Covid-19: A breeding ground for academic dishonesty

Author: Michele van Eck

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: BCom (Law), LLB, LLM, LLD, BTh, BTh (Hons), Associate Professor and Head of Department of Private Law, University of Johannesburg
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 34 Issue 1, 2023, p. 122 – 136


The initial response to the early stages of the lockdown precipitated by Covid-19 was for institutional legal education to shift to an online teaching and learning platform, which exposed many barriers to online teaching and learning within the socio-economic fabric of South Africa as well as the rise of academic dishonesty in online assessments. Three broad groups of academic dishonesty in assessments are highlighted. The first being test-cheating and collusion (referred to as “crowdsourcing”), in which two or more students work together to complete an assessment. The second takes the form of plagiarism which is advanced by the practice of “copying-and-pasting” in assessments. Finally, academic dishonesty can occur in the form of “contract cheating” where the assistance of third parties is solicited in completing an assessment. Although academic dishonesty is not something new, Covid-19 created the perfect breeding ground for academic misconduct in which not only the online teaching and learning environment was a situational temptation ready for exploitation but the pandemic itself impacted students’ day-to-day lives and academic success largely due to the socio-economic conditions in which students found themselves. The contribution considers potential responses to academic dishonesty and takes a moralist stance to addressing academic dishonesty by drawing on principles from Aristotelian value-based ethics. In doing so, it is found that a moralist stance is not necessarily out of step with the South African Qualification Authority’s learning outcomes for the Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) and that of the values and requirements for successful participation in the legal profession. In this, ethics is practiced and reinforced by past conduct, which is reflective of future conduct. Therefore, institutional legal education should respond decisively and effectively to academic dishonesty which may include applying traditional disciplinary actions but should be precipitated by a pervasive and integrative approach to ethics education within the curriculum, which includes general ethics (or value-based ethics), legal ethics (a sub-branch of general ethics and reflective of professional accountability) and finally also techno-ethics (which relates to the ethical conduct expected of students within an online environment). It is only by equipping students with the necessary competencies and ethical courage that they will have the moral fortitude to overcome the temptation of academic misconduct in one small individual victory at a time.