Draft message (video script) for students: 2020-03-29, to send 2020-04-06


Hello. We’re going to talk about two unhappy topics today: our final exam, and what happens when someone cheats in an exam and why you shouldn’t do it. I’m doing this as two videos (and written notes too), as it might help to put a real live human face on things.

Our exam is a limited-open-book honour-code exam. That means that there are lots of things that you can use during it—and that we encourage you to use—but other things that you can’t. I’ll start with the “yes” list.

You can eat and drink during the exam. And listen to music if that helps to create a suitable atmosphere. (I’d recommend music without words or with few words: when marking, for example, I listen to Bach and to classic ‘90s d ‘n’ b.)

You can use your course materials: textbook, workbook, the pamphlets at the end of each, course materials including any shared class notes on Canvas (or however your instructor has shared slides and notes and so on), and your own notes. You can also use us! You can ask your instructor and/or the coordinator—that’s me—questions: though unfortunately we won’t be online 24/7 because we’re human beings like you. I’ll be online approximately 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, Pacific Standard Time, over email. Your instructor will tell you if and when they’ll be available to answer questions. Remember that we have family and friends and neighbours to look after, so we won’t necessarily be available to reply straight away; this is one reason why our exam is a stop-and-start take-home. You might need to stop and start too. That’s fine: make a note of when you stopped and when you started again, I’d recommend writing this on your exam itself.

Because you (and we) might be stopping and starting the exam, I would recommend that you try to schedule a block of time for writing the exam. You don’t have to, but you could decide to write at the original scheduled time. When you’re organising your time, do check the rest of your exam timetable, because your other exams might be scheduled exams at their original time. Make sure that you don’t create any unnecessary exam conflicts or hardships for yourself!

You can use dictionaries: you’ll find a short list of free online dictionaries, and links to them, at the beginning of your exam. This is so that you can look up individual words—like the word for “elephant”—or phrases—like “elephants have large ears”—but NOT to translate whole longer sentences, paragraphs, passages. Whether that’s in a reading comprehension or your own writing. Your exam is shorter than the usual exam-conditions kind, so that you have plenty of time to look words up and to think and to write carefully.

That gets us into the “NO” list. Here is what you can’t and shouldn’t use. The exam should be your own independent individual work. So that means “no” to: contributions and assistance from other people, like classmates, other students, friends, family, neighbours, tutors. No especially to paying for outside help or for someone to do your work for you: that’s just undignified and ignoble anyway. No to translation engines—Google translate is one, it is NOT a dictionary—and spellchecking and grammar-checking software: because using them is using an electronic helper correcting your words, it’s the virtual equivalent of a tutor or proofreader next to you making these corrections.

In this exam as with any work, it’s important for what you write to be your own words, in the language that you are able to use, showing what you’ve learned in our course and can put into applied practice; and it’s very important that you understand what you’re doing and make your own mistakes so as to learn from them.

And yes, of course you can learn from mistakes—and from brilliant triumphs—in an exam: after final grades have been submitted, you can ask your instructor for an appointment to view your exam paper. Any time for the next year. Usually this would mean coming in to look over it in their office; these days, that would mean setting up something like a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session and reading through your exam together over video.

The exam is designed so that you’ll be able to do well if you’ve been coming to class and following along in our course, and doing its work. And even though you have officially two and half hours for it (longer for accessibility students), the exam is designed so that it should take you about two hours maximum, comfortably, with plenty of time for looking things up in your textbook and in dictionaries. The exam is shorter than the usual version (for that, see the French 101 exam from December and the 102 exam from April 2019, which are in your revision materials on Canvas). We’re staying with the original standard UBC exam time of two and half hours, though, so as to be extra comfortable.

And you can write it on computer or on paper, as you wish. Make sure to include accents and punctuation appropriate for this other language, though ! If you’re writing it by hand on paper, you can use pen or pencil: please use a colour that’s easily read—no pale pink please—and if you make a change, please strike it through rather than erasing it. Similarly on a typed exam. This means that when they’re marking your instructor can see your changes, and give you at least partial points if you actually got the answer right, or wrote a better answer, the first time before you changed your mind. Or the second or third time, and so on, if you changed your mind several times. A tip: if you’re changing your mind a lot on one question, or not sure what to do, make a mark next to it—a little asterisk star or something—and move on to the next question. You can then collect together all your queries and email them to your instructor and/or coordinator. Say, when you’re two hours into your exam. When you email us, make a note of the time on your exam and take a break. Return to your exam when we’ve replied and you’ve read the reply: start your individual exam clock again then. If you email us at a time that’s very late for us, or in the middle of the night when we’re asleep: we’ll email you in the morning, and that will give you a longer pause.

Questions might also include technical ones, like how to turn your work into a PDF. This is one reason why the exam has more time than you strictly need. You shouldn’t count that time; and if you’re struggling when it comes to the handing the exam in moment and process, if in doubt, email me and I’ll help.

I’m also attaching the honour code information that will be at the start of your exam, so that you have plenty of time to familiarise yourself with that. If you have any questions, if there’s anything that I haven’t covered, please email me!

Thank you for your time.


Now for the unpleasant part. We need to talk about cheating, and we need to do that openly. You see, I would imagine that some of you might be thinking about cheating. If I were you, I would be. It’s a perfectly natural intelligent human thought to be having: how I can maximise results while minimising effort? My quick answer to that is: if you’re enjoying what you’re doing—and that “enjoyment” can mean “I’m being mentally stimulated by it”—then what you’re doing won’t feel like effort. So try to enjoy what you’re doing. Your results aren’t just what you produced. Much more importantly, your results are what you did and how you did it, the learning along the way. I hope that this different kind of exam will offer you better working conditions, better for an enjoyable learning experience.

Now, that’s all very nice, but you might still be thinking about cheating. How far can rules be bent? That’s a fascinating intellectual and creative exercise in its own right. That’s why we’re talking about how take-home exams work and cheating now, before the exam: if you have “but what about …” questions, this is the time to email me to ask me. We can add to the YES list and the NO list through the week. You can also ask during the exam: if you’re in the exam, and you’re thinking about using something but you’re not sure if you can or should: if in doubt, ask me. I’ll give you a simple yes or no answer.

But … you might still go ahead and cheat anyway.

So. Imagine that you cheat in an exam. You do it, you hand in your exam, you leave. It’s over. You smile secretly to yourself. Maybe you brag about it to friends. You might get caught, but more likely you might get away with it. Who cares. UBC is a big place. It’s a giant impersonal machine. It doesn’t care about you. And if you can get away with it, and get a better grade, well that’s a win isn’t it?

The moment you hand in your exam is just the beginning of a whole horror-show for a bunch of other people. Yes, people: not a big impersonal machine, but individual human beings whose work—and lives—you’ve just changed for the worse. You’ll see from the Academic Calendar that there’s a whole procedure that happens next. This involves a number of people, potentially up to the very top of the University. The procedure is long and complicated as it has checks and balances and rights of appeal. One reason for that is to protect students from false claims, for example by a faculty member who doesn’t like them, or by other students … you can imagine the scenarios: prejudice, bullying and harassment, blackmail, competition for top grades and eliminating competitors, … Anyway. This whole process can take a long time—even in very simple obvious cases—and that’s extra work and time for a bunch of people.

What’s the very first step of what happens next after someone cheats? Well, it’s when your instructor notices.

Your instructor has been working with you in class all term. In a class like ours, and in a subject like ours, we know our students. We know how you write, and we know what standards can be expected at this level. If your instructor is reading your work and they see that you’ve used structures that we have not worked on in class, where there’s no way that you would know this—tenses and syntax that’s at a more advanced level, turns of phrase or errors that are specific to first-language speakers—that’s a red flag: and as experts in the language and in its teaching, we know what to look for. We’d usually not jump straight into a whole cheating process but, instead, ask you about it. If, for example, I suspect that you’d just copy-pasted text into a translation engine or had someone else write it for you, I will give you the benefit of the doubt: that’s where the first stage in many possible cheating cases is that your instructor asks you to explain what you wrote, and specific words in it, and show how you would use that in a different context. I’ve been teaching French as an other language for twenty years. I’ve met cases of cheating, of many kinds; I’ve also met cases of what looked like cheating but actually wasn’t: resolved by a student showing me how they knew a certain thing, and how they were able to use it. This is why my first step, even in what seems like a very obvious case—someone with a cheat sheet in front of them in a closed-book exam, for example, who has been seen by everyone else in the exam room—my first step is to talk to a student.

That’s just the first step that *you* would see. What you would *not* see would be: your instructor rereading and making notes, having a pause to cry, and having an existential crisis: teaching is pointless, no-one wants to learn, my expertise and talents are meaningless, my life has no purpose, human beings aren’t human beings any more, … and so your instructor would generally despair about humanity and existence. The next thing that you wouldn’t see would be your instructor talking to colleagues, because we are community and a mutual aid support group. Your instructor would ask colleagues to read an exam, or part of it that raised questions. This would be anonymised; and anonymising work means making an anonymised copy which is some more work. Your instructor would check that they’re not being paranoid or misreading. Bear in mind too that your instructors are careful readers: we are experts in reading, many of us have doctorates in literary, cultural, translation and critical studies and work actively as scholars in these fields.

There have also been cases where I was suspicious but a colleague reassured me, or vice versa. There are many cases of possible cheating that never go beyond that stage. Some might actually have been cheating. The average case of possible cheating means at least 20-30 hours’ work goes into collecting evidence and writing a formal report and doing paperwork. Including time conferring with colleagues and with a head of department. And that’s for a simple case, and just at the department level; more work continues at the Dean’s office, Senate, and so on. That is unpaid overtime, and it means—as your instructor is not an infinite mechanical resource but a limited human being—that your instructor has less time to spend on the rest of their marking, and less time for other students. But your instructor will still do all this anyway, to protect you from injustice. To protect us all, as we together, you and I and us, we are the university. And in the interests of justice.

Now imagine that your instructor is a sessional faculty member, hired on a course by course basis, underpaid, impoverished, in precarious employment. They often do not have the time or energy to pursue a case of possible cheating. They may also be fearful to do so; scared of the potential for harassment, reprisals—legal, for example—and threats from rich students’ parents.

Cheating isn’t a David and Goliath heroic adventure. It’s not you vs The System, it’s you hurting other people who are already overworked, underpaid, and who are suffering from our current COVID-19 conditions just like you are. We trust you, as fellow Members of the University, and cheating is a betrayal of our larger community and its values, of our class and your colleagues, and of your individual instructor.

While respect must always be earned—in an open society (as opposed to a totalitarian régime)—trust should always be freely given. If taken and abused, it is very hard to rebuild. There’s no need to cheat. There’s no scarcity of grades. Even in “normal” times, academic work is a different kind of labour and economy. And right now, we’re outside that old world of cut-throat competition and into a culture of cooperation. Your instructors want you to do well, and we want this exam to be a space where you can put into applied practice what you’ve learned, to show us, and to show yourself, where our class has taken you in transformative learning. We trust you. Please trust us too. We will be erring on the side of generosity in marking, and we will be being understanding in reading your work. We’ll be careful and caring. Some of our current key words and guiding values are trust, faith, hope, charity, mercy, compassion, kindness, and care. Let’s share them, in our exam as in the rest of life.