Opinion | Cheating Accusations at Dartmouth’s Medical School

To the Editor:

Re “Cheating Charges at Dartmouth Show Pitfalls of Tech Tracking” (front page, May 9):

When Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine tried to prevent cheating on its remote examinations, the goal was to give all students a level playing field and to achieve fair exam results. Dartmouth tried to ensure fair results by monitoring (and thus preventing) student access to information during the examination.

This method strikes me as close to impossible: Monitoring of internet use is fallible. And how can one hope to control access to books and to knowledgeable roommates?

I suggest that a second way might show more promise. Examinations could use questions on which “cheating” would be of no help: Ask students questions that require analytical thinking and encourage them to use any books and internet resources that they desire to answer these questions. They will thus be tested on their analytical thinking and also on their ability to access information — both skills that are important for doctors (and for everyone) in the world today.

Alice L. Givan
The writer is a retired research associate professor at Dartmouth’s medical school.

To the Editor:

Rather than laying traps for students who cheat, medical schools would be wise to reconsider the structural forces that drive students to dishonesty: academic cultures that favor competition over cooperation, excessive emphasis on grades, and course content that has little bearing on the practice of medicine. If one student cheats, it may reveal a character flaw; if many students cheat, the fault likely lies in the system.

Jacob M. Appel
New York
The writer is an associate professor of psychiatry and medical education at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

To the Editor:

The unpreparedness of the students to defend themselves, if they are in fact falsely accused, is striking. If they find standing up for their own due process and other rights “terrifying” now, then I’m afraid they aren’t ready, emotionally, for the medical industry. Wait until they are accused of medical malpractice, or charged with a board violation or have to testify as a witness in a sudden death case.

Medical students also need to get savvy about digital security and electronic forensics. This event may be one of the most important “lessons” in their medical education, including the somewhat unfortunate reality that law, lawyers and courts go hand in hand with medicine, doctors and hospitals.

Doctors are no longer merely “white coat” technicians; they are being put in the middle of contentious social issues involving health care policy.

Matt Andersson

To the Editor:

Dartmouth’s medical school should readmit the students accused of cheating, not only because the surveillance system was flawed but also because there was no reason to hold a typical exam under the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic.

This was a terrible year to be a student of any kind. Zoom learning is no match for in-person interaction, and peer study groups are essential in grad school. To offset the stress (as well the temptation to cut corners in the online environment), schools should have used alternative assessments.

In my undergraduate courses, I substituted digital projects for high-stakes testing. Oral exams would have worked nicely for med students. E-tests are easier to grade, but surely for almost $70K a year and careers at stake, Dartmouth could have made the extra effort to accommodate its aspiring physicians.

Ellen G. Rafshoon
Brookhaven, Ga.
The writer, who got her B.A. from Dartmouth, is a history professor in Georgia.

To the Editor:

If medical students at Dartmouth knowingly violated its examination rules, of course they should be held accountable for that. But it’s also worth asking what their exam was testing: rote memorization or real understanding?

Too often, “tests” are actually exercises in recall. My wife is a physician, and when she wants to learn a fact she doesn’t know she simply looks it up on her phone. Why not let our future physicians do the same?

Jonathan Zimmerman
The writer teaches history and education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Source: Read Full Article