On Saturday I had a Computer Science final exam. When I finished it and turned it in my teacher told me that she saw online that I had accessed some file from our course (We have notes and our syllabus/grades posted online on a website) during the beginning of the final. I told her no, and that I was in class the entire time and didn’t touch my phone. What could’ve happened was that my phones browser refreshed the page after a change in connectivity or something and it appeared as if I had accessed that random file(since I had a lot of our notes open on my phone beforehand for studying). She wasn’t hearing any of it and filed a case to my college dean.

After meeting with the dean, he said that unless I have evidence to refute the online access log they have, there is nothing I can do.

My question is, what do I do in this situation? I’ve never felt this helpless since I have no clue how to go about proving against the log, which they count as “hard evidence”. Because of this incident, I’ve failed this class and it was a pre-req for all my classes next quarter.

Does anyone have an idea on what I could possibly do?

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    @SolarMike Almost everyone has their phone in the exam room, had I known this could happen I would've shut it off. It was just in my pocket on silent. – lifereallyisunfair Mar 22 '19 at 21:47
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    It may be worth asking the IT people at your school to check their logs to see if they can determine whether there was some event likely to trigger an automatic refresh. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 22 '19 at 22:13
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    Did the access really come from your phone? Do you have any more information regarding the logs? Having an (automated) tool accessing/downloading/updating/indexing files from your home system is not forbidden... – J-Kun Mar 22 '19 at 22:15
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    You could set up a demonstration showing how your phone’s browser loads pages even when the phone is in sleep mode. That ought to be pretty convincing. – Dan Romik Mar 22 '19 at 23:06
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    You can say that if they don’t know if that’s what happened then they don’t know you are guilty of cheating and therefore cannot punish you. Just knowing that you may have cheated is meaningless, the same is true for any other student. – Dan Romik Mar 23 '19 at 19:09

Most universities will have some sort of quasi-judicial appeal process. You can try to navigate it yourself, but I would strongly suggest that you find an expert to help you. Some universities may have an ombudsman or some sort of "public defender" service that provides trained students you can work with. You could also talk to students or faculty who have experience with the process, or even consider hiring a lawyer.

Part of what you'll want to know is who will judge such a case, what sort of evidence you can present, and what "standard of proof" is expected.

Some evidence that you could consider trying to present, if possible:

  • Expert testimony from an impartial person familiar with the online system, to explain that a logged access does not necessarily prove that you actually looked at the information, and to explain how it could happen without your knowledge. For instance, you might be able to get someone from the university's IT office to testify, or a computer science professor. (People who work in technical fields are often pretty sensitive to cases where a poor understanding of technology by those in authority results in an injustice, so I think you might not have too hard a time recruiting someone.)

  • Testimony from other students that they did not see you look at your phone or any other device during the exam

  • Testimony from the professor as to whether she saw you look at your phone, etc

As for your classes for next quarter, it would be worth it to talk to the instructors of those classes. You can tell them that you were charged with dishonesty and you are appealing, but that in any case you have learned the course material. They will typically have the authority to waive the prerequisite requirement, so that you can take their course despite not having passed the previous course, and they might be willing to agree that it serves no purpose to delay your progress through the program by making you retake a course whose material you already learned. This way you can continue to move through your courses even if your appeal is not resolved before the next term starts.

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