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I am a college instructor at a university in the United States. I am giving an exam to my students in a few days, and I am aware that some of them are having conversations about making a Zoom meeting to take the exam together. I take cheating seriously, trying to both dissuade and catch. Nevertheless, if I end up having access to this Zoom meeting, I am not quite sure about what I should do. The exam can be submitted any time during a 24h period, and it is not proctored. I am aware that those conditions could be different, but they are not going to change for this exam.

  1. If I decide not to do anything, I am giving unfair advantage to students not following the academic integrity policy at the school. There is a chance I could present a strong case for the cheating if they are not careful and their answers look identical, but that's not guaranteed.

  2. If I decided to join the meeting using my real Zoom/email address, my guess is that they would get scared right away and leave. If I want to get any information in this scenario, I would have to capture my screen to see who was connected to that meeting. Even if they are using their real names, I would just have a list of the students who were on the call at that moment, and would have zero evidence of what they were talking about.

  3. If I wanted to avoid that, I would have to use a fake Zoom account, which already feels like not the right thing to do. That might give me the chance to stay on the call, and see evidence that it is being used for cheating. But this evidence would just be for me unless I capture my screen/audio, which seems like another thing that might not be right to do.

I am sending them a letter offering my views on academic integrity, in the dissuasion front, but I don't think that would dissuade the proponents of this Zoom call.

What do you think would be the best course of action?

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    Make it a one question exam that is extremely difficult. A research question. A question that no one can be expected to answer, but that your students could be expected to say "something sensible" about. Analyze the following scenario... Discuss. – Buffy Mar 13 at 19:16
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    @Buffy Thank you for the advice. This is a very basic science course that is a requirement for non-science students. A research question (besides being too late to implement, as I have already told them the kind of exam they are having) would most likely piss everyone off and make more people try to google an answer, go to Chegg, etc. I think it would be better suited for a more advanced course. – anonymous Mar 13 at 19:21
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    @GoodDeeds thank you for linking those (which I recall reading few months ago as I was preparing this course last semester). I'll provide here a few more details about the exam: it is fairly easy, in the style of things we've done in class. I write new questions every time, and give an individualized exam to each student, mostly to be able to identify uploads to Chegg (to which I sadly pay $15/month...). The exam is obviously open book, open internet, etc, as I have no way to police that. The rule is that they can receive any information from anywhere, but they can't send information anywhere. – anonymous Mar 13 at 19:32
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    If you are a junior faculty member and feel vulnerable about keeping to the rules, start up a conversation with other faculty and/or the head of department and maybe the dean to bring up these issues and get ideas for sensible solutions and new rules. Using traditional exams online now is like pretending in 1493 that nothing interesting happened anywhere in the world recently. – Buffy Mar 13 at 19:36
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    honestly, if it's an open book exam + the exams are individualised (i.e. each exam is different), I don't really see a problem. It means the group will have to solve N exams spending around N times more time to do it, than if they were to work individually. It's possible there will be a parasite in the group, but that's a great learning experience, better even than being caught by their instructor. – Basia Mar 13 at 21:48
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I've spent some time thinking about the problem. Disclaimer: I believe exams are a way to push students to learn something from the course, grades being an incentive. The solution below may be very unorthodox, so brace yourselves. It's also based on my experiences at an European university, where an instructor has a lot of power in defining an exam and grading it.

I see two ways the Zoom meeting can work:

  1. They solve exams individually, then meet-up for a review session, correct the exams and send them. Which is a good strategy. They will mostly work on the exams alone and during the review session they will gain additional knowledge.
  2. They meet up just after the exams are given and spend time solving them together. It's a bad strategy. Brain storm sessions are usually ineffective, some of the students won't be pulling their weight and, I guess, in the end they will have to spend more time on the exam to turn in the same quality answers as working alone.

That being said, recognising your own weaknesses and turning to someone for help is also a very important skill in life, so I wouldn't mitigate it. I also like very much Buffy's idea to make them cite the sources.

So this is what I'd do:

  1. I'd ask them to cite the sources. When working individually, the sources should differ. If they work together it will be a lot of trouble to not only change the answers, but also the sources.
  2. I'd allow them, however, to work together and ask them to send a contribution report. I'd expect that it would encourage them to divide the workload more equally.
  3. I'd set a different grading standard for individual vs. collaboration work. E.g. the points you lose on a mistake is weighted by a number of people that work on the exam.
  4. I'd allow them to mark one reviewer (whose help doesn't affect a score) and their contribution. I'd encourage the reviewers to also report on their reviews. If the contribution was helpful, it would improve the score of the reviewer. If possible I'd also make myself available as an reviewer.

I believe these solution would change possible ways to cheat into available strategies, making the exam also an interesting experience of collaborative work.

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The short answer is that as long as exams are online there’s absolutely no way for you to enforce academic integrity. Any penalty you impose would require you to prove that students collaborated, which is really easy to hide. If I really wanted to work with someone, I’d just go and do the exam in the same room with them. Even if you’re going to impose very strict rules (a webcam showing them and their workspace, with sound on or something similar) it’s easy to get around such restrictions if the stakes are high enough.

In your case students seem to have been foolish enough to at least make you aware that they intend to cheat. I don’t think my university allows me to penalize intent, but it’s definitely a good idea to send them a stern warning (nicely phrased) about the university policies and your expectations of them.

My solution so far has been to place less weight on big exams. This way I have a lot more opportunities to check whether someone has been cheating, and students have less incentive to cheat since the stakes are low on every assessment.

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I take cheating seriously, trying to both dissuade and catch.

The options you have given are all "punish" and not "dissuade." You should tell the students explicitly that communicating during the exam is forbidden. You might even tell them that you know certain students plan to break the rules and you are already prepared to gather evidence.

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    Thank you for your answer. I don't think I have mentioned any sort of punishment, but rather catching (meaning gathering evidence). I asked this question this way because I already have taken actions towards dissuasion and to provide a clear set of rules of what is and is not allowed. Moreover, several other questions on this site address the issue of how to minimize cheating in online exams. My concern was about what to do if I end up having access to the mentioned Zoom meeting. – anonymous Mar 15 at 20:17
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This answer is largely based off the comment that it is an introductory course and the students know already what 'kind' of questions are expected. You also feel that the students in concern can't be dissuaded, so the only option is to make the process of collaboration/cheating more difficult.

It is standard practice in many places to have different questions for different students. Not necessarily individual, rather 3 or 4 sets. The order of questions could be different, the numbers could be different, the language used could be different.

If you are permitted to do so, you could alternatively obscure the weightage of each question. An instructor I knew used to give variables as the weightage, so nobody knew how much each question was worth. Different students would gravitate towards different questions (based on their individual preparedness/preference), thereby reducing the possibility of cheating. If they did still cheat, the length/detail of answers would be similar across answersheets, and the instructor would easily detect who copied.

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    Hi @AppliedAcademic! Thank you for your answer. I already do different questions for each student, but the point about the weighing is interesting. I am usually imprecise about weighs (with the awareness of the students) so that I have the flexibility of changing them after grading in case that a question happens to be a disaster, but I never though about how that would make potentially dishonest students behave. – anonymous Mar 15 at 20:41
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Follow the policy on academic dishonesty set out by your university.

You're working at an American university; it should have a policy on how breaches of its policy governing academic honesty are to be handled (potentially called something like the "honor code"). As a staff member, I would encourage you to look up those policies and procedures, and then proceed to follow them. This might involve you simply being given the power to fail the students, having to refer the case to an Academic Dishonesty Tribunal, or something similar.

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  • Thank you for your answer @nick012000. I am aware of those rules for my institution, and I know how to handle these situations formally. Nevertheless, my question was more about what to do with the Zoom situation, which I might have access to, since that would affect greatly the type of evidence I could have if I initiate an official investigation with the academic integrity office. – anonymous Mar 15 at 20:37
  • While this is of course good advice, it is unlikely that the policy will advise academic staff on the proper scope for evidence-gathering, which is what OP is wondering about. – Ben Apr 10 at 2:35

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