Students had exam questions before writing it: BUSU president

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This article was published 05/02/2020 (916 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Students involved in the recent Brandon University exam called “compromised” by the university were able to figure out what test would be used based on questions asked in class, the president of the students’ union told the Sun on Tuesday.

Brandon University Students’ Union president Olusola Akintola said that it came out in meetings between the students’ union, faculty and students involved in the class that some students had been able to determine where the professor was getting questions based on sample questions asked in class.

“The students had some tests from the lecturer before the examination,” Akintola said. “In the test, they discovered that some of the questions he used to test them in the class actually came from a list of questions. There were 700 questions in all.”

The Brandon University Health Studies Complex. (File)

They were then able to find which test bank contained those questions. The final exam ended up drawing 55 questions from this list. Akintola specifically said that students in the class said this during these meetings.

However, he added that the website students purchased the questions from did not indicate that buying these test banks was illegal or improper.

Sources told the Sun last month that the website used to purchase the questions from is called testbankworld.org. Attempts have been made to get in contact with the owner of the website, but emails have not been returned.

Looking up the domain name using a WHOIS search reveals that the owner of the website has hired a service to set up the website for them by proxy and thereby block any of their own information from being revealed during such searches.

All students in last semester’s Nursing Foundations II class were forced to re-write their final exam with the maximum possible grade reduced to 70 per cent in early January after the university said that it had been determined that the exam had been compromised.

Last Friday, BU released a statement saying that it had been determined that students had figured out what test bank the professor was using but did not provide specifics.

Akintola sent out a prepared statement on Tuesday about the situation, saying that discussions about the situation between themselves and the university were continuing but that the blanket punishment handed out to all students was “was wrong and against natural justice.”

“We’re still working on that,” Akintola told the Sun after the statement was released. “If students who compromised the exam can be identified, well then we don’t believe all the students did (cheat).”

He further said that the students’ union believes that punishment being handed down before the investigation was “premature,” but seemed to accept the university’s reasoning that they needed to act swiftly so that affected students could move on to this semester’s classes.

Furthermore, Akintola added that “the technology available today makes it no longer appropriate for any faculty to depend totally on publishers to set academic exam questions.”

Akintola would not say if the university agreed with the students’ union on that particular matter. He did say that he believed that changes resulting from this incident would be starting almost immediately at the university.

To ask about the ethics surrounding this situation, the Sun spoke with Sarah Eaton, an assistant professor at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. Eaton, who studies and writes about the topic of academic integrity, has been following the news surrounding this exam and has even mentioned it in a recent academic paper.

Eaton was asked if the students figuring out what test would be used and then finding the answers was unethical.

“I would say yes, and the reason I would say yes is that the reason that we have tests is for students to demonstrate their knowledge,” she said. “And so if you just go and buy the answers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve learned the material.

“My guess would be that in that program, there will never be another professor that uses a pre-done test bank because there are better ways for professors to write tests. … I would guess that the public-facing statement that Brandon (University) released was about the students, but my guess is that there were also closed-door conversations with the professor.”

She agrees with BUSU’s call for instructors at the university to move away from provided exam questions, saying “That’s just good teaching practice. I would agree with that.”

As for the fairness of the blanket punishment, Eaton said it was likely the best that BU could have done under the circumstances, saying most universities don’t have rules in place to deal with situations like this.

Her advice to students is to not buy materials from places that sell test bank questions. She added that websites that sell these materials are often run offshore and typically set up to prevent people from learning about who runs them.

“There’s an expectation that when I engage with a university, say Brandon University, that they’re going to give me access to the materials I need to do my learning,” she said. “If you have to go outside of that system, then that’s cause for concern on a number of levels. It might mean that there’s not enough supports for the students within the university, that kind of thing.

“My guess is those students will never forget this experience, that prof will never forget this experience, the university will try and forget this experience. But things like this become embedded in individual and collective memory and they’ll make a lasting impression.”

When asked for comment on Akintola’s statement, BU spokesperson Grant Hamilton released the following response on behalf of the university: “We reviewed it and see no need to add any further comment. We are focused on supporting students at this time.”

The Sun sent a followup question asking if the university would confirm what Akintola said about how the exam was compromised was true, but did not receive a direct answer.

“We stand by our earlier statement: The exam was compromised,” Hamilton replied. “The publisher’s test bank was purchased online and circulated among the class ahead of the exam.”

» cslark@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @ColinSlark

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