Student cheating concerns as assessments move online

Fears have been raised about the potential for online cheating at New Zealand universities,...
Fears have been raised about the potential for online cheating at New Zealand universities, including Otago. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
A student who plagiarised in an essay apologising for previous wrongdoing was among more than 80 reprimanded for academic misconduct at the University of Otago last year.

The level of academic misconduct, generally relating to cheating or plagiarism, has held steady at the university over the past two years, reports show.

There were 85 instances in 2019 and 84 in 2020.

Concerns are being raised about the potential for increased cheating as universities around the country move assessments online due to Covid-19 alert level changes.

Among the misconduct reported last year were multiple cases of plagiarism, not referencing sources properly, using notes or cellphones during exams and collaborating with other students on their work.

One student was found to have hired a research assistant to help them develop and write their thesis proposal.

Another unintentionally plagiarised in an essay they were required to submit as a result of previously getting in trouble for academic misconduct. They were required to attend a session on "basic competency in referencing the work of others".

And a group of seven students were found to have copied answers from a Facebook group.

Generally, the punishment for misconduct was a session with Student Learning Development to discuss academic integrity.

Other punishments included a reduction in marks for assessments, and having to write a "reflective essay".

Some assessments moved online last year as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns, and the same will happen again for semester 2 exams this year.

Five of eight New Zealand universities showed increases in cheating last year.

The University of Canterbury had a 258% increase in academic misconduct in 2020 compared with 2019. Lincoln University had a 104% increase, Waikato University had a 61% increase, Victoria University had a 21% increase and Massey had a 10% increase.

A Massey University employee who did not wish to be named told RNZ since lockdown last year his students had been cheating using an online file-sharing service.

"You pay a monthly fee. You actually submit the specific question that you want the answer to and then the contractor in India writes the answer for you immediately, like within 15 minutes of the question, and the answer is being posted publicly for all the other members of the website to see — so not just a student who posted the question, any other student in the class who looks for it."

Otago deputy vice-chancellor (acting) academic Prof Pat Cragg said online assessments and online exams had been carefully written for semester 2, 2021 to limit the opportunity for academic misconduct.

"For some papers where there are accreditation requirements or they are used for competitive entry into 200-level programmes, remote invigilation will be used, as it was in semester 1, 2020.

"All other papers comprising short answers or essays will be submitted via Turnitin for plagiarism and collaboration detection — students were advised of this on September 14."

Students had also been provided with a statement outlining the importance of academic integrity and a copy of the academic integrity notice that would be displayed at the start of every online assessment or exam.

 — Additional reporting RNZ

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