean of Students and provost and can result in suspension or expulsion. 

When joining a class GroupMe, students must check the chat to ensure no one is committing academic violations. Because one GroupMe chat can have hundreds of students, students are susceptible to being guilty by association.

“GroupMe cases can be very complex to know for sure who was involved in what specific violations when so many students have access, which is why the university tries to educate students about the standards of academic integrity and the potential consequences,” Sanseviro said.