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UT GroupMe cheating scandal causes students to resent app

Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

After information about an upcoming test was posted in an introductory anthropology class GroupMe chat, about 70 students at the University of Texas at Austin are facing either automatic failing grades or expulsion for being members of the group message.

At UH, GroupMe has become a popular way for students to organize study groups and discuss upcoming assignments, class cancelations or any other necessary class updates. Some University students, however, have said this news from UT has discouraged them from using the app altogether.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous that two or three people cause the entire class to get in trouble,” said print journalism junior London Douglas.

The UT professor accused over half the students of cheating after he learned of the group chat’s existence, something he said in his email to the students was directly banned in the syllabus, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“The rules of the class are clear: students are not permitted to ask about, discuss, or share information related to the exams or labs,” the professor’s email said.

Students are explicitly prohibited from discussing the content of exams and labs in “all possible venues,” according to the course syllabus. Examples of these “venues” include websites, forums, Facebook and informal hallway conversations.

“He’d have no way of making sure people aren’t sharing content about exams face-to-face, so how could he expect to hold up a rule about online information?” Douglas said.

A student of the course told the Houston Chronicle that around the time of the course’s second exam in September, a student posted in the GroupMe asking what might be on the test.

Another student responded with a list of all the textbook concepts the class had reviewed up to the exam, she said. A few hours later, the professor’s cheating accusation email was received.

“This guy has basically banned collaborative studying,” Douglas said. “I think that it is a ridiculous rule, but I don’t know what students can do if it was in the syllabus.”

This is not the first time GroupMe has led to a large amount of students getting into trouble. In 2017, Ohio State accused 83 students of “unauthorized collaboration on graded assignments,” according to The Lantern.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Paula Myrick Short said any incidents of academic dishonesty in a group messaging app follow the same due process under the University’s Academic Honesty Policy.

The policy outlines the prohibited forms of academic dishonesty at the University, which include plagiarism, unauthorized group work, stealing and abuse of academic materials, complicity and more.

Short said group messaging or social media tools can be “useful resources for connecting with classmates as well as receiving notifications pertaining to courses and assignments.”

Short said it’s important for students to report incidents they believe to be violations of the Academic Honesty Policy, however, because failing to do so is a “prohibited form of academic dishonesty known as complicity.”

If a student is found in violation of the policy, sanctions may range from a zero or F on the assignment, a reduced course grade, F grade in the course or, for more severe cases, suspension from the University. A violation could also result in denial of entry into law, medical and professional schools.

“Students should always be careful when using social media,” Short said.

Short said instructors are encouraged to make clear to students, in writing, what constitutes academic dishonesty, particularly in those classes where group activities are part of the instructional method.

As the ability to cheat using technology and social media increases more and more, Short said UH has made strides to address academic dishonesty in all forms.

“While the number of academic dishonesty cases at UH has remained stable, there has been an increase in inquiries focused on how to better address expectations of group work in any medium,” Short said.

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