Auckland University launches investigation into claim of 'widespread, organised cheating' during online exams

Auckland University launches investigation into claim of 'widespread, organised cheating' during online exams

Auckland University launches investigation into claim of 'widespread, organised cheating' during online exams,harbouchanews

The University of Auckland has launched an investigation into an allegation of "widespread and organised cheating" during its end-of-semester online exams, Newshub can reveal.

The probe comes after a student told Newshub they estimate more than half of those in their programme were sharing answers and pooling knowledge with others during their exams on online chatrooms.

The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, says it's "unacceptable" examiners are operating an unsupervised, trust-based online system that undermines the efforts of students trying to compete honestly for places in future courses.

A university spokesperson said while it wasn't aware of cheating having taken place in the exams, it would be investigating and tutors had been told to be "extra vigilant regarding academic misconduct".

They also vowed to look into ways to ensure the integrity of its exam processes is maintained.

'It's their job to conduct exams in a fair manner'

Earlier this year, the University of Auckland announced all exams in 2021 would be "online [and]  non-invigilated", in an effort to provide certainty to students and staff that exams would not be affected by potential COVID-19 alert level shifts. 

The student understands the rationale behind this decision, but says it's allowed the exam process to be exploited through dishonesty and cheating.

"It's just really unfair for those of us trying to compete fairly," they said.

"Some students are competing for a fixed quota of spaces [in another course]. These guys could compete fairly and get 95 percent, but they're competing against students that haven't studied and are getting 100 percent by cheating...

"It's their job to conduct exams in a fair manner. We're paying for the study and going along and working hard, and when they don't do the job, you kind of feel like, 'well, what are we paying for?'"

The exams are all conducted on a platform called Inspera, which unlike other online assessment software, does not have surveillance programmed in.

The only attempt to prevent cheating comes in the form of a declaration students have to agree to at the beginning of the exam, confirming they will not "seek out any unauthorised help" nor "discuss or share the content of the assessment with anyone else".

But the student told Newshub seeking out unauthorised help and sharing the content of the assessment with others is exactly what's happening - and in huge numbers.

They say much of the alleged cheating takes place on social media platform Discord, a chatroom-style app that allows users to create private channels where they share messages, audio and whatever's on their screen, making it easy to copy from one another.

"Some people have their mics on and some have theirs muted, just like a massive Zoom call," they explained.

"The only difference between Discord and Zoom is that it's a private server which doesn't keep any records and you can do multiple screen shares - so everyone can be sharing the screen at the same time, and you click on that profile for that screen to get bigger."

The student says while they hadn't been into a Discord server during an exam, they'd taken a peek in one just an hour before their exam started last week - and were shocked to discover just how many people on their course were already online.

"I joined the channel and found 38 other students all on a group call, waiting for the Inspera exam to open so that they could share answers and pool knowledge to complete the exam together.

"There was a similar group of students sharing knowledge for our exam last week, and there is another plan in place for our exam tomorrow."

And it's not just on Discord - the student says they know of others who are going to each other's houses to sit the exams and problem-solve together, and others who call one another when they come to a tricky question.

"In the middle of the exam last week, another student sent a copy of his answers to a Facebook group chat that I am in, just in case any of us were struggling and wanted to copy."

Auckland University to investigate

The University of Auckland says it was first made aware of allegations of cheating when a student contacted a staff member with concerns during a recent online exam.

A spokesperson said tutors had been warned to be "extra vigilant regarding academic misconduct" in light of the allegations.

"The university has mechanisms to detect cheating and will follow up and penalise where there is evidence of breaches," they said.

"While we are not aware of cheating having taken place in these online exams, we will be investigating the allegation."

The university students are fully aware of their responsibilities around academic integrity and regularly advised of the consequences of breaching these throughout their courses, as well as on their exam papers.

It says it will be looking into ways to ensure that "the highest standards of academic integrity are maintained" and the "small number of students failing to uphold these do not adversely impact on others".

For the student, a change to ensure fairness for everyone is all they want.

"I don't want [the university] to be drawn through the mud, I just want them to be held accountable," they told Newshub.

"These final exams are worth up to 50 percent of our final grade for these papers. The cheating is prolific - more than half of the students in my papers are cheating in some form. I believe it's unacceptable...

"We're really hopeful that the examinations office will change the process for next semester and next year… that they won't do this again, or that they'll follow suit with other countries where they're recording them on Zoom or with an audio and video [feed]."


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