College of Engineering piloting program to combat cheating


Elisabeth Neely

Sophomores, Eva Bucke and Hazirah Muhamad, utilize their time at the Undergraduate Library to study and work on a project together.

By Heather Schlitz, Staff Writer

With cell phone use ubiquitous on campus and cheating methods growing in technological sophistication, the University is continuing its attempts to quell a persistent problem of academic dishonesty.

Even though an increased access to technology, including cell phones, broadens the opportunities students have to cheat, technology also expands instructors’ abilities to prevent and root out cheaters in a class.

Many instructors make use of online resources like Turnitin or MOSS to check for plagiarism.

“Every single program students submit in computer science is passed through the checkers. Every single paper you write is passed through the checkers,” said Umberto Ravaioli, senior assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Engineering.

The College of Engineering utilizes an advanced system to fight academic dishonesty.

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    Currently in its pilot phase, the computer-based testing facility has individual workstations and computers without internet access. These are used for computerized exams, ensuring that students complete their exams in isolation, without outside help.

    Still, students have been caught cheating even under these highly restrictive situations, Ravaioli said.

    “There are only so many eyes and so many tools that you can use to check what students do,” he said.

    According to a national survey of undergraduates, 68 percent admit to cheating on a written assignment or test. The University recorded 672 academic integrity violations in the 2015-16 school year.

    “I don’t think cheating is more of a problem at U of I than it is at any other institution,” said Kimberly Alexander-Brown, assistant dean of the LAS Access and Achievement Program. “We aren’t like one of those schools who will just throw a student out after one offense.”

    If a student is caught cheating, the student code outlines a back and forth appeal and hearing process between the student, the instructor and representatives from the college the student is a part of.

    The instructor’s recommendations are weighted heavily at every point in the procedure.

    “It’s certainly true that the student code leaves to the instructor a lot of discretion on how to apply the sanction and how to bring the allegation,” Ravaioli said. “What we’ve been trying to do as a college and campus is to make that process as uniform as possible.”

    The College of Engineering started the Faculty Academic Integrity Reporting system to unify the way allegations of cheating are reported and handled across all colleges.

    Faculty members use FAIR to log allegations of cheating. The system then notifies students who have the opportunity to respond to the allegation before sanctions are applied.

    Out of the 672 academic integrity violations reported, more than half resulted in a failing grade on the assignment. None resulted in suspension or dismissal.

    Alexander-Brown said the pressure of obtaining a high GPA to be able to compete for a few spots available at the most selective companies and graduate schools easily sways a student’s decision to cheat.

    Samuel James, junior in LAS, agrees that cheating often comes from the pressure to receive high grades. He said there are other factors as well.

    “Some of it may come from people who just didn’t pay attention in class,” James said.

    “There’s that last-minute panic to try to find the easiest way to get the best grade.”

    Despite the multitude of systems, policies and software in place to discourage cheating, Ravaioli acknowledges that the University will still need to continuously grapple with the problem of cheating.

    “You try to design the exams and design the methods of checking in a way that you can catch as much as you can,” Ravaioli said. “But it’s going to be hard to catch 100 percent of cheating.”

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