Sask. universities experiencing more academic misconduct as online learning continues
REGINA -- Saskatchewan universities are reporting an increase in academic misconduct investigations, almost one year after both schools switched exclusively to online learning because of the pandemic.
Academic misconduct can include cheating, plagiarism, inappropriate collaboration with another student, impersonation and fraud.
In an emailed statement, the University of Regina said academic misconduct has not been a widespread problem historically, but since moving online, several faculties have identified an increase in academic misconduct investigations.
The statement also said many instructors have developed alternative evaluation methods to make cheating more difficult, including open book exams and final essays.
Joe Piwowar, the associate dean of the Faculty of Arts, said the increase in academic misconduct comes from students having access to more resources when taking tests and exams.
“We’re very concerned. I think one of the things that we want to make sure is that our degrees, certificates and diplomas have value,” he said. “We are vigorously following up on all the allegations we receive and tracking them down."
The process of looking into academic misconduct starts when an instructor suspects that a student in their class has cheated in any way. The instructor then reports it to the associate dean of their faculty, who will then conduct an interview with the student. Based on the evidence they collect from the instructor and the student, they make their decision.
Piwowar said the penalty for academic misconduct can range from a reduced grade on an evaluation, up to expulsion.
He said the type of academic misconduct they witness typically depends on faculty. In the Faculty of Arts, where most assignments are written, they see higher counts of plagiarism. But in faculties like engineering, cheating is more common.
“The university has really developed some guidelines and strategies to move to the online world,” he said. “The very basic thing to tell our instructors is that if you’re giving an assignment or a test or anything the students are going to work on, you need to assume it’s going to be open book.”
Charisma Thomson, an Anthropology lecturer at the University of Regina, said in her experience plagiarism often stems from a lack of knowledge.
“What is has been the last little bit is students not really being aware of what plagiarism is,” Thomson said. “A lot of cases of plagiarism tend to be accidental.”
Thomson said that can include working with another student when it’s not permitted or not sourcing their work properly. That’s why she starts every semester with an in-depth explanation about what academic misconduct is with her students.
She said essays are all run through software that detects plagiarism by comparing them to all other submitted papers and any online documents.
Thomson said now, many of her evaluations are in the form of multiple choice and true or false tests to lower the risk of plagiarism.
Thomson said she believes recreating the feeling of community that comes with in-person learning would curb the numbers of cheating.
“Just the casualness of discussion, because you can’t cheat with that, like when someone raises their hand and asks a question and I get to respond, or a fellow classmate gets to respond to that,” Thomson said. “There’s no need to cheat when you’re having good learning.”
UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN
The University of Saskatchewan has also seen an increase in academic misconduct investigations since moving online.
Although stats are not available for the current semester, during the Winter 2020 semester the school saw the amount of cases almost double.
During that period, there were 91 allegations made compared to 48 the year prior. 82 students were found guilty compared to 45 in the previous year.
Nancy Turner, the director of teaching and learning enhancement at the University of Saskatchewan, said although some colleges within the university have not seen any cases of academic misconduct in the past year, overall there has been an increase in the number of cases.
“I think that there’s a lot of different reasons for that,” Turner said.
She said those reason include a lack of clarity about new online learning rules for some students, students doubting their ability to do well on an assessment or the belief that other students are cheating leading them to cheat to level the playing field.
“We’ve seen probably all of those things influencing students to make those choices,” Turner said. “It’s very concerning for sure. We are wanting, always, to maintain the integrity of our academic programs.”
She said the school has been working hard since the switch to online learning to prevent academic misconduct, rather than just detect it.
“We can design assessments that make it less likely that students will cheat,” she said. “Things like rather than just recalling information, assessments are instead asking students to synthesize, to apply, to analyze information and we know that it’s something that’s less likely to be able to look up online.”
She said open book testing is more common. Many instructors are also creating questioning that apply more directly to their students. For example, using their specific birthday in a calculation.
“Those are the kinds of things we can do to make it less likely that a student will cheat on an exam,” Turner said. “A second component is really about that dialogue and that relationship between a faculty member and a student or group of students.”
As online learning continues over the next few months, Turner said the school is focusing on communicating with students about academic integrity. It’s also working with faculty to find the most effective ways to assess students online.
“That relationship and that connection and that mutual commitment to integrity is where we can have the most impact,” Turner said.