By Siobhan Becker
“Yo, what’s the clavicle?” a post to an anonymous social media platform, Yik Yak, read on Nov. 6.
“The collarbone,” a reply read.
Anonymous social media platforms like Yik Yak and Whisper were originally used to make sarcastic and lighthearted comments as well as to promote campus events on over 200 college and university campuses to other users in a 1.5-mile radius. Now, they are changing the way students interact with each other and how they approach their coursework. All Yik Yak requires of its users is to enter their phone numbers, with no other registration required.
Students have been using Yik Yak to share answers in large lecture halls, especially in classes that utilize clickers to gauge attendance and whether students have done required reading.
Matthew Schmidt, a biology professor, said that he finds the content on Yik Yak to be baseless and certainly does not appreciate the way the app facilitates cheating.
“I’m not afraid of it,” Schmidt said. “I think it’s just that it could potentiate cheating.”
Edgar Samudio, a sophomore computer science major and a TA for an introduction to computer science class, said that he notices increased activity on Yik Yak before exams. Many users, he added, were posting questions pertaining to the exam’s content.
Samudio said that he catches about eight students cheating during each exam he proctors. However, none of the students he reported were caught with their phones.
Jana Gjini, a freshman majoring in biochemistry, said she sees value in the alternative social media platform, largely because it is entertaining.
“You can say whatever you want without people judging you,” Gjini said.
Karen Sobel-Lojeski, a professor in the Department of Technology and Society, said that anonymous social media apps like Yik Yak bear serious social consequences.
“The problem is that when people have anonymity and the ability to say or do anything that they want, sometimes they can just use it for bad purposes,” Sobel-Lojeski said.
Yik Yak was recently disabled on many middle school and high school campuses after accounts of high profile cases involving serious threats to the safety of students and faculty made headlines.
Earlier this month, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. made a campus-wide email urging students to use employ good judgement when using anonymous social media apps. He did not mention Yik Yak specifically or suggest that students were using anonymous social media to cheat.
Many students on campus said they were unaware that their some of their peers were using Yik Yak to cheat on quizzes and exams. They did, however, describe other methods of cheating they have witnessed during exams.
Kelly Lavan, a sophomore majoring in health science, said that while she was aware of the fact that many people cheat, she only witnessed it herself this semester.
“A few weeks ago on a lab exam [that was taken] on the computer, a kid in my class was literally pulling up new tabs and looking up all the answers,” Lavan said. “I’m pretty sure the kid didn’t even get caught.”
Cheating is perhaps the most pronounced in large lecture halls where professors are easily accessible online over email. Online communication may be a convenient solution for busy professors and students, but it also puts up a barrier that allows students to rationalize cheating.
“Sometimes you may see a professor once or twice and they’re just a person talking in the front,” Samudio said. “When you’re in small settings it’s more personal with a professor.”
Sobel-Lojeski said her small class size allows her to give essay tests that discourage many students from cheating. She also requires students to submit their work through Safe Assign, a program that detects plagiarism. Sobel-Lojeski said that professors could try to combat the cheating on Yik Yak by putting the newsfeed on the projector while students are taking exams.
Frank Fazio, a junior psychology and pre-nursing student with a minor in health and wellness, said that he doesn’t think projecting the Yik Yak feed in the exam room will reduce the amount of cheating significantly, but he does think it may discourage some students.
“If the students were using the app with the intent of cheating, then I’m sure they would be much more concerned or even afraid that they would get caught,” Fazio said.
Professor Ben Tausig, who teaches a course on rock music, said that professors should not be obligated to download Yik Yak to observe conversations before and during an exam.
“Our full time job is not to pay attention to what apps exist and what kind of technological cheating mechanisms there are,” Tausig said. “If students are going to do that then they cheat themselves.”