Edmonton

40 University of Alberta computing science students caught cheating

The University of Alberta has charged 40 students from two introductory computing science courses with cheating.

‘As long as we have education, we're going to have people who are going to try and game the system’

A number of University of Alberta students caught cheating in computing science courses "face significant sanctions," the U of A said in a Feb. 28 letter. (University of Alberta)

The University of Alberta has charged 40 students from two introductory computing science courses with cheating.

Many of the students were enrolled with an online tutoring company, an operation the university describes as a cheating service. 

In a Feb. 28 letter to computing science students, the university said the students, from the fall term, "face significant sanctions." The U of A warned it would continue to screen all student assignment submissions and "any students found guilty of cheating will be charged."

"I think as long as we have education, we're going to have people who are going to try and game the system and we just have to keep up with them," said Deb Eerkes, the university's director of student conduct and accountability. 

"But really, what the university has to be concerned with is maintaining the integrity of the degree."

Eerkes could not discuss the specific case, but said students typically cheat because they are feeling overwhelmed in some way, or they're feeling pressure to get good grades.

"So it's less about learning the material and more about just making sure that they get the grades," she said. "And so they're seeking help from services that do this."

'A cheating rather than tutoring service'

The Feb. 28 letter said, "a significant number of students found guilty used the tutoring service Ez4EDU."

The letter said "Ez4EDU appears to be operating as a cheating rather than tutoring service" and that some students reported the service provided solutions to lab assignments. 

"The students are simply asked to make slight changes before submitting their own," the letter said, adding later that "providing solutions is just a way of helping students to cheat."

The letter also said some computing scientists had provided Ez4EDU staff access to course software "so that the solutions formulated by the service can be tested before release to students." That, the letter said, is a violation of the U of A's code of student behaviour.

Gary Kang, founder and president of Easy Edu, said he is still investigating and can't speculate about what happened. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

The Ez4EDU website is ez4edu.com. Written in Chinese, the site is operated by Easy Edu, a Toronto-based tutoring company that has operated since 2014 and claims to be the largest and most influential Chinese education and training institution in Canada.

Easy Edu has "education and training bases" in Kingston, Toronto, Mississauga, Scarborough, London, Waterloo, Hamilton and Edmonton, and lists the University of Alberta as one institution at which it offers its services. It claims to have provided its services to more than 100,000 students in person, and more than 170,000 online.

At the University of Alberta it offers tutoring in Introduction to the Foundations of Computation, Introduction to Microeconomics, and introductory courses in chemistry, linguistics, biology, and math.  

Easy Edu founder and president Gary Kang flew to Edmonton Monday to deal with the scandal involving his company. Kang told CBC News he is still investigating and can't speculate about what happened.

But he acknowledged the letter from the university caused "significant reputational harm" to his company and "we are looking for a way to restore our reputation."

Eerkes said students caught cheating face a range of sanctions — from being assigned a zero on an assignment and a grade reduction to failing the class, a reprimand that goes on their record, suspension, and, for repeat offenders, expulsion from the university.

She said 40 cheating students may seem like a lot but she pointed out there are more than 600 students in those two courses.

"We do have to keep dealing with these issues as they pop up and hopefully we're also teaching students, 'Look, you know you should be in this for your education, not just for the grade.'"

@charlesrusnell

With files from Madeleine Cummings