Faculty saw more cheating on recent remote finals


Some faculty members have seen more cheating on recent remote final exams than on their in-person exams from years past, but representatives of the University Center for Teaching and Learning say the cause is in the culture.

At the latest University Senate Faculty Affairs Committee meeting on Jan. 12, member Thomas Songer, of the Graduate School of Public Health epidemiology faculty, said he found a pair of students cheating on a final exam — they were sharing Zoom screens. The situation became obvious, he said, by the similarity of their answers — especially the wrong ones.

Member Patrick Loughlin, of the Swanson School of Engineering, said he had “two (students) that were clearly cheating and five that were strongly suspected of cheating,” which added up to twice the number he has experienced in his 27 years here, he said.

Using the same wrong answers gave these students away as well.

“I don’t think there’s much hope of doing much about it under this format” of remote testing, he said.

How about staggering exam times among smaller groups of students, suggested committee co-chair Lorraine Denman, faculty member in Italian and Hispanic Languages and Literatures.

“You can do that,” Loughlin said. “Then the first group will feed the answers to the second group.” Normally, he said, in-person, closed-book testing, with students physically separated in a classroom, prevents cheating in his classes. Lax policies are partly to blame for cheating today, he added: “If the consequences for cheating are close to zero, you’re not going to change the culture.

“I don’t think it’s an issue … that they don’t understand what cheating is,” he said.

“I’ve heard various colleagues in many academic units say they’ve had problems with academic integrity” over the past semester, including students using inappropriate academic tools during tests, Denman said.

“Changing the culture is really the only solution,” Loughlin said.

Cynthia Golden, head of the teaching center, agreed: “Unfortunately cheating happens … when you look at the prevalence of cheating, there isn’t any hard evidence that it is greater online than it is in person.” The solution to cheating is to educate students about academic integrity “and do some things to change the culture.”

Michael Bridges, director of the center’s Teaching Commons, suggested that faculty could discourage cheating by using more frequent, lower-stakes exams instead of a single high-stakes final; asking students to complete one question before moving on to the next; and employing test questions that require students to use their own personal experiences to formulate answers.

Remote proctoring solutions have “all kinds of issues,” he added. (See UTimes article from Nov. 5: “Final exams may take on a new look this semester.”)

“This is a large issue not just for our institution but across the country,” added Songer — and not just for instructors but for University leadership as well.

Lu-in Wang, School of Law professor and vice provost for faculty affairs, noted that the legal profession had a potentially useful model for encouraging academic integrity: certification of students’ character and fitness is required from the school before graduates can be admitted to the bar and practice law.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


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