Maths to hold in-person exams after 46 caught cheating

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The University Maths department has requested an exemption from the University-wide policy of online exams for this academic year after 46 students were caught cheating in online maths exams last year. The department plans to host all exams in person.

In an email to all maths students, Jens Funke, Chair of the Board of Examiners for the Maths department said the department has appealed against the Senate recommendation for all exams be held online this year, in a similar format to the last two years. Funke highlighted cheating as a significant factor behind the decision, stating that the department is under “no illusions” that they caught all offenders, “but we did what we could”, he said.

“Pursuing these cases and trying to prevent more represented a huge burden on the department. More importantly, academically this is completely unsustainable; this level of cheating erodes trust and threatens the integrity of our assessments […] Overall, we see no alternative to in-person exams to maintain integrity and trust in our assessments.

“We are of course aware that the lower-year students have little to no experience with in-person exams. If the university agrees to us going back to in-person we will certainly see into ways to give you additional support to adjust.” 

A survey of maths students found that, unlike other departments, those studying maths heavily prefer in-person exams to online ones.

“I would be hard-pressed to give you just one maths department which thinks online exams went well.”  

– Jens Funke, Durham University Maths Department

The department also consulted the recommendations of other maths departments at different universities. In the email, Funke explained: “I would be hard-pressed to give you just one math department which thinks online exams went well. Accordingly, most of the places we contacted are going back to in-person, and those who don’t, hope their university will see sense and let them as soon as possible.”

Last year, a Palatinate investigation revealed that science students were more likely to prefer in-person exams than humanities students, and maths students reported the highest increase in stress during online exams than any other subject.

“Overall, we see no alternative to in-person exams to maintain integrity and trust into our assessments.”

– Jens Funke, Durham University Maths Department

Earlier this week, the University announced that online exams would be the default format this year, arguing that the positive feedback from last year, particularly from disabled and disadvantaged students, was a major factor in keeping the process.

Departments are able to request to hold exams in-person, where learning outcomes would be “impossible or very difficult” to assess using online examinations, or where physical examinations are necessary for the purposes of accreditation. Departments must carry out student consultation when applying for such an exemption, which prompted the Maths department to conduct their own survey of students.

The Physics department has voiced similar desires to change their exam format, stating they would “explore the possibility of a shorter window within the 24 hour time period”, to reduce the amount of time students will be expected to be under exam conditions. However, the Physics department still plans to hold exams online.

The email noted that the department “cannot give a definite answer” on the status of the exam changes, as their appeal is still pending.

The Maths department’s request will be considered by the University this week.

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