Several reports of student forming WhatsApp groups to discuss question papers, collaborating on calls, or surfing the internet on a separate device during an exam have emerged from various IITs, prompting the government to step in.

Written by Akshara Srivastava

WHILE online teaching was a boon for educational institutions scrambling to adapt to the new normal of a pandemic, students may have emerged with an upper hand in the set-up, finding new ways to cheat and indulge in academic dishonesty in online examinations, including in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).

Several reports of student forming WhatsApp groups to discuss question papers, collaborating on calls, or surfing the internet on a separate device during an exam have emerged from various IITs, prompting the government to step in.

The Ministry of Education last month set up a 10-member committee, headed by IIT-Madras director Bhaskar Ramamurthi, for suggesting measures for “developing a common protocol for online internal examinations” in centrally-funded educational institutions and ensuring “security and sanctity” of such exams. Directors of IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Bhuwaneshwar, IIT-Delhi, IIT-Bhilai, NIT-Suratkal, NIT-Durgapur, IIIT-Sri City, IIIT-Guwahati and IISER Mohali are other members of committee.

Due to Covid-19, all IITs had by July decided to hold only online classes until year-end. However, academic integrity became an issue thereafter.

At IIT-Delhi, for instance, some students taking online exams formed WhatsApp groups where solutions to questions are shared and answers are confirmed. At IIT-Bombay, a professor, on the condition of anonymity, said students sometimes take advantage of bio breaks during exams. “In a normal semester, we can ask students to visit the washroom before the exam starts; books and notes hidden there (in bathroom) are removed. But that has changed in the online semester,” the professor said. “Not allowing students to visit the washroom is against their personal liberties, and they could have health concerns. We cannot ask them to pan cameras across their rooms; that’s intrusion of privacy.”

Similar reports have emerged from IIT-Kharagpur and IIT-Ropar, too.

While professors accept that cheating took place earlier too, it is much more desperate in online mode. “It is almost obsessive, and is being done rampantly. To put it conservatively, almost 95 per cent students cheat,” another professor from IIT-Bombay said.

The brunt of these practices is faced by students who had been scoring good grades. Due to the relative marking system at IITs, even students who had been consistently scoring well have scored less compared to before.

The administration has tried to intervene by laying down several measures.

Remote proctoring is a method where an invigilator oversees the examination on live cameras. On the invigilator’s discretion, cameras can have a full-body view where the answer script is not visible, or a view of students’ faces, where surroundings are not visible. In both these manners, students have indulged in academic malpractice, using a camera’s limited field of view to their advantage.

At IIT-Delhi and IIT-Ropar, professors have given lengthy question papers in lesser time, to ensure students have no time to discuss answers. Some take VIVAs after the written exam to ensure students know what they write.

However, these measures are continuously surpassed. “Even though professors set lengthy papers for lesser time, students share solutions in groups,” said a student from IIT Delhi on the condition of anonymity.

Shantanu Roy, dean, academic programme, IIT-Delhi, said faculty members have been taking measures at their own level to deal with such complaints. “It is only when a faculty member decides to escalate the matter to the dean, that we can set up a disciplinary committee,” he said. “We have to be approached by a student or faculty member to do something. Until now, members have dealt with such issues at their own.”

However, sources said when the concern was raised at one IIT, the students were asked to ‘manage’ in a way that teachers are not questioned.

The IIT-Bombay professor said it is not possible to cover everything with technology. Giving an example of western universities, he said how having an honour code for exams prevents cheating at most Ivy League colleges. “The penalty for breaking the honour code is so high, it prevents students from taking the risk of indulging in such malpractice,” he said.

In a similar incident from 2012, the Harvard Cheating Scandal had come to light when a teaching fellow noticed similarities in answer scripts in a take-home exam. It was brought to the notice of the course professor and the administration on charges of plagiarism. In February 2013, almost 70 per cent of the investigated students were ‘forced to withdraw’ from the course. The institute drafted and adopted an Honour Code in 2014.

— With inputs from Ritika Chopra

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