Universities are cheating over investigating cheating

It was pretty inevitable that academic misconduct casework would grow this term as students begin to hand in essays and other written assignments for marking.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

What was less inevitable was some of the more “creative” ways that some universities seem to be using to cope with the deluge.

In some cases, we’re hearing that to cope with the glut, central teams are asking departments to conduct their own “informal” investigations ahead of formally opening a process involving the usual paperwork.

The problem is that students being called in for a “chat about their essay” aren’t being told that they can seek advice from their SU, can take a friend or any other of the ways in which their rights are usually protected.

In fact they’re often not being altered to the fact that there might be a suspicion at all.

It’s tantamount to entrapment – and is a breach of the spirit if not the letter of the Office of the Independent Adhudictaor’s Good Practice Framework.

You can make a case for oral assessment, random sampling of scrips for viva voce checking or even using that method within an investigation.

But tricking students into thinking they’re getting some academic support only to find they’re actually being investigated for cheating is about as immoral as it gets – and without process and prep, becomes a test of their performance in that situation as much as it is a test to determine whether they’ve broken the rules.

Another tactic we’re seeing is the issuing of “fixed penalty notices”. This seems to involve students being sent letters to the effect of “we reckon you’ve cheated”, with the option to either take a lower penalty (an “Ai Awareness Course” is a little too close to speeding in your car for my liking) or risk a full investigation with the prospect of being excluded.

This is likely to cause students worried about their immigration status or those towards the end of their programme to accept the lower punishment (on their student record) even if they were confused about the rules or think they’re innocent.

In the majority of cases this is all a reflection of the hopium and copium that still surrounds setting written work and hoping that there’s a way to detect whether students used AI to help write it. It can’t be done – and tactics like those above risk “catching” the desperate and confused rather than the savvy and calculated.

The OIA should intervene on tactics like those described above now, before it ends up having to rewrite the GPT and intervene on cases in a year or so’s time.

2 responses to “Universities are cheating over investigating cheating

  1. Counter point: they come in for an informal meeting, get a sense of what the questions are, then they’re much better equipped to handle the formal meeting. Which is to say, informal meetings are never going to lead to sanctions. They give some students a chance to avoid starting the formal process, and those that end up in the formal process are actually better prepared.

    I’d also be interested the see what the “fixed penalty notices” are being issued for. If you’ve looked at a student essay and can see there’s a big block of text copied from another source without attribution then there isn’t a conceivable defence the student could give to the offence of plagiarism (remember, lack of intentionality or ignorance of rules aren’t defences — much like speeding!). They could plead mitigation, but in the full process the best that would lead to is a reduction in penalty — and the “fixed penalty notice” is already a reduced penalty. If it were being used for “we think this is written by AI” or “we think you’ve made up your results” or other less cut and dry cases then you’d have a stronger argument.

  2. With Artificial Intelligence advancing in leaps and bounds, it should be clear to everyone that we are now in the future and anyone still using essays as a legitimate form of assessment needs to adapt and keep up with the times. They need to be equipping students with the skills they need, one of which will be how to safety and effectively use AI in their chosen field, not vilify it’s use and refuse to acknowledge its potential.

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