Olivia Meleta, a high school math teacher, is photographed near her Thornhill, Ont., home on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. From texting friends on the sly to downloading apps that spit out answers, educators say the pandemic-induced move to an online classroom has offered up a wealth of tech-driven workarounds to actually doing the work. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Olivia Meleta, a high school math teacher, is photographed near her Thornhill, Ont., home on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. From texting friends on the sly to downloading apps that spit out answers, educators say the pandemic-induced move to an online classroom has offered up a wealth of tech-driven workarounds to actually doing the work. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Cheating a ‘free-for-all’ at virtual high schools, Canadian teachers say

Stress from the pandemic has collided with the pressure to get good grades

It took less than a month for students attending virtual school to devise new ways to cheat.

From texting friends on the sly to downloading apps that spit out answers, educators say the pandemic-induced move to an online classroom has offered up a wealth of tech-driven workarounds to actually doing the work.

Olivia Meleta, a high school math teacher in Thornhill, Ont., said she realized something was amiss in late September when several students learning virtually submitted tests with matching solutions — using a method she and her colleagues don’t teach.

“It was a very convoluted way of doing things,” she said. “Their solution was about 20 steps … The process in class would have been around five or six.”

A colleague explained what was likely going on, she said. The students had apparently downloaded an app called Photomath, ostensibly meant to be a teaching tool.

The app — one of several — scans a photo of a math problem and offers a step-by-step guide on how to solve it.

Photomath, which was founded in Croatia in 2014, claims to have more than 150 million downloads globally, at least a million of them from teachers.

The company has created a “best practices” guide in collaboration with teachers to show how it can be incorporated into the classroom, a company spokeswoman said.

“The guide focuses on three core principles: reinforcing concepts learned in the classroom, providing a way to check homework assignments, and accelerating individual learning,” Jennifer Lui said.

Mathway, a similar app, also boasts about “millions of users and billions of problems solved.” Its purpose, it says, is to “make quality on-demand math assistance accessible to all students.”

And while experts say the software can be a legitimate teaching tool for students doing homework, teachers have had to find ways to safeguard tests against it.

Meleta, for instance, has downloaded Photomath and runs all of her test questions through it.

“If it solved it exactly as I would — in other words, if I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference — then I would not include that question,” she said.

She’s also come up with ways to prevent some of the more conventional cheating methods, which have gotten a high-tech twist in the era of Zoom school.

There’s the new take on an old classic: copying answers from friends, now sent over text message rather than passed via paper note.

To mitigate this, Meleta writes four or five versions of the same test so students realize that sharing answers takes more time than it’s worth.

The drawback, of course, is that it takes up more of her time.

“All my weekends, all my weekday evenings, were kind of eaten up,” she said.

And Meleta said her methods can only go so far. There are some factors — like getting real-time answers from a tutor or math savant sibling — that can’t be helped.

Anecdotally, she said, she’s seen an uptick in cheating since students started attending school remotely, though she noted it’s still a minority of students who partake.

“It’s much easier, of course, when you’re not being monitored,” she said. “Before, it was like, ‘OK, if I try to look off of someone else’s paper, my teacher is going to see me. And I know that is wrong.’”

Cheryl Costigan, who also teaches high school math in Thornhill, said her students are “cheating a lot more than they ever have in the past.”

“It’s just a free-for-all. Everybody’s cheating all the time,” she said.

“The very first test that we had, you could hear the cameras clicking,” she said. “So they then smartened up and turned off the clicking sound, but you could still tell that the tests were all a group effort.”

She, too, has noticed students using Photomath. But it’s not just that. She’s realized she can’t use questions from old math textbooks on tests, because the answers are just a Google search away.

Costigan said she feels for the students, who are facing an unprecedented amount of stress.

The changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are one aspect, she said, but the weight of parents’ expectations can be equally impactful.

“Their parents are putting stress that they want to get into university,” she said. “So they kind of feel like they’ve got to get that mark, and they really don’t care about the cheating anymore. It’s just become second nature.”

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusEducationSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Vernon’s BX Elementary School. (Kerry Hutter photo)
Second COVID case confirmed at Vernon elementary school

Exposure at BX Elementary happened April 6 and 7

Highway 97 being converted to four lanes in April 1990. This photo taken in Lake Country. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Photo #14025)
HISTORY: How the old Highway 97 in Lake Country got new name

Pelmewash Parkway recognizes the First Nations history in Lake Country

Salmon Arm Silverbacks defenceman Kieran Ruscheinski (right) sticks close to Vernon Vipers forward Logan Lorenz during Salmon Arm’s 2-1 overtime win in B.C. Hockey League pod play Saturday, April 10, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers Photography)
Mack attack paces Salmon Arm Silverbacks past Vernon

Sullivan Mack scores both goals, including beautiful OT winner, in Gorillas’ 2-1 BCHL pod play win over Snakes

Paddlewheel Park off Okanagan Landing Road, Vernon. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon council looks to address parking shortage at Paddlewheel Park

City staff are looking into short, medium and long-term overflow parking options

(GVMA)
WATCH: A Royal procession through Vernon, 1959

Prince Philip, who died April 9 at 99, visited Vernon on a tour of Canada in 1959

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

These nails were collected off the Campbell Mountain bike trails in Penticton this weekend. Someone placed them all over the trail. (Facebook)
Hundreds of nails placed on popular Penticton bike trail

A mountain biker took to Facebook to warn others about the nails

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Flight with COVID
Another Kelowna flight with COVID-19 exposure

Westjet flight on April 5 from Kelowna to Edmonton

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

Most Read