UWI probes exam cheating

There have been reports of exam cheating on the rise at the University of the West Indies and campus officials say the worrying trend cropped up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

St Augustine Campus principal Professor Brian Copeland told Guardian Media yesterday that while exam cheating is not new, the problem worsened last year with students writing online exams.

According to a report in the Jamaica Gleaner yesterday, the increase in examination irregularities forced the UWI administration to stop online exams and have students at the Mona Campus return to physical sites.

At the St Augustine Campus, Copeland said staff had noticed a change in students’ performances and immediately launched a probe.

“We actually did a close check on results after the first exam after the second semester in 2020, which is around maybe last year and we saw that a couple of the faculties had a change in the performance levels, in particular, a higher pass rate in certain courses and so on,” he told Guardian Media during an interview yesterday.

However, he noted that determining whether students were, in fact, cheating, was a challenge on its own.

“You can’t automatically assume that because you’re teaching online. It’s a different modality and if you mask it, well then you can actually teach a lot better than you do face to face and I asked this question—how do you know if it’s cheating versus good teaching,” he said.

In assessing papers, Copeland explained that lecturers were able to pick up instances where students had been collaborating with each other, while others had been using learning materials.

The trend, he added, was noticed in certain professional fields such as medicine and engineering.

“We are looking to get permission from the Minister to do some exams face to face and what we have done is identify those courses which had attracted that level of teaching, especially in those professional fields in medicine,” Copeland revealed.

He could not confirm how extensive the list requesting a return to in-person exams was, noting that the campus offers up to 1,000 courses.

He also noted that the campus had explored software to monitor online exams but there were some concerns.

“We tested it extensively last year, primarily at the open campus and the problem has to do with the device taking over the person’s computer, so there are concerns on that part of it in terms of privacy,” Copeland explained.

The report in the Jamaica Gleaner referenced a document titled, ‘Situational Analysis for Staging of Face-to-face Final Examinations for Semester One 2021-2022.

The document allegedly pointed to five irregularities in the first semester of the 2018-2019 academic year, while four were reported in the second semester.

It also highlighted 14 cases that were recorded in the first semester of the 2019-2020 year, with 81 being recorded as online exams.

As for the last academic year, the document revealed that there were 98 cases detected in both the December and May exams.

“It has also been brought to our attention that cheating in tertiary exams is becoming an organised and lucrative industry, with students paying third parties to complete assessments on their behalf,” the document also mentioned.

Copeland, however, could not confirm how many reports of cheating were investigated at the St Augustine Campus.

Meanwhile, president of the UWI St Augustine Guild, Kobe Sandy, admitted to being concerned about the trend.

He asked, “What is the reality that students are facing that might cause them to go into a mode of survival to want to pass an exam? We have to look at that before we say students are unethical.”

Copeland meanwhile said measures are being explored, including reviewing exam styles, to crack down on the problem.

During the last exam period, he said no incidents had been reported.

Despite this, Copeland said he was not worried that the university’s brand was at risk, as he made it clear that the matter was under control and their monitoring systems are working.

“Rest assured we are on top of the situation and we are managing it. Our systems are in place and have been in place for a long time. We are in a challenging environment so we have to double our diligence and we have done so,” Copeland said.