May 23, 2021

Mercedes Schneider: Dartmouth Blindsides Med Students with Shaky Cheating *Evidence*

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Once again, nifty surveillance software used to “catch” student “cheating” turns out to be a bunch of baloney. Mercedes Schneider has the story. Reposted with permission

One of my concerns in teaching senior English is that students will cheat on major assignments.

The increasing usage of online technology in my classroom has done little to quell this concern. In my case, I had reason to suspect that an adult completed an online test for one of my students, who then possibly shared those results with friends who also scored suspicious-fabulously. As much as I was miffed, I did not have evidence solid enough to pursue any serious course of action against any individual student. Therefore, I threw out the test and required my students from then on to complete major online assignments during class time, and in class, whenever possible. (Those in quarantine had to log in during class time or during a preset window to complete the assignment, often using Google Meet so that I might monitor the situation.)

The prospect of students cheating on remote assignments bugs me. Even so, I remain skittish about purported online monitoring tools for detecting cheating. To try to track a student’s eye movements, or even to say that cheating happened if a student seemed to be logged into another device while completing as assignment on one device lacks the certainty needed to have a solid case for such accusation.

Along these lines, the May 09, 2021, New York Times reports on an interesting-sad situation has transpired at Datmouth’s medical school: It seems that administration decided to use course software to try to track students’ online activity during exams– and that without students’ knowledge.

Note that the course software, Canvas, is not designed to monitor cheating or detect cheating activity. So, if a medical student were completing an exam without having logged out of the Canvas software, Canvas could have inadvertently registered that the student was using Canvas during the exam.

In retrospect, Dartmouth administration told students that they needed to log off of Canvas prior to completing exams– after levying numerous accusations of cheating at students, and creating a hostile atmosphere, and even admitting that yes, in some cases, Canvas appeared to be registering user activity that was not actually happening.

Canvas is not an academic-honesty surveillance tool; thus, it should come as no surprise that the company offered no comment in response to Dartmouth admin’s usage of its product in such a manner.

Kind of reminds me of how no standardized testing company offers a guarantee that its student tests are able to measure teachers and schools. In education, those in charge seem too quick to misuse education products in the name of accountability, all the while escaping it themselves for their misuse.

In misusing Canvas software to track medical students during remote exams, Dartmouth has sowed terrible fear and doubt among its students. From the Times:

Several students said they were now so afraid of being unfairly targeted in a data-mining dragnet that they had pushed the medical school to offer in-person exams with human proctors. Others said they had advised prospective medical students against coming to Dartmouth.

Exam integrity is important. So is having a publicized process in place prior to leveling accusations.

Set clear policy regarding logging out of Canvas prior to completing any remote exam then apply consequences to students who do not comply.

Or, provide some arrangement for now-traumatized students to complete exams on site, in front of people who are also present and not surreptitously playing Big Brother.

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