UC Berkeley students, instructors encounter problems with remote exams

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In Reddit posts published Monday, several UC Berkeley students alleged that they were falsely accused of academic misconduct.

Computer Science 188 student Vivian Lu posted on the r/berkeley subreddit asking for help with an allegedly false academic dishonesty accusation, saying in the post that she did not cheat on the class’s final exam. Lu said she received an email with the allegation Sunday from CS 188 professor Satish Rao.

“There was a lot of stress and trying to figure out how I was going to be able to defend myself,” Lu said.

Lu was given the option to set up a meeting with her instructors before further engaging with the Center for Student Conduct. Before the meeting was scheduled, however, Lu received another email, which stated that evidence showed a mistake had been made in her case.

In addition to Lu, other campus students, who commented on the post saying they were in similar situations, alleged that evidence was not strong enough to warrant the accusations of academic dishonesty that they had received.

“They jumped the gun definitely on sending out these emails,” Lu alleged. “They definitely should have gone over this and made sure that the evidence really was 100% before accusing students.”

Rao claimed that it was problematic that instructors were not permitted to proctor remote exams this spring. Even after designing the CS 188 final exam in such a way that made collaboration between students more difficult, Rao said the inability to proctor placed students in an “impossible situation.”

“(Students) feel very comfortable when they come to our proctoring,” Rao said. “I tell them, ‘We’re not there to watch you, we’re there to root for you.’ That’s the same sort of environment we wanted to do with Zoom proctoring.”

Rao added that he had to sign more academic misconduct confessions over this final exam period than he has in the last 20 years of teaching.

To catch potential cheating, the CS 188 instructors compared all exams and computed similarity scores, a method the campus electrical engineering and computer sciences instructors developed in response to the remote circumstances. This method, among others, led to contacting students who were believed to have cheated on the exam.

Rao said responses by concerned accused students made him nervous, and after reviewing the evidence with the CS 188 teaching assistants, about 70% of cases in the “lower” evidence group, which contained less-substantive cases, were cleared.

“I made a mistake in sending out that email,” Rao said. “I quickly tried to decrease the stress on them.”

About 90% of all academic misconduct cases for the class had reached solid conclusions as of Wednesday.

UC Berkeley is upholding academic misconduct guidelines at this time but will use a task force to guide the upcoming fall semester.

“A working group composed of faculty and administrators is developing guidelines for fall instruction,” said campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff in an email. “Their work is heavily influenced by instructor and student experiences during the spring of 2020.”

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @skylardepaul.