University of Calgary

With thousands of Calgary students registered in online classes during the pandemic, rates of academic misconduct are surging according to a University of Calgary researcher.

“It is concerning because academic integrity in the classroom is really training for ethical decision-making in life,” said Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education.

Eaton, whose research focuses on academic misconduct said educators are becoming increasingly concerned about cheating. She said the U of C does not have official data yet, while other universities are reporting increases of up to 38 per cent in academic misconduct cases.

“One of the things that we’re noticing is unethical file sharing among students, for example, that they might be going online to get test answers during an exam in real time during an exam, they might be uploading copies of assignments or tests to a third party file sharing site, such as a commercial file sharing site, and those kinds of things that are generally considered unethical collaboration,” said Eaton.

Eaton notes cheating is not new as term paper mills made their services available through mail order catalogues since the 1970s, but the scope and ease of access today is unprecedented.

“Certainly the old school way of passing notes during an exam has moved to online, so students might be sending one another text to get exam answers or they might be sharing it in real time via an instant messaging app,” said Eaton.

Eaton said a combination of factors are likely to blame including; more younger students learning online than ever before, as cheating is generally higher among first and second year students.

Also, stress is at an all-time high and assessment expectations may not have been clear as students shifted to remote learning.

Eaton said educators and parents can talk to students about learning expectations and explaining what is okay and what is not okay. She said schools are now wrestling with online education and assessment.

Calgary Board of Education, the city’s largest school district has approximately 18,000 students registered in Hub online learning. The board said it expects students to act with integrity in completing assignments.

“Assessments are based on student demonstration of understanding in ways that is not limited to traditional test taking.  Our teachers are paying particular attention to the way they design tasks for assessment to ensure they prioritize ways to design tasks for students that allow them to assess student work in accurate and equitable ways,” said Megan Geyer, Communications Advisor with the Calgary Board of Education.

“There are a variety of CBE-approved learning technology tools available online that can be used to engage in formative assessment. For example, video or audio attachments, live chat and comment functions and document sharing in Google Drive and Brightspace may also provide assessment opportunities. Assessments that allow students to fully demonstrate the depth of their understanding are much more difficult to cheat on and multiple versions can be created by teachers,” said Geyer.

The Calgary Catholic School District has more than 7,000 students registered in online learning. The board is in the process of setting up monitoring software to assist in ensuring test integrity.

“We have also asked our teachers to create assessment processes that offer more than a summative process. This is not new practice, but aims to assess students in more than one way. Formative assessment practices continue to offer students and teachers a means for rich discussion surrounding teaching and learning and often better prepares students for the summative practice,” said Sandra Borowski, Senior Communications Specialist, Calgary Catholic School District.

Borowski said students are encouraged to do their work independently.

“Teachers have designed assessment processes and practices that minimize parent influence, this is even beyond our new reality with online learning. To this end, teachers are very familiar with student work and are usually able to identify influence that may diminish good quality assessment. Parents are encouraged to support their child with learning, but this does not mean that parents complete their child’s work as this would diminish student learning,” said Borowski.