Disclaimer: The Phoenix News does not endorse cheating or academic misconduct.
Around 100 students were caught cheating on a midterm in an introductory MATH 100 class at UBC Vancouver. A screenshot of the email a professor sent to his students has since been circulated on reddit and reads the following:
“I am extremely disappointed to tell you that there were over 100 cases of cheating. We are currently investigating these and, if confirmed, the students involved will receive a 0% for the course (not just the midterm) and I will recommend their expulsion from UBC.”
This class, like many others, was held online as was the midterm. While it is still early in the investigation and the details of the academic misconduct have not been made public, I still have mixed feelings about these allegations.
On the one hand, I am sort of glad that these cheaters were caught. There are many students who abide by the rules and actively follow the exam guidelines set out. They study hard, write the exam, and lo and behold, they do not do as well as students who cheat their way through. Not only is this discouraging to the students who study (I am this student), but it also makes you second guess your hard work since it does not reach the level of those who cheated and did well. Sure you end up learning more, but in a university setting where grades are really important for many students, these acts of academic misconduct are really demoralizing.
Santa J. Ono, president of UBC, put this issue into perspective really well by saying, “Not only is [academic misconduct] dishonest, it's harmful. It harms your professor because you have betrayed their trust in you. It harms your classmates who follow the rules. It harms your family who trusted in you. But most of all, it harms you.”
While I feel mine and Ono’s thoughts on this matter are justified, I still think the students who cheated are not entirely to blame for their actions in this situation. While I do not know the protocols for this MATH 100 course, transitioning to online classes has caused a lot of uncertainty about what constitutes cheating and what does not. To provide an example, there is a class here at UBCO where students were likewise threatened with punishment for unknowingly commiting academic misconduct. Upon speaking to a student about this, they expressed their frustration that the professor only specified that it was an open book exam. This lower-level undergraduate student stated that they sympathize with the Vancouver students because they were not told what is considered appropriate in an online open book exam.
Being a fourth year student myself, I am very familiar with the regulations of exams and open book exams. However, this got me thinking, would students in an introductory class, probably made up of individuals who have never attended a university lecture before, be familiar with university regulations? In this case, an open book exam can easily be mistaken by new students with being able to google answers online. If so, an unintended mistake would be met with a strict penalty. An experienced student, both in terms of years and in-person classes, knows what is expected of them. The same cannot be said about first years who lack this prior experience and have not been told by their professors what is expected of them in a course.
In such a case, students should not be met with strict punishment. Of course it is the responsibility of the student to abide by the rules, but since classes are online, professors should also be reiterating how an exam will be conducted and explain to students what they can and cannot do. Specifically, students should be told what materials and devices they should have with them -- which examiners are supposed to do anyways. I think we can agree that the devices that we were not allowed in the past, such as laptops, do not count for online classes. So, what does count?
It is important to remember that new and returning students are unfamiliar with this online transition. So many aspects of our learning process have changed, therefore it should be fundamental for professors to explain what they expect from students during exams if they want students to behave with integrity.
Am I saying that the students who cheated on their midterm should be let off? I do not know, I do not know the protocols they were forced to follow. However, the university should take into consideration that online classes provide a very confusing environment for students, especially in regards to exams. First years in particular are not only adjusting to the world of academic misconduct, but also to university in general. Their experiences (or lack thereof) should be taken into account before labelling their actions as intentional academic misconduct.