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?


OP reports "Unfortunately I failed that class but nothing besides that happened." Happy ending, sort of.

  • 2
    If you really did not cheat, then it is really bad luck... because it seems you can not do much unless you have plenty of money and good lawyers but even with this way (which I don't recommend), it is unlikely that it will be fixed before next quarter.
    – YYY
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 21:37
  • 4
    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. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 22:13
  • 4
    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
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 22:15
  • 10
    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
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 23:06
  • 5
    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
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


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.


I am mystified (but not all that mystified) that these academics are computer scientists who cannot decipher or understand what should by rights be a fairly common occurrence in network operations. You apparently consulted something exam-sensitive just prior to the exam, which I guess a lot of students do, and the subsequent glitch apparently affected only yourself, which seems odd. Can someone from your IT shed any light?

In the days when I invigilated exams, phones went into bags and bags had to be left at the front of the room, and I continually made sure there were no devices on the desks and no students were fiddling with something in their laps. Your institution's apparent failure to instate such bread and butter measures is appalling and something you might want to bring up.

  • 1
    In all fairness, browsers don't just randomly reload pages. There's an extra layer of silliness in this whole situation: what's there to prevent the student from downloading the file and access it during the exam without it showing in the server logs? I find it hard to believe that the OP idea of how it happened is how it actually happened without them ever touching the phone or anything (even a home PC waking from sleep would be more feasible). The policy itself, however, sounds dumb anyway.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 12:03
  • 1
    Oh wow I didn’t expect a comment on this again haha, this happened more than 2 years ago and I already graduated. Unfortunately I failed that class but nothing besides that happened. @Lodinn exactly, I could’ve just as easily just downloaded everything in advance and access that. But the whole thing was bizarre, no one saw me looking at my phone, and the only thing they had was that log showing I accessed the file(which had nothing of value for the exam, fyi) I’m pretty sure it was because of my jailbroken iPhone and Safari+ tweak that caused this but I remember being able to reproduce it Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 14:13
  • All's well what ends well I suppose :)
    – Lodinn
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 15:05
  • 1
    @Lodinn: I discovered my cell phone browser has the behavior OP described.
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 19:48

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