Dartmouth Medical School Drops Cheating Charges

Carolyn Crist

June 11, 2021

Dartmouth's medical school is dropping charges against students whom they accused of cheating by looking up course materials online during closed-book remote exams, according to The New York Times.

In March, Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine charged 17 students on the basis of a review of online activity on Canvas, a popular online course management system. Outside technology experts conducted a software review that found that the students' devices could automatically generate activity on Canvas, even when no one was using them, The New York Times reported.

The school dropped seven cases after students argued that administrators mistook automated activity for cheating. Now the school is dropping the remaining 10 cases, which could have led to expulsion, suspension, course failure, or misconduct marks for some students.

"I have decided to dismiss all the honor code charges," Duane Compton, the medical school dean, wrote in an email to the Geisel community on Wednesday.

Compton said the students' academic records won't be affected, the newspaper reported.

"I have apologized to the students for what they have been through and believe dismissal of the charges is the best path forward," he wrote.

Compton said the reversal came "upon further review and based on new information received from our learning management system provider," according to the Associated Press (AP). A Dartmouth spokesman told The New York Times that the school couldn't comment on the decision to drop the charges. The agreements between the school and the students aren't yet final, the newspaper reported. The students didn't respond to requests for comment.

In a virtual town hall meeting in April, Compton said the investigation began after a witness reported that students appeared to be using Canvas during exams, the AP reported. In Wednesday's email, Compton said the medical school will review a proposal for open-book exams in preclinical courses, hold in-person exams for all students during the next academic year, and improve communication between the administration and students.

The investigation at Dartmouth drew widespread attention, spurring conversation among educational experts and technology specialists. Although universities use special software to lock down devices during remote exams, Geisel also used Canvas to track student activity, The New York Times reported. Technology experts said the software isn't designed to work in a forensic way and to distinguish between automated and human activity.

The post-accusation procedures also drew criticism, The New York Times reported. Some of the students said they had less than 48 hours to respond to charges, that they did not receive complete data logs of their activity, and that they were advised to plead guilty. Compton denied these claims during an interview with the newspaper in April. In this week's email to the Geisel community, he took a more conciliatory tone.

"As we look to the future, we must ensure fairness in our honor code review process, especially in an academic environment that includes more remote learning," he wrote. "We will learn from this and we will do better."

Carolyn Crist is a Georgia-based journalist specializing in health, medicine, business, and education.

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