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Student Faces Expulsion for Facebook Study Group 554

Posted by Soulskill
from the our-way-or-the-highway dept.
Pickens brings news that a student at Ryerson University is facing 147 counts of academic misconduct after helping to run a chemistry study group through Facebook. School officials have declined to comment, but students are claiming that it is simply a valid studying technique in the information age. Quoting: "Avenir, 18, faces an expulsion hearing Tuesday before the engineering faculty appeals committee. If he loses that appeal, he can take his case to the university's senate. The incident has sent shock waves through student ranks, says Kim Neale, 26, the student union's advocacy co-ordinator, who will represent Avenir at the hearing. 'That's the worst part; it's creating this culture of fear, where if I post a question about physics homework on my friend's wall (a Facebook bulletin board) and ask if anyone has any ideas how to approach this - and my prof sees this, am I cheating?' said Neale, who has used Facebook study groups herself."
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Student Faces Expulsion for Facebook Study Group

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  • by GearType2 (614552) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:17AM (#22673510)
    Yes. It is cheating. No one ever gets help from anyone in the real world, and certainly not when science is involved.
    • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:31AM (#22673562)
      Sharing information like that is cheating. You will be receiving a letter from the Vice President for Student Affairs outlining charges of academic misconduct against you.
    • by onion2k (203094) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:35AM (#22673576) Homepage
      Is it reasonable to assume that every student will carry out their homework assignment in isolation? I don't think it is. It's not really commendable that someone took it upon themselves to go for a more organised approach to 'cheating' but I'd say that if the university wants assignments to be carried out by individuals alone they have a duty to provide invigilated exam halls rather than setting a practically unenforceable condition and kicking anyone out who they happen to find breaking it.

      Thousands of other students will have broken this rule in the past sitting around a library table or a kitchen counter - why did the university let them get away with it?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:47AM (#22673616)
        Why are they still letting 146 other students get way with it and just going after the administrator of the site?

        Oh, of course, if they kicked out all the students that were using the facebook group, there wouldn't be anybody left on the course and they wouldn't get all that nice money they provide. Much better just to pick one scapegoat to make an example of.

        Sounds like a typical US college knee-jerk over-reaction. We can do it so we will... tremble in fear, puny students at the might of THE ADMINISTRATION...!
      • by RuBLed (995686) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:48AM (#22673624)
        The reason is that cheater needs to be caught red-handed. If it is just a small cheating group assembled in the library table or the canteen, there is not enough incentive for the university to try to get them. The group is too small, could easily hide the evidence and there are dozens of such groups around.

        Now, if one tries to have a group the size of 100+ students in the library, canteen or anywhere in the premises. I'm sure there is more than enough incentive for the university to get them. Much like what they're doing here. And besides the evidence is as plain as the midday sun (w/o clouds).
        • Why so many? Is it so there is almost no chance the student can get away with them all?
          • Re:147 offences? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by rasputin465 (1032646) on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:35AM (#22673764)
            147 offenses? Why so many?

            Seriously! This looks like something straight out of the RIAA playbook.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by rucs_hack (784150)
              That thought occurred to me too. Sort of a way of going by the rules and gaming the system at the same time.
            • Re:147 offences? (Score:5, Informative)

              by OAB_X (818333) on Friday March 07, 2008 @10:01AM (#22674526)
              It's so many because that's the number of people in the Facebook group.

              SPecifically he is charged with academic misconduct (which is able to be punished by expulsion), because the group advertised not just "help" (like hints) but "post answers", and because people presumably handed in those answers it's plagerism (the questions that had answers given were requrired to be handed in and worth 10% of their mark). It's one of those really fine lines that was probably crossed, but it may not have been by him, perhaps just the people who joined the group. In that case they "should" have charged _EVERY_ student in the group with misconduct, clearly this isn't happening.

              However, the administration is hampered by the rules which say that they MUST hold an appeals hearing if a professor alledges academic misconduct (it is the professor who reports plagerism, and the professor who submits a recommendation on action to be taken by the administration, in this case, the proff wants him to be expelled)

              Article from the student newspaper: http://www.theeyeopener.com/article/3816 [theeyeopener.com]

              Full disclosure: I'm a student at Ryerson, but not involved in this at all, and I don't think he should be expelled.
              • Re:147 offences? (Score:5, Interesting)

                by TobyRush (957946) on Friday March 07, 2008 @10:54AM (#22675162) Homepage

                The article says that he is charged with "running an online study group on Facebook"; if that is true, then by extension Ryerson should outlaw any form of study group, because it's just as easy to share answers when you're meeting with others in the library or talking about it at a party with an upperclassman who took the class three years ago. If they are charging him with "posting answers on Facebook," or even "soliciting answers on Facebook," that would be more understandably punishable.

                As a college prof, I can attest to the fact that catching plagiarism is necessary and one of the few crappy aspects of my job. There is a fine line between someone (tutor, friend, Facebook buddy, etc.) helping the student and giving him/her the answers, but the line is there nonetheless. It's impossible and inappropriate to police the students every minute; I've seen other profs burn themselves out with the paranoia that there are cheaters out there and they must catch every last one of them.

                The answer, in my mind, is to make the students want to learn the material: make the lectures interesting and informative, show them why the information is important for them to know in the long-term, give tests which require the assimilation of the material and not just memorization of the answers. If a student in my class is cheating, I take some responsibility for it.

                And maintaining an active Facebook account [facebook.com] doesn't hurt...

                • Re:147 offences? (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by steelfood (895457) on Friday March 07, 2008 @12:13PM (#22676128)
                  It's easy to catch the cheaters: if they cheat on homework, they have to cheat to pass on the exams as well.

                  With respect to a math and science class, homework isn't meant to be done in isolation, and it certainly isn't meant to be assigned the same ethically rigorous standards of conduct that tests demand. Fundamentally, the purpose of homework is to encourage collaboration, so that the students can collectively supplement the teachings in class. Doing homework together isn't cheating. Getting the answers from someone else for a piece of homework isn't cheating. Finding the questions online and copying the answers verbatim isn't cheating. It isn't even plagurism, because there are a limited number of ways of solving each problem, and there's no expectation that every individual turn in their assignment with a novel solution--well, unless nobody in class knows just what the hell is going on and everybody's trying to BS their way through the problem hoping to get a few lucky points.

                  On the other hand, the understanding (and purpose) of an exam is that of individual knowledge and achievement. And that's the time to catch the cheaters who copy homework from others verbatim.

                  Obviously, different standards apply to liberal arts classes, where exams do not usually produce meaningful information, and hence where there actually is an expectation of novelty for assignments. But the arts stand diametrically opposed to math and science, as unlike math and science, there are no "right" or "wrong" results, only defensible and indefensible results.

                  This chem prof must be one of those jackasses who, while still in school, did all of his work alone and refused to lend assistance to any of his fellow students, especially if there was no tutoring credit. And he's probably justifying his own selfishness by imposing the same standards that he idealized as a student upon his students.
                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    It's easy to catch the cheaters: if they cheat on homework, they have to cheat to pass on the exams as well.

                    That's absurd, and completely illogical. What if someone asked you to do, say, 100,000 simple additions (two random numbers from 1 to 1000, say), but all you needed to submit was the answers. You're not allowed to use a calculator or write a script, or get answers from anyone else, of course. It would be very tempting to cheat, wouldn't it? Not because you HAVE to, but because you know you have better things to do than 100,000 simple addition problems.

                    I never cheated, simply because I never cared en

              • Re:147 offences? (Score:4, Interesting)

                by CompMD (522020) on Friday March 07, 2008 @12:56PM (#22676756)
                Ryerson has a track record of being very tough on misconduct.

                The company I work for has a very specialized engineering software package that we sell to students (with proof of enrollment) at a 99% discount. However, as long as there are universities, there will be software pirates. Some enterprising students decided to install an old version of our software that had been cracked in a university lab. Bad idea. The software tried to call home to register, and failed validation since it was no longer a supported version. Since there are so few users of the software, and I know who every legal user of the software is, I quickly noticed this. I discovered that the IP addresses of the computers trying to register the software were Ryerson lab computers in the school of engineering. After discussing the situation with Ryerson's IT staff, I found out that the students were told that I knew what they did, the school of engineering was notified of what happened, and their department chair was notified about what happened. I was told they all were going to face disciplinary action and that one of them would face expulsion since he committed a crime with university machines. I wasn't going to chase after them legally, I had no desire to; I just didn't want them installing pirated software on university computers. But Ryerson had some of their own punishments that they were going to mete out.
          • Re:147 offences? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by OS24Ever (245667) * <trekkie@nomorestars.com> on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:59AM (#22674114) Homepage Journal
            you've never taking Chem 184 or whatever the first level of Chemistry was called? My class had 834 students to start, and about 200 at the end. 147 could have been the final number in my class in 1989.
        • by memnock (466995) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:03AM (#22673868)
          my school [usf.edu] has group "study" rooms in the library. you have to get a key to use one of the rooms and the only way to get a key is by signing up a group of people.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by stry_cat (558859)
          You obviously need to get more friends if your study group is that small. When I was in college, the physics study group I was part of met every week and almost every physics major from freshman to senior was there. Not quite 100 but more on the order of 50 people taking over the commons area of one dorm. Unless the prof said not to get help on the assignment, I don't see how a study group either online or in person is cheating.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sjames (1099)

          The reason is that cheater needs to be caught red-handed.

          That doesn't adequately explain it. There were 147 students in that facebook study group. One student was charged with 147 counts of misconduct, one for his own participation and one for each other participant. The case for scapegoating is fairly clear.

      • by tacocat (527354) <[tallison1] [at] [twmi.rr.com]> on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:48AM (#22673626)

        This is approaching cheating. You have a historical record of the questions and eventually direct answers to the homework questions. Remember, these questions generally come from books which are used over and over. So by the third semester these books are going to be pretty well answered on the internet.

        What makes this different is that most people work out the problem with their peers and then move on, not keeping the answers out on the table for the next group of students. It's collaborative problem solving, not collaborative problem/answer posting. The real damage can be that no one learns anything other than how to sign-up to Facebook and troll for answers.

        Volatile methods should be considered acceptable: IM, IRC, Email (without archives). These promote collaboration without promoting copy/paste.

        I personally did very little with collaborative study groups because I found too often I was shelling out answers to people who were just writing stuff down and never returning any value to the group or me personally. As such, I saw no value to my academic career in continuing this practice. I would not advocate anyone seriously invest as this being the only study means, you just don't learn that much, like problem solving.

        • by koko775 (617640) on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:13AM (#22673698)
          Au contraire, this is the only thing that helped me through my EE class last semester. Maybe you're too smart to need it, but I always understood 80% of my homework and earned the rest of the understanding by attacking the problem as a group. Having a collaborative study group taught me virtually everything in that class; the instructor was terrible.

          My point is, what works for one person doesn't for another, and vice-versa. I favor the collaborative approach over the solitary. I haven't RTFA, though I should, but suggesting approaches without giving out answers sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
          • by rikkards (98006) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:45AM (#22674042) Journal
            But is it collaborative if you can come in after the fact, see what other people have done and write down the answers yourself without any interaction with the original group. The people who gathered together to solve the problem initially was collaborative learning. Anyone after that is cheating.
            • But is it collaborative if you can come in after the fact, see what other people have done and write down the answers yourself without any interaction with the original group.

              First of all, that sort of cheating is easy to do and hard to catch. It goes on all the time without the benefit of the internet.

              And it doesn't help its practitioners. Keep in mind that even if you got every answer from the forum and it was always right (not guaranteed if you have no idea how things work or how to sift the right ans

        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:25AM (#22673738) Journal
          Provided a student can't pass a course without passing the exam then IMHO it doesn't really matter if the text book answers are on the net.

          I used to teach a C programming lab class at uni (circa 1992-4), I twice had students hand in printouts of someone else's work, right down to the mandatory name and student id in the comment header! Out of a class of ~40 there really were only a handfull of original works, the rest were original crap or 'derivitave works'.

          The 'derivitave works' show that students collaborate, but to some degree that's what is SUPPOSED to happen. No matter how simply you explain pointers in C only about 10-15% will have it sink in on the second presentation, they had already seen it once in the lecture.

          I would sometimes question the derivative works that I randomly judged as 'too similar'. The best reason I got was: "We are husband and wife, you want us stop talking about our studies."
          • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday March 07, 2008 @09:16AM (#22674196)
            And unless the grading was based on 'originality' or 'uniqueness' I would often give my Matlab programs to friends. Given my unique coding style and understanding of how to actually use the language (for loop=bad) no one would have come up with code like mine. Professors figured it out after the second homework assignment and derivative works would always get 10% less.

            And heck, in subsequent semesters I'd have "friends" (mostly loose acquaintances that would use anyone they had to pass) ask me to do their homework in exchange for stuff (money, food, alcohol). If I had time and it looked like fun I'd do it for my own merit to hone my skills. Plus since the only time these people gave me the time of day is when *they* needed something for *their* homework I would have a bit of schadenfreude about the whole situation. I'd do the first few homework assignments (when my real classes had no homework) but then by time the hard stuff came out I "lost interest" and they'd end up failing because they had no concept on how anything actually worked.
          • by Sax Maniac (88550) on Friday March 07, 2008 @10:23AM (#22674760) Homepage Journal
            I had this happen to me when teaching. I'd simply ask the student to explain a particular bit of code. Usually the most syntatically or semantically complicated part, or maybe a little bit of extraneous code that I can see really wasn't needed to solve the problem. They couldn't. Not even admitting a guess - something like "well, I'm not sure how it works, but I tried a bunch of things before which didn't work, and this seemed to work."

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Falstius (963333)

              "well, I'm not sure how it works, but I tried a bunch of things before which didn't work, and this seemed to work."

              Sadly, I've actually watched several students program by changing random letters until it magically works. Of course, this deserves a failing mark (for their own protection!) almost as much as plagiarism.

        • Then you missed out (Score:5, Interesting)

          by nietsch (112711) on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:52AM (#22673826) Homepage Journal
          Feeling superior towards other classmates does not make up for the education you missed by not cooperating with your peers. Humans are social beings, and the best learning happens in a social context. You learn a lot from seeing others make and correct mistakes. Yes there will be others(or you) that are only asking for fishes, not wanting to fish by themselves. You could help yourself more by explaining how to fish, than to walk away. They might give you a fish later when you are hungry.

          Don't believe in social learning? try this for a thought experiment: Each one of you has to open a puzzle box of some sort (with a ticket for free sex in it if you prefer). Seeing someone else open that box will give you a clue how to open yours, and that will make the task easier that having to figure it out all by yourself.

          As for the punishing prof: he needs to be sued for academic misconduct in denying his students an efficient study method, and for relying on security by obscurity. Perhaps his actual intent to teach was that the rules have to be obeyed no matter what, and you better not cross anyone that has any (percieved) power over you, as they have to right to come down on you like a ton of bricks. Hierachy has to be maintained after all. That would not suprise me in the corporatist USA.
          • by Asic Eng (193332) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:51AM (#22674072)
            he needs to be sued for academic misconduct in denying his students an efficient study method

            Well give him a break, he is obligated to do that! The article states that Ryerson's academic misconduct policy defines misconduct as:

            any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, [...].

            So clearly - since learning would give you an academic advantage - it would have to be treated as misconduct. Same for any study method which has the potential to be efficient.

            • by Zygamorph (917923) on Friday March 07, 2008 @10:12AM (#22674646)

              Other methods also come to mind

              1. Attending classes
              2. Taking notes
              3. Reading those notes
              4. Reading the text book
              5. Reading supplementary texts/online/whatever

              The point is that the "rule" is so vague it can be applied to all methods of of legitimate study and should therefore be considered unenforceable due to its vagueness . I did RTFA and there is a statement that no solutions were "traded" just tips and pointers as to how to solve a problem. The fact that it is on Facebook as opposed to a study hall or anywhere else is irrelevant. What needs to be examined is what was exchanged, was it actually solutions, plagiarized works, advice on how to solve problems in general, study tips, whatever? As always, the devil is in the details and if you want an informed opinion you have to look at them

              Even so it is a difficult judgement call since you can be having roadblock and have to post part or all of your solution to get help.

              I.E. We know the answer is 4 but every time I add 2 + 2 I get 5, what am I doing wrong?

              I also wonder about the "permanence" factor, if the problems all change every year then having "old" solutions available is a study method not a cheat. If the teacher is using the same stuff then they are lazy. The university I went to published the exams, with solutions, for several prior years as an aid to studying, it probably kept the profs honest as well. As far as I can see the decision point isn't what technology is used, its what information ( that's useful data ) was exchanged.

          • by SuperDuck (16035) on Friday March 07, 2008 @10:12AM (#22674642)
            I find it rather interesting that this article's replies have all assumed that this is an American university.

            Ryerson University is located in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

            And what's getting this student in trouble is the invitation to the Facebook group where it requests the posting of final full solutions, rather than warning against it. If he had just asked for solution techniques and advice, and stated without ambiguity that posting of final solutions is a no-no, he would have been fine.

            RTFA, and also please don't assume that we only have igloos and polar bears up here. ;-)
            • by SnoopJeDi (859765) <(snoopjedi) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday March 07, 2008 @11:34AM (#22675642)
              It's a cozy thought to think he'd be fine if the intentions of the group were more 'honest', but you can't really say he would, unless you're on a board or two at Ryerson.

              The metastory is the important bit here; as we careen headfirst into the Web 2.0 world and our meatspace lives become increasingly public in the blue nowhere, how are the rules changing? In particular, is the academic world just a little slow in adjusting centuries of tradition to cope with the changing lives of students?

              If my university couldn't offer me coursework better than copy-to-pass, I would probably withdraw. In this particular case I think Ryerson is justified because of the technicalities of the wording of the group. This poor shmoe probably never thought to change the greeting message on the group when he took over, so he's basically getting slammed over somebody else's words because he assumed their position when he took over their job of running this group.

              Goddamn shame, really.
        • by DancesWithBlowTorch (809750) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:31AM (#22673984)
          I have been teaching undergraduate physics for about four years now. I specifically ask my students to work in groups of two to three, and to hand in their work as a group.

          Besides saving the supervisors a load of time during correction, this encourages collaborative behaviour. Good students learn while explaining the subject to their peers. The slower students learn by having in effect a second, more hands-on lecture, by one of their peers. During my own undergraduate years, most of my professors did ask us to work in teams, and I always felt like I was learning much more, while working much more efficiently.

          Of course, it is possible for people to "cheat" their way through this. So far, I haven't seen this happen too often, for two reasons: Peer pressure (if you don't contribute to the team, your mates won't want to work with you next term) and actual exam pressure (the final mark consists purely of the exam result, which is of course done by everyone individually). The examples I set are just (and I make that clear at the beginning of term) examples. They are an offer to you to learn something. You can choose not to take this offer up, it's your decision, you're an adult.
        • by falcon5768 (629591) <Falcon5768.comcast@net> on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:55AM (#22674092) Journal
          My prof had a test for my engineering problems class. He gave us a bunch of questions that we had to answer, and we could do whatever we wanted in the classroom, but we couldn't talk to each other.

          Everyone around me worked their ass off. People grouped together but didnt talk to each other, just wrote things going through equations like lightning.

          Me?

          I went to his desk grabbed the book he got the questions out of, turned to the answer key and wrote them on the board. Everyone in my class got a B, I got a A

          The point? It is silliness boarding on stupidity to think in the 21st century you will not be able to have all means necessary in completely your job. So WHY would you limit yourself when the professor said "use anything possible except talking to each other." The talking to each other was a trick obviously, since by saying that he reinforced the fear all college students have about honor codes and the like, but his point was, dont be stupid about working the problem.

          • by dcollins (135727) on Friday March 07, 2008 @11:10AM (#22675322) Homepage
            Man, what a load of horseshit. Did he say in advance he'd be grading based on how well you hacked the instructions? Or did he intentionally mislead the entire class about that? If the point was that in real life you'll have research texts available, wouldn't it be shorter to just *say* that than waste a whole freaking class period on this fraudulent exercise?

            That kind of passive-aggressive "gotcha" teaching and grading is truly bullshit. Apparently he's got nothing useful to actually say about the field engineering that day.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ArhcAngel (247594)
          I don't no how too do this facebook you speek of. could you just emale me the ansers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cbiltcliffe (186293)

        Is it reasonable to assume that every student will carry out their homework assignment in isolation? I don't think it is.

        Apparently, the University of Western Ontario here in London, Ontario, agrees with you. It was in today's local paper that UWO faculty have started these Facebook study groups themselves. They do include warnings against cheating, which is reasonable, I think, but this is impressive.

        http://lfpress.ca/newsstand/CityandRegion/2008/03/07/4935451-sun.html [lfpress.ca]

        I'd say with the CRTC, and U

  • if I post a question about physics homework on my friend's wall (a Facebook bulletin board) and ask if anyone has any ideas how to approach this - and my prof sees this, am I cheating?
    Either way, that last bit seems irrelevant to me. But maybe I'm just old fashioned.
    • by arivanov (12034) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:43AM (#22673606) Homepage
      Depends on the prof.

      You have to keep in mind that that if you post it you are also giving a chance to a social climber from cultures where such social climbing is cherished to report you. Though, based on personal experience they usually report the person who will help you.

      I studied in a US university for 2 years. At the end of the second year we had to hand in coursework for a "philosophy of science" course. We were allowed and actively encouraged to discuss our findings. Which we did as a group - me and 3-4 US students. I organised the group and helped others with research on some of the topics like the Xenon paradoxes as they required math knowledge to understand and analyse properly. All of us had an A grade for the class and the coursework. I went home for the summer and was contacted near its end. Apparently two Indian students striving to become fledging proto-Americans got sub-A grades due to us blowing the curve. So to fix their grades they officially complained about me for copying from the American student coursework (in reality none of us copied anything, and it was me helping my mates, not vice versa).

      At that point I decided that I have had enough of arseholes and social climbers and I decided to finish my education in Europe. Which I did and I never regretted the decision.

      Frankly, I can understand this student. Been there, done that. Decided that the best idea is to tell the University to f*** off and go somewhere where writing defamatory letters onto other students is not a preferred means of academic and personal career advancement.
      • by rucs_hack (784150) on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:52AM (#22673824)
        From what I have been able to gather, the US educational system (at least university level and above) is very competitive. I guess this does mean you get people being nasty to get better status.

        However, the post grad careers options are also correspondingly better in the US then they are in the UK where I live (certainly in the academic field). That means more people want that option, so competition again increases. You can't have that without having barstards taking advantage of the system.

        Things aren't always better here in the UK for students though. You often find that to get the best projects (or more importantly, project supervisors) as an undergrad, you can't just sit in line, you have to stand out. That means getting the good grades. Same goes for phd places. Unless you really stand out, you won't have nearly as much chance of being able to pick and choose. That's too much pressure for some, and they resort to cheating or underhand behavior.

        I had several phd offers, and could take my time selecting the one I wanted. I had to work like a slave for years to make sure I got those offers though. Had I not done this I probably would have been stuck on the pile of applicants at some other university, which is not a good negotiation position. I know others cheated to try and get the same results as I and some friends were obtaining through sweat, tears, and a lack of beer. It's too tempting not to for some. Unfortunately people who serially cheat also find final exams cripplingly hard, so it sort of balances out.
        • by arivanov (12034) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:10AM (#22673900) Homepage
          Not quite so.

          Put yourself into a proto-American's place. Suppose that you get a B because you suck and you lose your scholarship or it is reduced. Most of them have no means to top up the scholarship and weather the storm so they have to go back which is a stain on the reputation of the family. They will have people talking to their parents "Your precious Shriram is so f*** daft that he got kicked out of University" (name is real by the way). This also stands in the way of their dream to become proto-Americans, get a green card, a passport and remain in the country.

          So a eliminating anomalies in the curve by a complaint here or complain there is absolutely not beyond them. I am definitely not surprised if the person who ratted on this student had this in mind (somebody pointed the prof to the group in the first place). In fact I have seen it and been on the receiving side one time too many to the point where I simply said "F*** it, F*** you all, I am leaving".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zhrike (448699)
        Let me get this straight: US Universities have a culture of social climbing, and your evidence to this theory is an incident in which two Indian students reported you. You may want to take stock of your prejudice. If you need help, start with this statement: "Apparently two Indian students striving to become fledging proto-Americans . . ."
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vigmeister (1112659)
        As someone who recently completed an undergrad at Georgia Tech, and having been the head TA for a 1000 student class for six semesters, I have heard enough complaints from students about their fellow students cheating. From my personal experience, Indians have no statistically significant proclivity towards 'ratting others out' that students from other countries. More importantly, educators generally ignore such complaints unless there is a compelling argument. We aren't all that dense and we do realize stu
  • by Toasty16 (586358) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:20AM (#22673520) Homepage
    posting the following is a little too close to saying "swap answers here":

    "If you request to join, please use the forms to discuss/post solutions to the chemistry assignments. Please input your solutions if they are not already posted."
    • if these assignments are to be graded and the grade on the assignment will go as part of the assessment of the student, then yes this is cheating. On the flip side, if the sole purpose of homework is to learn, and credit is given based on the completion of an assignment, then no this is not "cheating" as the purpose is exercise. If you didn't get the answer correct, it was not going to count against you, and if you go to a forum, then all you have done is speed up the process (you don't have to wait until
    • by rucs_hack (784150)
      yes indeed, there's not many ways to describe that but cheating.

      Had that happened on the course I taught I'd have removed the assignment and replaced it with a test the students had to sit. The people who set it up would have been in hot water. I'd press for punishment too, perhaps removal of lab rights, or a max C on the course, but nothing harsher.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by delt0r (999393)
        The problem with a cheating culture is that degrades the value of the whole course. This has happened is some cases where employers simply don't believe that a degree is a degree from some university courses.

        Cheating is a fail. Plain and simple. If you want high school treatment, well they should have stayed there.

        However in this case it is impossible to tell if someone viewed the answers. So a spot test sounds like the best approach. I will use that next time I have this problem. Thanks!
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:21AM (#22673530)
    Is there any school level science problem for which the solution can't be found via judicious use of Google?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ihlosi (895663)
      Is there any school level science problem for which the solution can't be found via judicious use of Google?



      Why use Google or read books/datasheets/tfm, when you can just post your question and expect a ready-to-use answer some time later ? (If the latter doesn't occur, jump up and down, pout and insult the members of the discussion forum)

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      That would be any assignment with values used in the problem randomly chosen. Instead of a 1 kilogram mass, just use a 2.6341 mass and see if the student still manage to solve the problem. We can posit that anyone can afford a 4-op calculator by now.
      • by kf6auf (719514)
        Yeah, changing the numbers works when you have numbers. But when the assignment is to solve something algebraically, answers are going to tend to look similar.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by allcar (1111567)
      The difference here is that Google will certainly provide examples of similar problems, but the student will still have to apply these examples to the specific problem in hand. It is to be hoped that this will at least force them to demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of the problem. Where they can just take the precise answer off Facebook and change a few words, no understanding is required at all. Even in my day, course work of this nature was always at risk of collaboration. With the information now
  • by Hennell (1005107) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:29AM (#22673552) Homepage
    I think the difference to a normal group is that an informal discussion in a group is more the ideas behind the topics, you can't just 'copy & paste' other peoples words. Depending of the set up of the group, lazy students could not be members, but plagiarise other students work. Couple that with the fact there are 146 members, which is much larger then any 'real' group might be, and I can see why they might have a problem. Having said that, expulsion & other measures seem overkill, a review of policy and discussion with students would make much more sense.
    ---
    I think the method in my madness is a mad method
    ---
    • by kaos07 (1113443)

      Expulsion might seem like overkill, but it is the punishment in cases of plagiarism and copying for an assessment. It's up the school's discretion whether or not to reprimand, suspend or expel. If they student wants to make an appeal he can do so with the Dean or the head of school.

      However I don't know how far that will get him. As far as the school is concerned he collected and disseminated answers to an assignment to 146 people. If he had printed out answers and shared them around the school would probabl

  • The guy cheated (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kaos07 (1113443) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:30AM (#22673558)

    That's all there is too it. They weren't talking about Chemistry in general, but they were answering questions and sharing the answers on an assignment worth 10% of their final grade. It was against the school's rules (Which they accepted when they joined the school) and they broke them, Facebook or no Facebook.

    I don't quite understand why the media goes into a frenzy every time Facebook or YouTube is mentioned. Kids at my old highschool swapped answers on a free forum they quickly registered and ended up getting caught and punished. Is this any different? No, yet the media and non-techie readers get into a frenzy every time social networking is mentioned.

    This is slightly off topic but what the hell is with that info box in the article? "OTHER CASES: Expulsions for internet misuse". It implies that students were expelled simply because they accessed the internet or social networking websites. But that's not the case. They were expelled because the school either has the right to expel at their own discretion (eg. The gay guy who was expelled John Brown Christian College) or they broke other school rules such as harassing and physically abusing school officials. The fact that it happened on the internet is redundant, the outcome would have been the same if polaroid pictures of the incidents were found or if someone was dobbed in.

    • Their homework questions were worth 10% of their grade. Which seems bizarre. Wouldn't something like chemistry usually be 20% midterm, 30% labs, 50% final? I never had assigned homework problems marked after high school... the closest would be essays for English courses, term projects, and lab reports.
      • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@AUDENyahoo.com minus poet> on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:00AM (#22673852) Homepage
        I still have a vague recollection of the analog signal processing homework problem sets we had to do. And we sure as hell did them in groups. They sucked. You needed a group just to face the horror of Fourier transforms. If I still even remember how to spell Fourier right.

        The real problem here is that the policy sucks. It's like college classes with an attendance policy - if students are not showing up, and attending the class is worthwhile, they're either brilliant and will pass the exams anyway, or they are not brilliant, and will fail the exams because they did not avail themselves of the opportunities presented by class. In those circumstances, an attendance policy is not necessary. So when a class HAS an attendance policy anyway, then you know that attending class is probably a waste of your time, because if it wasn't, the professor wouldn't need to hold your grade hostage to get you to show up and listen to them drivel 3 hours a week.

        Same goes with homework. If people want to copy each other's homework, who cares - they'll fail the exam anyway. And if they copy homework and don't fail the exam, then the problem is that the homework was a waste of their time, and you shouldn't be blaming the students for not wanting to waste their time, especially when they're paying for an education, not the assignment of useless busy work.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by PeeAitchPee (712652)

          It's like college classes with an attendance policy - if students are not showing up, and attending the class is worthwhile, they're either brilliant and will pass the exams anyway, or they are not brilliant, and will fail the exams because they did not avail themselves of the opportunities presented by class. In those circumstances, an attendance policy is not necessary

          Sounds to me like the professor is training their students for the real world -- you know, that terrible thing that happens when college

          • by LordLucless (582312) on Friday March 07, 2008 @09:04AM (#22674144)
            The professor isn't paid to train them for "the real world". He's paid to train them in chemistry. If he wants to train them in the "real world", and put "real world" expectations on them, he can pay them a "real world" salary. Maybe one day he should kick half his students out of the class for no good reason, just so they can experience the "real world" phenomenon of being made redundant.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              I don't agree: the professors ARE paid to train students for the "real world", by virtue of treating them like adults. This means that, in an environment where person X sets the rules, then all persons underneath X must abide by those rules. It is a part of college/university as a whole to learn to be an adult, and how can you do that when the school presents a context completely alien to the adult world?

              Part of the adult world is following the orders of your superiors (where appropriate), and learning
          • by jcnnghm (538570) on Friday March 07, 2008 @10:14AM (#22674668)
            Depends on your definition of the real world. In college, I took multiple courses where I never attended the lectures or the discussions, unless there was a test or a quiz scheduled, since I lived over an hour away from campus. After one 300 level comp sci course, I got an e-mail from the professor congratulating me on getting the highest grade in the course, but mentioned that he had tried to find me in the lectures a few times, but could never seem to find me. I sent him a message back explaining that I had never actually attended the lecture.

            He sent me another message asking if I thought attendance should be mandatory, and my response was that I wouldn't have been able to get the highest score in the course if I didn't understand the material, and that I thought mandatory attendance only held back people that don't take much from the lectures. He agreed with that logic, and didn't change the course. I think that professors that require mandatory attendance either aren't self starters that are capable of teaching themselves course material without guidance, or are conceited enough to believe that it isn't possible to learn the material without their expert tutelage.

            In the real world, I work as a consultant, and I bill almost all of my work with fixed rate firm quotes. I have control over how, when, and what work gets done, and because I'm getting paid the same regardless of the amount of time it takes, I am seriously motivated to get things done as efficiently as possible. Not attending lectures that were unnecessary when I could teach myself the material in less time helped develop this real world skill.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by MorePower (581188)
            After all, if you're required to work in an office for your job, and you don't show up, you'll get fired.

            But in real life, you choose your employer freely. And you can get a manager/job/become-self-employed that doesn't waste your time. I know because I have a job like that. If I'm not actually billing a client (in which case I would be at the client's job site) and don't need to use the copier/fax-machine/office supplies, and don't need to see my manager, then I stay home.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by drooling-dog (189103)

          You needed a group just to face the horror of Fourier transforms. If I still even remember how to spell Fourier right.
          I'll bet you would, if you'd have bothered to do the problems yourself!
    • Re:The guy cheated (Score:5, Insightful)

      by clickety6 (141178) on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:01AM (#22673660)

      actually, it seems more like 147 guys cheated, so why aren't they expelling the other 146 guys?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      There's a difference between people posting answers up for people to copy and paste verbatim, and people providing help for others to solve problems themselves.

      If you're submitting a piece of work that's worth anything to your mark, and you copy the work of another student verbatim, that's cheating, there's no doubt about that.

      But that's not what is happening here. As TFA says, Each student is given different questions:

      Each student in the course received slightly different questions to prevent cheati

      • by epine (68316) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:19AM (#22673934)
        Long ago I had a friend who was enrolled in the unusual double major of pure and applied math. As a result of this, he ended up taking more or less the same course in differential equations twice, once on the pure side, once on the applied side.

        One of the two professors was rather lazy, so at some point during the course he ended up being given the same assignment he had already completed the first time around: twenty pages of dense pencil-work for which he had received a grade of 95% We're talking a major math school that often beats MIT/Harvard at the Putnam. This was not a trivial accomplishment.

        One night, I want to go out for beers or something, but he tells me "I can't". I go "Why not?" "I have to copy out my twenty page diffy-Q assignement." I go "What do you mean, you have to copy out your own assignment?" He tells me the situation. I suggest "Why don't you just cross off the professor from the first time around and put the name of the new professor there, you already got 95% and it was your own work".

        Obviously, he wanted to go for beers, because he took my foolish advice. His prof (a woman, let's call her Dolores) gave him a ZERO for his efforts. A ZERO for handing his own work (again), when she herself was too lazy to come up with her own assignment. He had to protest, and got his grade back, but it involved a lot of stress. Dolores seemed like a normal enough person in real life, if a bit stressed most of the time.

        These days, if you write up your assignment using one of the math software packages, you could simply reprint your own work, and the prof. would have nothing to complain about. Dolores must have thought it was an insult to her authority, that he wouldn't have been so glib with a male professor. Or something. It actually beats me she was thinking at all. It's not like he had 70% the first time and clear scope for improvement, either. His first pass had two points deducted for what amounted to transcription errors, the kinds of small mistakes any person with a brain worth having will make in the middle of twenty pages of dense pencil-work.

        This ban on "collaboration" in completing homework assignments has never been real. Students actually learn better when they share the process. I find the best situation is where the assignment is too difficult for any one person independently, and students are forced to group together and learn from each other.

        "The Paper Chase" is effectively a documentary on this schooling approach. At the end of the day, though, you need to write up the answers in your own words or you'll be screwed on exam day, whatever credit you got on the assignments in the meantime.

        It does sound like this site crossed the line more than most approaches to shared learning. But I wouldn't be too quick to side with the institution either, as universities can often be remarkably dumb institutions.

        Some people say this prepares you for real life. There's the problem. It prepares you to *accept* the crap that goes on far too easily, so instead of having fewer PHBs we end up with more. I miss the days when universities existed to aim high.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Soldrinero (789891)

          I suggest "Why don't you just cross off the professor from the first time around and put the name of the new professor there, you already got 95% and it was your own work".

          At the school where I did my undergraduate work, we had an academic honor code that explicitly forbade reusing your own work without proper citation. It was considered plagiarism. We never got recycled homeworks like your example, so it really was quite reasonable. An honor code that is strongly respected and enforced can actually create

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by TheLink (130905)
            Did Dolores cite the previous professor in her assignment question? She should actually have been sacked if she didn't do that, since she was implicitly passing off someone else's work as hers. And she being in a position of authority should be setting a better example.

            By doing what he did - crossing out the prev professor's name, he's actually calling her out on it. Which not surprisingly she didn't take very well.

            As for the marks, I don't see why he should get a zero at all. She might give him a different
    • by StandardCell (589682) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:05AM (#22673878)
      Having been through two degrees in engineering, I can tell you that assignments can be hell if you don't understand the "trick" or the specific approach to solving the problem. It's not always intuitive as to how this happens. For example, when one is solving a polynomial derivative by first principles, isolating terms in the denominator by multiplying by "one" (where "one" is actually a polynomial expression divided by itself) is not intuitively obvious. When you do see it, however, you say "Ahhh, THAT'S how you do it!" and you can keep going.

      And that's the crux of why you want to collaborate. Problems aren't entirely obvious to solve and involve subtleties outside of the context which most students would typically approach. It frustrated me personally to no end to have this type of nonsense foisted on me over and over again, particularly as these subtleties get more and more obscure. In my electromagnetics class, which is mostly vector calculus anyway, I happened to get it but lots of my friends didn't, and I helped them learn the tricks. Similarly, in my complex variable calculus class, I struggled with a bad prof while friends in another section would be able to help me out because their prof constantly gave them an "approach methodology". I dropped out of my RF electronics class because the prof from old Mother Russia was a known hard-ass who eventually was formally reprimanded and endangered his own tenure for failing almost half of a section of Electronics I. None of them would've had a hope in passing without collaboration.

      Ultimately, when I taught a 100-person section of an electronics lab and marked assignments and lab reports, I made sure that the students knew what was going on. As long as they weren't ad-verbatim copies, I let it go. Even scribing solutions can help you do well if you understand the workings of the problem as opposed to blind copying. But I warned all of my students on the ultimate lesson I learned in the whole situation: whether or not you copy an assignment, you will be dead in the water come exam time or in your career if you don't fundamentally understand the basics of the material. And that's the ultimate lesson in school, the reason why your profs don't chase you down like they do in grade school and the reason that people who copy without learning almost always get weeded out during exam time, and the reason why assignments are only 10% of the grade!

      The only question here is whether this student is really guilty of 147 counts of academic misconduct, as opposed to the other 147-some individuals. Why aren't they in here too? I'd have serious legal questions regarding the equal application of regulations and wouldn't be surprised if this ends up in a real court. The university regulation itself is insanely vague, and my experience with discipline officers is that they are very rigid and determined to justify their position by being hard-asses. These people are hardly administering justice; they're just out to screw one kids entire academic career because it was more systematically organized than the undercurrent that's been doing the same thing for years.

      One last thing, boys and girls: make sure when you collaborate that you don't use any personally-identifiable information in your group. Use anonymous networks like Tor to access sites, and don't use your own name. That way, all the court orders in the world won't help these academic clowns with fangs sharpen them on your carcass.
    • Re:The guy cheated (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HangingChad (677530) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:12AM (#22673910) Homepage

      It was against the school's rules (Which they accepted when they joined the school) and they broke them, Facebook or no Facebook.

      Why is there always some dick ready to step up and blame the victim? In his eyes, and I'd say the eyes of anyone who doesn't have their head crammed up their academic buttocks, he wasn't breaking the rules. He wasn't cheating, he was studying. Even if they were posting the answers that doesn't help them on the test. Either you know the material or you don't.

      any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage...

      A little broad there, don't you think? Studying is a deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, that would fall under this definition. If you expect people to obey the rules, the rules have to be clear and reasonable. You think he specifically agreed not to post any homework questions to any online forum? Probably not. So the school gets to pull some strange interpretation out of their butt and make that the standard. We can't define the rules for you but we know a violation when we see one.

      Now there's a great example for a teaching institution to set.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Red Flayer (890720)

        Why is there always some dick ready to step up and blame the victim? In his eyes, and I'd say the eyes of anyone who doesn't have their head crammed up their academic buttocks, he wasn't breaking the rules. He wasn't cheating, he was studying. Even if they were posting the answers that doesn't help them on the test. Either you know the material or you don't.

        And why is there always some idiot who wants to defend behavior that is obviously prohibited?

        Regardless of the exam, homework in this case was worth

  • by Bazzargh (39195) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:37AM (#22673588)
    From TFA:
    Ryerson's academic misconduct policy, which is being updated, defines it as "any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage"

    Great, no more turning up for class then!
  • Is it any co-incidence that the guy's name means 'the future' in French?
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:02AM (#22673664)
    Who cares how someone obtains knowledge, by studying by themselves or through rapid interaction with his peers? What matters is whether he learned something or not.

    I don't care about homework and exercises, someone who cheats will flunk their exams aswell and if he won't, then who cares whether he did the exercises properly or not because apparently he understands the subject!
  • Students learning new collaboration techniques is an adaptive strategy to cope with the need to understand new information Instead of using the Internet to download or buy a solutions manual (they exist - there are enough poor grad students), the students here were studying and collaborating on problems.

    Now, how's this different from a face-to-face study session? The most obvious way is that there are potentially "leechers" in this situation who benefit from the exchange without contributing anything of v
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Friday March 07, 2008 @07:45AM (#22673798) Homepage
    What is really happening is that the professor is using a grading mechanism that is seriously open to abuse. He has jumped on someone who has visibly broken it, he is letting those who break it quietly go free. This is dishonest or perhaps naive.

    If 10% of the marks can be gained in unsupervised work then some will seek help - this he deems cheating. To not expect some students to do this shows little insight into human behaviour.

    There have been recent rumblings in the UK of exam-counting homework where parents have helped their kids to produce work that was above what the kid could have done themselves. Is this really a fair way of conducting exams ? If the students really learn through the help then there is nothing wrong, but if they do not then they achieve grades that they do not deserve.

    What is needed is a proper evauation of teaching and grading methods. Perhaps each bit of course work should be followed by a viva that would let the professor learn if the student really understood what they had written, that however is probably more work than the professor is willing to do.

  • Homework != Exam (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:26AM (#22673966) Homepage
    (At least in the schools I've been in, and at the risk of the "True Scotsman" fallacy, any school with common sense:)

    An exam tests your ability to solve problems under controlled conditions, without outside assistance. Homework is an exercise, and even if your grade depends on the homework, what is graded is essentially effort and diligence (like grading attendance). If you are assigned homework that requires you not to research or ask for assistance, why the hell did the teacher not make this a test, so the terminology remains clear? Isn't that like prohibiting people from sharing lecture notes, since getting information from a lecture you didn't attend would be "cheating"?

    Seriously, does anyone not research online for homework, even if they do recall the subject matter, simply to verify that they understood it? And compare their homework with other students to check for errors? Obviously, copying homework is stupid as you fail to learn anything, but discussing and explaining homework problems is not copying; it is education. That other little thing schools are supposed to do, besides their main purpose of evaluating performance.
  • by brandorf (586083) <brandorf@brandorf.com> on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:41AM (#22674026) Homepage
    My school, on the other hand, provides resources for this exact type of collaboration. The fact that some schools encourage this, but others view it as cheating is something to consider.
  • Stupid Professors (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:46AM (#22674050)
    I have all requisite degrees in the hard sciences (BS, MA, PhD)--all earned the hard way at some of the world's top universities by hard study and work. And I'll go toe-to-toe in publication record (quality+quantity, especially quality) with just about any one out there. But I think modern professors do not teach with students' learning in mind. It seems that the idea these days is to make it as hard on students as possible. I think this student's problems and the active discouraging of study groups does a huge disservice to education (we are defining education as the teaching of academic knowledge).

    Professors, this note is for you: the goal is to get academic knowledge into the brain of your students--not to teach life's tough lessons. Let life do that and stop being so full of yourselves. If you want to make sure they are learning what you should be teaching them, give them tests. If they fail, re-evaluate how you teach. Your job is not to be a moralist, moralizer, philosopher (obvious exceptions noted), parent, policeman, or judge.

    Again: knowledge => student brain. Focus on that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HalAtWork (926717)
      A lot of professors just assign homework as if their class is the only one you're taking, and don't consider the amount of homework that other professors are giving. Couple that with the need for a job to pay student loans, lodging, food, laundry, etc then students are having a helluva time just with the courseload. Imagine how few are able to take care in learning and just rush through it barely under the wire.
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@noSPaM.devinmoore.com> on Friday March 07, 2008 @08:53AM (#22674076) Homepage Journal
    The problem with this "group" versus other study groups is that anyone seeking just the answer to any assignment would be able to surf right past the learning and directly to the answer, that's what makes it cheating.
  • by Wolfier (94144) on Friday March 07, 2008 @11:04AM (#22675256)
    It's sickening how many of us categorize copying as a mean of academic collaboration.

    It's not.  Copying the answer is cheating, period.

    However, I believe the course administrators did something wrong too to give too much weight to something that is so prone to copying.

    IMHO homework should count for no more than 15% of the total course performance, and there should be rules that if you fail the final, you'll fail the course no matter how well you did the assignments.

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