As exams get underway on virtual campuses across the province, instructors are implementing new measures to deter cheating on finals that would typically put students under intense in-person supervision and scrutiny.

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As exams get underway on virtual campuses across the province, instructors are implementing new measures to deter cheating on finals that would typically put students under intense in-person supervision and scrutiny.

Honesty declarations, timed multiple choice questions and appeals for good faith are being used to promote academic integrity in e-learning exams at both the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg.

Instructors are wrestling with ways to prevent cheating since the COVID-19 pandemic response escalated so quickly there has been little time for the U of M to organize external proctoring services, said Janet Morrill, president of the university’s faculty association.

"There are more opportunities (to cheat) and fewer controls," Morrill said, adding that academic integrity is also being challenged because the pivot online means professors aren’t necessarily able to use assessments they feel are the most appropriate for their courses.

By Tuesday afternoon, biology student Jess MacPherson had already completed three online exams, as well as pre-exam quizzes that require students to review academic rules.

"It’s a privilege for us to still be able to carry on education during this time. I’m just glad I can finish my semester, so why take advantage of an opportunity to learn?" said MacPherson, who heads the U of M Biology Undergraduate Students’ Association.

Students who are found to have cheated on a test — for the first time — face penalties ranging from receiving a mark of zero to a 12-month suspension from taking courses in the faculty in which they cheated. Students can be expelled for repeated and severe misconduct.

Last year, MacPherson saw the impact of penalties first-hand when she was on a disciplinary committee tasked to review a student’s misconduct. The accused was suspended from all science courses for a year.

If academic penalties aren’t enough to dissuade such activity, MacPherson said she thinks the most effective method to promote integrity is timed tests.

Meanwhile, U of M Students’ Union president Jakob Sanderson said that if there have been any controversies surrounding the new practices, it’s that some students want time to browse all exam questions rather than being forced to answer each timed question before moving onto the next.

"The vast majority of students aren’t going to be going into their exam and looking at ways to cheat," Sanderson said. "A lot of folks have a lot of test anxiety and having to do an exam is already quite stressful."

Mark Torchia, vice-provost of teaching and learning, said there has been a move to encourage U of M instructors to lessen the weight of finals so students can show their progressive learning throughout a semester and are dissuaded to breach academic codes of conduct due to stress.

"Academic integrity doesn’t just fall on the student; it falls on the instructor to provide the best ways to learn," Torchia said.

U of M has a proactive educational approach on academic integrity, he said — but at the same time, breaches can result in "life-changing" consequences.

A total of 706 academic discipline incidents involving 644 students were reported at the Winnipeg university during the 2018-19 academic year. Last year, approximately two per cent of the student population was involved in academic misconduct of some sort.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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