Volume 92, Issue 44

Friday, November 20, 1998

go north


New weapon against exam cheaters

By Sabrina Carinci
Gazette Staff

Cheating on multiple choice exams has become a lot harder to accomplish at Western since more professors are using the latest software in detecting academic deviants.

Doug Link, director of the social sciences computing laboratory, was responsible for designing and authoring the software package which he has named Scan Exam.

"I became interested in testing the area so I created the Windows alternative – I questioned how cheating could be identified," he said.

According to Link, the program not only provides professors with class averages and individual marks, but it also runs various statistical analysis on the data and then looks at the probabilities of the patterns it finds.

Although the program accounts for coincidences, if the analysis concludes there is a one in trillion chance a student has the identical answers as another, then it becomes evident cheating may be involved, Link said.

"Six cases in the past three months were either picked up or confirmed by the program," said Michael Owen, associate dean of science. "I would say that's a lot. It's six more than it should be," he said.

Owen, who is responsible for maintaining records of academic offences which occur in the faculty of science, said the penalties for cheating on a test or exam generally include failing.

"I'm using it seriously for the first time this year," said John Sheasby, a mechanical and materials professor in the department of engineering science.

Although his students don't know it, Sheasby said he keeps notes on all of the students who he suspects of cheating and will approach anyone who is spotted by the program a number of times. "It gives me a piece of mind as much as the students," he said.

Chemistry professor Stewart McIntyre said he is not presently using the program but intends to next semester.

McIntyre said his decision to begin using the program stems from an incident of cheating he happened to find by chance. "I had to look over them manually – I found some students even had the same wrong answers," he said.

Aside from detecting academic liars, Link said the Scan Exam program is also an excellent tool to help professors fine tune their multiple choice exams. It comes complete with an option of examining class answers on each question in order to determine whether it is too easy or too hard.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998