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Sask. nursing students say they were wrongfully accused of cheating


Several students who were involved in the latest round of investigations by the University of Regina (U of R) are criticizing the school’s use of virtual exam proctoring and its academic misconduct policies.

Tyvan Yee is a second year student in the Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science Nursing Program (SCBScN) at the U of R.

He was among 50 students in the faculty who were investigated for alleged cheating following final exams in December. All the tests were conducted virtually, using the online exam monitoring software ProctorTrack.

“We were alerted that our final grade is being investigated and we were taken out of classes and we were told not to contact anyone about the investigation, including our instructors and the deans,” Yee told CTV News.

Yee says he was issued a grade of “NR” for his pharmacology course and pulled out of several of his classes a week before the start of the 2024 winter semester.

“I obviously freaked out,” he said. “I knew I didn't do anything.”

The cheating allegations stem from students’ behaviour during exams being flagged by the online monitoring tools.

Whether it be a glance off screen, light changing on a student’s face or the sound of mouse clicks not matching up with the recorded video.

Yee was eventually able to meet with the faculty and his misconduct allegation was eventually dropped.

“So I have gone back to full time studies, but that is not the case for pretty much the majority of the other nursing students.”

CTV News spoke with two other students affected by the investigations. Both were cleared of any wrongdoing.

However, they allege that the university’s actions have affected both their finances and mental health.

One student said their student loans were affected by the ordeal – while another explained that the lack of support from the faculty made the already stressful situation much worse.

“I'm a part time student now because of this. I haven't been able to focus on [my classes] at all. I have had to go to therapy. I've had to go to counselling because of this. Just being wrongfully accused of something has put me through a hell that I've never been put through before,” said one of the students, who wished to remain anonymous.

“The guilty before proven innocent thing doesn't seem right to me,” Yee said. “The student handbook actually says that students can stay in classes until an investigation is complete. That was not done. We were told that this is just their process and they're working with what they have.”

Tyvan Yee was one of 50 students in the U of R's nursing faculty who were accused of academic misconduct. He was cleared of any wrongdoing. (Allison Bamford/CTV News)

The decision to remove students from upcoming classes was focused on patient safety, according to the university.

“We did pull students out of a couple of courses. Those were courses that had clinical learning components. So the students would be providing care, dispensing medications, doing patient teaching to their clients and their family members,” Faculty of Nursing Dean Cheryl Pollard explained.

“The choice that I had was either to allow the students to move through or to think about patient safety because they had not demonstrated their ability to provide safe patient care,” she added.

Pollard says the faculty has hired more personnel to speed up the review process – as the three hour long exams are watched at least three times by different faculty members.

'Tools that do not serve them'

Yee and other students have called the practice of virtual exam monitoring a “flawed system.”

Dr. Bonnie Stewart says there many concerns around the practice of “pervasive surveillance” which includes the proctoring of exams.

Stewart works as an associate professor of online pedagogy and workplace learning at the University of Windsor.

“You essentially have your laptop colonized by a tool that you didn't choose, and then your home space visually invaded so that people can ensure that you are not cheating,” she explained. “But maybe you have a pet in your space or a child in your space or you don't happen to have the privilege of living on your own.”

“It is pretty normal and human for your eyes to dart away from the screen. Even if you're legitimately thinking about something. Some proctoring tools still flag those kinds of behaviors,” she added.

“Those are not issues that students should have to contend with.”

While Stewart sympathises with institutions who must use exam proctoring technology to serve students at a distance – she stressed the fact that the technology does not benefit the quality of education.

“We have this post pandemic legacy of institutions often invested a lot of money in basic extractive surveillance tools and when you have a tool, you're going to use it,” she said.

“Rather than investing tons and tons of money in vendors who will sell right answer technology – invest that money in smaller class sizes, in better pay, in using online for the things that it is good at, not the things that it serves as a reducing force.”

As for the plight of Yee and other students who oppose the use of online proctoring – It’s a resistance that Stewart encourages.

“I do think students concerns about proctoring are absolutely justified. They are engaged optimally in a learning process. Proctoring does not support their learning,” she said.

“I think that where possible, students should absolutely be pushing back against having their educational learning experience outsourced to tools that do not serve them.”

'Fixes both issues'

Yee and other students maintain that simply allowing students to take their exams in person would help alleviate stress and prevent innocent students from being unnecessarily punished.

“It fixes both issues,” he said. “The people who do cheat, can’t cheat on an in-person exam and the people who don’t, don’t have to stress about being accused without plausible cause.”

While the practice of virtually proctored exams allows students to be tested across the province – Pollard said the shift back to in-person exams is coming.

“As we increase the individuation with the virtual exams, I think that will help with the move to more in-person exams,” she said. “But there's still academic integrity issues with in-person exams. It's not all or nothing.”

According to the U of R, over half of the 50 investigations have led to findings of academic misconduct. Several investigations remain underway.

Students who have to retake any prerequisite courses can complete their clinical placement in the spring or summer.

In December of 2023, 1,200 students in the SCBScN program wrote a combined 4,800 exams.

The 50 cases represent just over 1 per cent of exams taken. Top Stories

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