TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ohio State Accuses 83 Students Of Cheating Through GroupMe Messaging App

GroupMeInside Higher Ed, Cheating Without Intent:

News dropped this month that Ohio State University charged scores of students with cheating in a business course taken in the spring, saying that 83 students used the messaging app GroupMe for “unauthorized collaboration on graded assignments.”

“Students are welcome to use social media tools like GroupMe to communicate with classmates but must remember that the rules are the same for online and in-person interactions,” OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said in an email. “For example, in most cases, sharing the due date for a homework assignment is perfectly acceptable, but sharing the answers to a final exam is not. Students should not share anything online that is prohibited by the rules for the course.”

GroupMe is a messaging app that specializes in creating group chats in lieu of texting or emailing large numbers of people at a time. The app allows for the creation of multiple groups, meaning users could use the app to organize one chat for a course, another for a club or organization and another for co-workers, for example.

The specifics of the case remain unknown for now, but with the app’s prevalence on college campuses — especially for legitimate purposes, such as to form study groups, organize group projects or disseminate information about the syllabus — the accusations also lead to some questions about the safety of using the app. In a worst-case scenario, could students who used a GroupMe for legitimate purposes get in trouble when someone shares test answers? Could one post taint a whole group message and everyone involved in it?

There is no indication that scenario applies to OSU necessarily — the university hasn’t released the details of the case, which would include confidential student information, and the students involved have not yet been found guilty or punished.

But posts on social media and forums throughout the years have expressed concern about students who claim they were caught up in a GroupMe discussion that spiraled into cheating, although they claim they didn’t personally participate in it. Additionally, the app’s settings allow users to disable its notifications — useful when there are dozens or hundreds of users in a single chat, which might occur in a group made for a large lecture — meaning that in theory, a student could be oblivious to any cheating going on.

How exactly OSU sorted out the number of students it charged, whether the GroupMe chat in question featured more than 83 students and under what pretense it was created are unclear. Regardless, though, the students have a right to defend themselves just like any other student accused of academic misconduct.

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