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I am doing my Masters in Mathematics at a reputable university in the UK. I am taking a statistical programming class. There has been a lot of cheating so far.

Due to Covid, we have two forms of assessment:

  1. Coursework
  2. Open-book, open-internet, two-hour exams

Throughout the first semester, I had multiple students reach out to me for help with their coursework — I would give them some tips or maybe refer them to a section in the lecture notes. This wasn't really an issue. As the semester progressed, there was more evidence of serious cheating. For example, during one of my group coding assignments, within 15 minutes of the assignment being released, an international student sends the group the entire solution. Hundreds of lines of code in 15 minutes, something that would usually take us a week to do. This is just one example. Surely the professors know that this is going on?

During my undergrad, after leaving the exam room, I would have a good estimate of how I did. If I answered 80% of the questions, I would get ~80%. There is no room for guessing, you either know the answer or you don't.

As part of my revision for the winter exams, I did all the past papers and found them fairly easy. The exam, however, I found extremely challenging and not closely related to our lecture notes. This makes sense, it was an open-book, open-internet exam — they wouldn't ask questions that could be answered by looking through the lecture notes.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, the professor sends out an email saying that the average grade was 2% higher than previous years' grades. This surprised me. How did students score higher on a substantially more challenging paper?

Last week, I was invited by a coursemate to a discord group. Most of the members were international students and they were speaking Chinese so I couldn't tell what was being said. As I started scrolling through the messages, I found an entire exam paper (the actual exam, not a past exam!) was uploaded to the discord group chat and they were sharing answers!

Should this be reported? How would I go about reporting it (what should I say, and to whom)? Would anything be done? Do the professors really not know that this is going on?

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  • The answers to this question are relevant.
    – wimi
    Jan 28, 2021 at 13:10
  • 2
    I think this is opinion based. I would personally report abuse by the staff. But it never came to my mind to report a student fellow cheating on exam. Personally, I found this a scary attitude. But, as I said, is matter of opinion. If cheating would occur while competing for a position or a job, that would be a different and directly impacting situation. Conversely, the world doesn't get worse because a random person got a 10 mark instead of 5.
    – Alchimista
    Jan 28, 2021 at 13:11
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    @Alchimista I kind of have the same feeling, but we are competing for degree classes/PhD opportunities. It wouldn't bother me if people got 5 extra marks, but I think its more substantial than that.
    – user572780
    Jan 28, 2021 at 13:21
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    @Alchimista If OP reports anonymously, they do not need to name the perpetrator, only evidence that cheating took place. This makes it easier to identify the cheating, and it's not on OP's conscience to have snitched. Jan 28, 2021 at 13:42
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    @FedericoPoloni Which actually is a reason for universities to not grade on a curve ;-)
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 28, 2021 at 14:16

5 Answers 5

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You should report this immediately, but be sure you collect evidence.

Edit: The reason that you should collect evidence is that you are accusing your fellow students of gross academic misconduct that would result in serious consequences. Not only will it be impossible for anyone to pursue the matter without evidence, but making baseless accusations could result in negative consequences for you.

Screenshot correspondence (if it’s in Chinese get it translated or find a native speaker among the faculty who can translate). Emails, text messages etc should be saved as well. If your university is reputable, it will deal harshly with these cases.

The actual procedure varies by institution but the first person to contact is the professor. They’d likely want to know that this is happening and would be furious to hear this. It’s quite possible that the professor is unaware, or simply unable to obtain evidence that something is going on: if everything is happening on a non university server there’s little they can do to catch cheaters.

Would anything be done? That depends on the institution, but what you’re describing is pretty clear cut. Students can get expelled and in the case of international students, have their visa revoked as a result. If this happened in my class I would do everything I can to ensure those students are punished as much as possible. The likeliest outcome is failing the class and getting a remark on your transcript.

Help make academia better and report them.

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  • 4
    You cannot ask a student to become an investigator. It's the professor who organized the exam weakly from the point of cheating (I've predicted exactly that here, for UK, and I'm still appalled to see the naïveté of certain approaches), and it's the professor or the university who should take the burden to investigate, collect traces etc. if they wish to do something.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:13
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    I don't like the idea that a student should have to get texts translated.
    – user111388
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:40
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    I’m not asking anyone to be an investigator. I am saying that accusing fellow students of serious academic misconduct with no proof can have negative implications for the OP.
    – Spark
    Jan 29, 2021 at 14:59
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    Reporting without proof might. If a student tells me that X cheated but provides no evidence or at least where to find it (eg the address of the discord server), I wouldn’t know who to believe. I’m thinking more like the lecturer will perceive you as less reliable, not serious consequences.
    – Spark
    Jan 30, 2021 at 20:14
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    Some universities have anonymous channels for reporting academic misconduct. They cannot legally reveal the identity of the reporter. As I mention, if that is not an option, then use a throwaway email account, hence "I think you can via a throwaway email".
    – Spark
    Jun 20 at 17:04
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You should definitely report it.

At my university, students can report academic integrity infractions they witness not to the prof, but to the administration. A committee made up of independent profs and lecturers reviews cases submitted. It may invite you, the other students and/or your prof to testify. It may find the other students guilty or not, depending of the facts presented, and hands out a sanction if relevant.

I hope your university has a similar mechanism.

It is not a matter of competition. It is a matter of fairness, of playing on a level field, and of intellectual integrity.

Best of luck!

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    If you are mentioning "fairness" and "playing on a level field", you are fundamentally writing about competition.
    – Buffy
    Aug 20 at 19:36
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Depending on the rules at your university you may be required to report academic dishonesty by your peers when you are aware of it. Before determining whether one "should" report academic dishonesty, OP should determine if it is a requirement of being a member of the university community.

I can't speak to what is required at OP's university (nor can any other answer without knowing the specifics), but many universities require students and faculty adhere to an Honor Code. At my university (a large, public research university in the US) the bulk of this code is dedicated to promoting academic honesty. Not only are students are prohibited from giving or receiving unauthorized assistance, but they are required to report violations of the code when they become aware of them.

I'm not sure if this was the original intent, but in my experience, required reporting makes prosecuting cases of academic dishonesty much more straightforward. In the OPs specific case, it would be difficult to prove a student relied on materials posted to a discord channel when submitting their assignments. Under the Honor Code of my university, however, one would only need demonstrate a student was aware someone else was distributing prohibited materials and failed to report it. Simply being a user of a Discord channel where students were sharing exam answers during a test would likely lead to an Honor Code hearing (although without evidence they provided or used the prohibited assistance the punishment would likely be nothing more than a warning that would be removed from the student's record if they didn't commit further violations.)

I would suggest OP:

  1. Immediately unsubscribe from any discord channels where other students are committing academic dishonesty
  2. Familiarize oneself with the requirements placed on students for reporting academic dishonesty at their university and report what they know if required
  3. If they are are not required to report academic dishonesty when they become aware of it, then ponder their moral obligation to report it and after that the costs/benefits of reporting.
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I am going against the grain here and advise you not to report it. Not based on ethics but based on the realistic outcome of this entire procedure.

If you report this, how is anyone able to differenciate between cheaters and non-cheaters? Being part of a discord group is no crime and there is no way to know who took a glimpse at anything uploaded there. Also, discord is usually rather anonymous. Who would be able to associate user572780 to a actual student?

What course of action would realistically be left to a faculty member being officially informed that cheating occured? Anybody in the discord server has plausible deniability and probably 90% of everyone on the server couldn't be matched to a real person to begin with. Flat out accusing N amount of people of cheating is no thing to be taken lightly.

They could void the entirety of the exam but this would punish everyone who took this exam without cheating. I have never heard of such a thing to happen and I imagine the steps involved in such a undertaking are extremely troublesome.

Or the person you report it to acknowledges that they can not do something reasonable about it. Best outcome, a few people get accused of cheating who can entirely deny it or at worst you get everyones grade revoked.

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It's a bit of a struggle between both, but I would consider what Squary94 said and not report on it. It's too ambiguous to tell which users are actually students and they would probably tie it back to you, which would get you in unnecessary trouble.

And, as you mentioned, you getting invited would only add to the suspicion. Although this might sound unfair, it's best to leave yourself with the least amount of involvement. What I could suggest is that you anonymously report it to the professor after the exam has been taken.

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