The University of British Columbia has launched an investigation after more than 100 entry-level math students were accused of cheating on their midterm exam several days ago.
The investigation became public after an ominous note from the students’ professor was posted online late Monday. It was also circulated to students directly.
“I am extremely disappointed to tell you that there were over 100 cases of cheating,” said the note, a screenshot of which was posted to the UBC Reddit thread.
“If confirmed, the students involved will receive a 0% for the course (not just the midterm) and I will recommend their expulsion from UBC.”
The note is signed “Mike.” The CBC has not been able to verify the UBC professor’s identity. However, the university has said it’s investigating allegations of widespread cheating in one section of the math department involving entry-level math students.
There are more than 1,500 students currently enrolled in Math 100 at UBC, split up into classes of about 250. The class is being held entirely online this semester, due to the pandemic. Midterms are run online as well.
Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs, confirmed the university is investigating allegations of widespread cheating. He said it is too early to be able to provide details on how the students might have been cheating or how they were caught.
“Those details, I’m sure, will come clear in the investigative process,” he said by phone on Tuesday.
Ramsay said the professor’s note was first sent to students, then posted online.
Test monitoring tools
Many schools across the country, including UBC, have been using online software extensions to help detect and discourage cheating since classes went virtual. One test-proctoring tool, called Proctorio, monitors students for suspicious behaviour while they’re writing a virtual exam.
UBC faculty can offer an alternative, like a final project, to replace exams if they are overly concerned about cheating, but exams can’t always be replaced.
“In some instances, it is necessary to use … software like Proctorio to ensure academic integrity,” Ramsey said.
“Incidents of academic misconduct themselves are very uncommon, very rare at the university,” added Ramsey, who has been with the school since 2014. “I have not seen allegations of this nature in my time at UBC but, again, they are, at this point, allegations.”
Investigations into academic misconduct begin with a professor reporting their concerns to the dean’s office. That office can either dismiss complaints, give students a warning or pass the case along to the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Discipline for potential punishment.
Penalties can range from a formal warning to being expelled from the university.
Since investigations are complex and take time, Ramsey said, it’s too soon to gauge whether there has been an overall increase in cheating since classes and exams began moving fully online in the spring.
“If the students are disciplined, we will get a sense as to those numbers in the coming months. At this point, it’s just too early to say,” he said.