Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine says it is dropping an online cheating investigation that led the school to wrongly accuse some students, allegations that sparked protests among professors, alumni and technology experts.
In March, Dartmouth accused 17 students of cheating based on a review of certain online activity data in Canvas, a popular learning management system where teachers post assignments and students submit work, during remote exams. The school quickly dismissed seven of the cases after at least two students argued that administrators had mistaken the automated activity on the canvas for human cheating.
Now Dartmouth is also dropping charges against the remaining 10 students, some of whom faced expulsion, suspension, course failures, and marks of misconduct on their academic records that could have derailed their medical careers.
“I have decided to dismiss all honor code charges,” said Duane A. Compton, dean of the medical school, in an email to the Geisel community Wednesday night, adding that the students’ academic records they would not be affected. “I apologized to the students for what they have been through.”
Dartmouth’s decision to dismiss the charges followed a software review by The New York Times, which found that student devices could automatically generate Canvas activity data even when no one was using them. The Dartmouth practices were condemned by some students along with some professors from other medical schools.
A Dartmouth spokesperson said the school could not comment further on dropping the charges for privacy reasons. The school’s agreements with the accused students are not yet final and the students did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The cheating investigation turned the Ivy League pastoral campus into a national battleground for heightened school surveillance during the pandemic.
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While many universities, including Dartmouth, require students to use special software that locks their devices during remote exams, Geisel went further by using a second system, Canvas, to retroactively track student activity during remote exams without your knowledge. That was unusual because the canvas was not designed as a forensic tool.
Tech experts said Dartmouth’s use of Canvas raised questions. While some students may have cheated, these experts said, it would be difficult for school administrators to distinguish between cheating and not cheating based on the type of Canvas data snapshots that Dartmouth used.
The case was also notable for the Dartmouth proceedings after the students were indicted.
Some of the accused students said Dartmouth had crippled their ability to defend themselves. They had less than 48 hours to respond to the charges, were not provided with complete data records for the examinations, and were advised to plead guilty even though they denied cheating or were given only two minutes to present their cases in online hearings. , based on interviews with six of the students and a document review.
In an interview in April, Dr. Compton said the school’s methods of identifying potential cheating were fair and valid. Administrators, he said, provided the accused students with all the data on which the cheating charges were based. He denied that the student affairs office had advised those who said they had not cheated to plead guilty.
In his email on Wednesday, he took a different tone.
“As we look to the future, we must ensure fairness in our honor code review process, especially in an academic setting that includes more remote learning,” said Dr. Compton wrote. “We will learn from this and do better.”