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200 students cheat on senior midterm exam, many blame professor (insidehighered.com)
69 points by anigbrowl on Nov 19, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments

Some students have blamed Quinn, accusing him of misleading them and being lazy. They posted clips from the first class's lecture, in which Quinn can be seen telling his students that he is responsible for creating the test. The students have tried to use this statement to justify their acts; since Quinn told them he would be writing the exam, they did not think the prefab version they were using to study would be used. "After seeing that, it was safe for us to assume that having it online, having it e-mailed to you, whatever it was, wasn't the test,” one student told the Associated Press. “No student knew that was the test, and that's what we continue to say over and over." The university has rejected that argument. "Let's be sure to keep the focus where it belongs," Heston told the Orlando Sentinel. "Not on the instructor who administered the test but on those students who chose to acquire the test beforehand and use it inappropriately."

If that I understand that correctly - the professor used pre-fab questions from the publisher - then I have difficulty putting any blame on the students. That material is not a secret. It does not require subterfuge to gain access to the teacher version of textbooks. If you pull all of your test questions from such a database, then you are vulnerable to this.

I have taught one course as an instructor. I made my own test from scratch. The same is true for all of the classes I have TAed. Our department has a stated policy that using prior exams to study is fair game.

I took a stats class where our final consisted of questions from the book - and we knew this. I was going through the book while studying, saw a question and thought "That looks like one he'd ask us." and I figure the problem out. That exact same question was on the test. Unless there's some fundamental fact I'm missing, I consider that a similar enough situation to treat them the same.

The blame isn't for studying the old test. It's for not letting the instructor know they had seen the exam already. That's when their behavior crossed an ethical line.

The instructor isn't blameless here - he both misrepresented his creation of the tests, as well as was lazy and pulled questions from his test bank. But the students should have let him know that they had acquired the test ahead of time.

Nobody came out of this looking good.

this. Why isn't this 100% clear to anyone with a brain?

Because it's a slippery slope. What other information sources do students need to disclose? Is it fair for a student with access to another student that already took the class to ask him questions? Should that be disclosed to the professor or taken into account during grading?

"Slippery slope," in a sense, only really applies when the slope is steep enough that its slipperiness matters. In particular, there is an obvious difference between "I've discussed problems like this with someone who knows the material" and "I've studied exactly these questions and their answers for the last week."

In the former case, having discussed the material, one is still required to apply one's knowledge in order to produce correct answers on a test. In the latter, one need only reproduce from memory answers one doesn't (necessarily) understand.

I don't think that's the slippery slope part. I think the slippery is not WHERE the test/information was procured, but HOW it was. If they merely bought the teacher's textbook, then it's not cheating. Even if they knew most of the exam's question came from that textbook, it's not cheating. It's lazy, and doesn't foster real learning, but it's not cheating. To me, this isn't a story on cheating, this is a story on laziness, and what acceptable level of laziness is allowed in higher education.

It all depends on the class expectations. I am in law school right now and most professors will post their previous tests in the library. But they make a new one from scratch each semester that is similar too, but not the same as the last one.

I have also had numerous classes in math where the instructor would hand out a superset of the test questions about a week ahead of time. The students had every single question in their hands early, they were just mixed in with a bunch of other similar ones.

The difference is that everyone involved knew the rules ahead of time. Here that was not the case. Of course, that was not the case at least partially because the professor failed to lay out the rules in a forthright fashion.

This has happened to me three (3) times in my life.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with using old tests to study. This is an acceptable practice, and, at SFU, our Computing Science/Math Student Societies had a Filing Cabinet of old tests that we could photocopy to study from.

The first time this happened to me, it was Physics 12, 100 Mile House - Some of the students had siblings who had taken physics from the instructor. We got the test ahead of time. Took the test - which was identical to one from years gone past. Did well in the test. Teacher Found out, got pissed off with us - I felt like crap.

I ran into this precise situation in my Second Year Data Structures class in '88 in Coquitlam College - there were about 120 students, and we were studying from old test. Only problem is the instructor had used the exact same test at BCIT (another technical college) a week earlier, and so we had a copy of it (unbeknownst to us) - We started taking the test - I realized by question number 2 that I had seen this test, and stood up and approached the instructor letting him know that I had already seen this (I had learned my lesson from High School) - Ironically, he asked me to just try my best, and seemed to hope that I hadn't memorized all the answers. He later asked me to become his Teaching Assistant and Lab Instructor. Honesty pays off. :-)

The final time was at SFU, the instructor had accidentally printed out her new test for students to study from - I picked them up, saw the date, and immediately told her _before_ we took the test. That time she just re-wrote the test and we took it a week later. Once again - zero doubt on how to handle the situation. (Clearly, my high school "cheating" experience was had been a formative experience.)

Net-Net - The cheating is NOT in studying from old tests, it's from realizing you've already seen the test and not letting the instructor know. I didn't realize this when I was in High School, but had matured enough ethically that by 2nd year of college to not even consider taking the test without telling the instructor I had seen the questions.

I think it says very, very sad things about students these days that not ONE of the the 200 had the moral fiber to stand up and say "Hey - I've seen this exam already."

These students (or their parents) are paying UCF to provide them with this education and then to certify their education with a diploma.

The responsibility does not fall to the students to inform a professor that due to his own laziness they, through entirely moral and acceptable means, had already studied these exact questions.It's not a student's responsibility to tell the professor how to do his job.

He failed his students. Period. Calling it anything else is putting frosting on dogshit.

Moral fiber plays no role here. They didn't stay silent as some unspeakable wrong occurred. They studied a publicly available guide. It comes down to this. Is it the students' responsibility to inform a professor every single time they see a test question that they recognize or is it the professors responsibility to prepare a proper test of their knowledge?

If you review the footage of the professor confronting the students, you will realize that this was not a publicly available test guide. This was a pool of test questions based on the material in their books intended only for the teachers of the courses to create the tests, not the students to study from.

They obtained the test blank using, at best, morally questionable methods (social engineering, purchasing them under false pretenses, etc). At worst, they stole the materials outright.

If they had used information that was legitimately publicly available, I would agree with you. However, they did not, so it was morally reprehensible.

  They obtained the test blank using, at best, morally 
  questionable methods (social engineering, purchasing them 
  under false pretenses, etc).
Why do you believe that?

When I've bought the teacher's guide to a textbook in the past, no authentication as a teach was required whatsoever.

hmm, now this is new information that in my quick reading i missed.

though even with this i would side with what sph said below. The fact that 200 students (and not something like 10) got the guide tells me the original act wasn't one intending to "cheat" so much as study extra material.

the professor told the students he made their tests, so there was nothing that should have lead them to believe these extra questions would be on the test.

does it make their act a little more morally gray? yes. does it constitute as cheating? no.

My sister-in-law teaches English in South Korea, where grades are even more important than they are here to a child's future, and cheating has even graver consequences (entire college career, and thus their future in knowledge jobs are gone).

Yet, they still cheat.

Perhaps I'm just being pessimistic, but I don't believe that 200+ students believed they just had study material. I believe they knew they were cheating; else you would have had at least 1 of the 200 step forth and say "You know, this is identical to the study material I received from my friends...". Even the person who did eventually clue in the professor did so anonymously by dropping the complete test script in his office.

Of course, blaming this on the professor seems overly optimistic about the state of mind of those 200 students.

Either way, I would not want one of those 200 students working for me. If they don't have the moral fortitude to admit that something is wrong on a test in college... I can't imagine what they could do to a company where moral standards are core to a companies very survival; such as a company which handles customer credit data where a single leak of customer data can sink the company.

Wait, so are you claiming that upon receiving the study material these kids had to have known they were cheating? Or they knew they were cheating upon receiving the test?

Because the former is preposterous. It was a pre-fab "teachers" test from their textbook publisher. It sounds like the perfect thing to take the night before the real test to see what you may need to look over one more time.

The latter is less preposterous, but still in the wrong mind. Is it the student's job to disclose what they studied? Frankly as long as they didn't actively steal their professors test I don't see how they can be put at fault. They studied hard, studying extra material, and got lucky when their professor decided to forgo doing his job and mailed-in the creation of his test. So now it's their fault for not telling the professor "hey it seems you copied someone else's work"?

These sound like regular college students in a 600 person business class just trying to graduate. They're not the morally bankrupt scourge of the earth, and your damning evidence against their employability (or apparent lack thereof) is based on them not coming forth because of a study guide?

mccon104 - your thinking regarding what my response should have been when I "Got Lucky" and discovered I had seen the test ahead of time, is pretty much what mine was when I was in Grade 12. I was wrong. The ethically correct response is to let an instructor know if you've already seen an exam that has been just handed to you. At that point, the only person in the wrong is the instructor who was too lazy to create a test that would have been new for their students.

Note - it's one thing for a high-school student to screw up (as I did) - we can only hope that the teacher calls them on it, and they learn from their experience (as I like to believe I did). What's a little disconcerting here is that these were Senior Level college students, who one would hope would have at least a _few_ people who would have stood up and said "Hey - I've seen this before."

I wouldn't have stood up and said that, unless the tests were identical (i.e., questions were in the same order, with the same pagination, same ordering of the multiple choice answers, etc.). Even if some questions were identical, if I had not endured an experience like yours, there is nothing about the situation that would suggest to me that what was happening was ethically murky.

So, I agree with you in large part. The instructor failed his students. By pulling questions out of a test-bank that would likely be available (and obviously was) to his students, he both signaled too high a level of accomplishment to those students who had the exam, as well as too low (in comparison) to those who didn't have the exam.

I think the ethical lines that were crossed by the students were more clear if the students realized that _the exact questions_ had been found on a test they had studied from. If there were students who realized that they had studied from the same test, then that is where they had a personal responsibility to stand up and say "Hey - This isn't fair. I've already _seen_ these questions, I had an advance copy of the exam."

Nobody is saying this was an unspeakable wrong. It was the moral equivalent of keeping an extra twenty that your ATM machine accidentally disbursed to you. It's the rare individual that goes into the bank to report the error, but it's the right thing to do.

I've been in several university classes that issued practice exams which contained questions that showed up word for word on the test. It's actually pretty common.

I suppose if I found the actual test listed the questions in the same order as the practice test, that would be worth noting. But it doesn't sound like that's the case. The professor and his students merely pulled from the same test bank. Since it is so common for questions to be recycled, even years later, I have a hard time finding fault with the students. I think the professor is entirely to blame.

I really hope you are not representative of your generation, but I suspect you are.

Same thinking as "no call, no foul". Really sad.

oh give it a rest with the "my(older) generation acted with morals/humility/respect while your(younger) generation has no morals/shame/responsibility"

it's an old script that gets repeated with every generation around the time when the new gen gets to be 18-28. it's like the "HN is becoming reddit" alarms that cry out every 3 months or so.

the crux of your (or at least the most compelling) arguments is these students did nothing wrong studying but should have had it in them to say "hey i've seen this before". Did i get the gist?

The crux of my argument is that in a societal structure such as a college where the students pay large sums of money to be educated it is morally wrong to take that money and then do nothing to actually test their knowledge.

i believe what the students did was a moral misdemeanor and the professor committed the felony. yet you seem more interested in prosecuting the students than fixing the larger issue.

Is it taking advantage of the professor's foolishness that is really sad or the failure to let him know that you are doing so?

Given that it's business school, it seems quite likely (or at least possible) that any of them who had seen the test bank in advance paid for the privilege. That does say sad things about students, but arguably it also says sad things about how things work in 'the real world,' to which students look for examples of what is socially acceptable. In the wake of the financial crisis, a great many people have drawn the inference that cheaters prosper.

Regrettably, research suggests that the problem is only going to get worse: http://josephsoninstitute.org/surveys/index.html

A test should require a student to synthesize and apply information he or she has learned to solve a problem. If the students truly did not know that they were looking at the actual test they would be taking, all they have proven is that they have learned the information they were supposed to learn.

Thus, we are faced with two alternatives: * That the students memorized the test questions and answers knowing full well that they would be presented with those exact questions for the real examination and then lied about it to appear less culpable * That the students studied from a variety of sources, learned the information they were supposed to learn, and then happened to get lucky because one of the direct sources they had studied from happened to be the test that they took--in this case, the test has accomplished its purpose

Do I agree that some student should have said, "Hey - I've seen this"? Yes, pretty much. But what then are the consequences? As I see them

1. 199 people who think they are in hog heaven are furious with you for ruining their good thing.

2. 400 people who have put serious time into preparation see their planning ruined. (Yes, they should be studying; but also, their time is finite, and they spent time preparing for this exam on this date, which they might have spent otherwise.)

Would I have had the nerve (moral fiber, whatever)? I hope so, but don't know.

3. 199 students + 1 are not spared the inquisition.

It seems unlikely that you as an individual would know how many other students in the class had access to that same guide. Regardless, I don't think it really matters; they should have notified the professor.

It's not unreasonable to extrapolate from "got it from a friend-of-a-friend" to "quite a lot of people will have this".

Yes, one should notify the professor; but I think it's acceptable to do this a little less publicly (e.g. by writing it on the test or sending an e-mail), if one so desires.

The prof pointed out that one student out of the 200 fessed up (I'm not sure whether anonymously or not) shortly after the fact because their guilt got the better of them.

If the professor indeed claimed authorship of the test before giving it to the students, why shouldn't they use that test bank to study? If the professor didn't write it, the test bank is just similar questions which should be excellent practice for the test.

If he didn't this is just further lying from cheaters, but that sounds exactly like something many a professor would claim casually in a class.

If he did say he wrote the test, then all of this is a professor playing cover his ass after telling students he's writing a test when really he was just test bank spelunking.

It would also be plagiarism if the professor claimed authorship of a test which he did not write.

That's not really as clear cut. The testbank is designed to be used by instructors to create tests and quizes, without attribution.

Plagiarism is a hefty charge in academia, and likely doesn't fit this situation.

I suggest a replacement headline:

400 students cheated by school, pay tuition in order to sit in on 600-person classes and memorize hundreds of individual facts by rote, obtain increasingly worthless degrees.

(In all seriousness, this is cheating, but half of all students "study" like this all the way throughout high school and college, and most teachers couldn't give a shit, so I don't see why anyone is freaking out now.)

but half of all students "study" like this all the way throughout high school and college

If the students decided to study like this, they weren't cheated by the school, just by themselves.

Sometimes the students have no choice when studying for tests. Most tests in school aren't testing your knowledge, but rather your ability to regurgitate the lecturer's notes.

This assumes the students study only that material. There's nothing wrong with it. If your tutor tells you that these questions will either be on the test r similar to ones on the test then you'd be a fool to ignore it and try to study everything instead. Also, test scores rearely have any meaningful output with regards to how much most people actually know.

The sadness to me is the implication that students should restrict themselves to learning solely from official class materials. The idea that students might actually be trying to master the material doesn't even come up in the article as an afterthought. Instead it seems to assume that their only possible goal is to pass the test, and focuses on whether the approach was legitimate.

Throughout college, I would always find at least one alternate text book for the courses I was taking. I'd frequently seek out Teacher's Editions, not hoping to cheat on the exams, but hoping to better understand the material. When assigned an abridged edition, I'd go out of my way to find the unabridged (usually from a library) to see what was omitted and why.

I continue to hope that at least a few of those students had the same impulse: here's another source from which to learn. But perhaps I'm being unrealistic. I left without a degree after 3 years at a really good school, in part because of comments from professors such as "Please read the edition I assigned --- I chose the abridged text for a reason". The reason itself was never stated.

Nail on the head.

Is the institution trying to ensure that you truly understand the material, or ensure that you have the capability to truly understand the material based on a limited set of inputs? This is not a sarcastic, negative or rhetorical question - there is of course the possibility that the profs are lazy and all that, but that's not what I'm implying with this. The latter is a skill that is indeed valuable, but my general assumption is that the goal of a university course more closely aligns with the former. If you want students to understand the material, it's a damn slippery slope to try to restrict them from any material they can get their hands on, including teacher's versions of textbooks and old tests.

Measuring understanding is hard, in part because people will always try to cheat the system. But part of the reason I paid exorbitant amounts for tuition is that I expect the institution to figure out how to do it, so that the proof they provide that I understand the material has value and actually means something.

Right. Students, teachers, parents, and bystanders all seem to have the problem of forgetting that the purpose of education is to become educated. Getting a degree is not the point. Getting grades is not the point. Learning is the point.

The only reason to give tests is to gauge how much students have learned so this information can be passed on (to the students so they can tell if they're doing well, to employers so they know if the student knows the material). Tests have no inherent value. If there is a better way to tell if students are learning (and I'd wager that there usually is), no test should be given at all.

I almost never studied in college (because I figured that if I hadn't learned the material by test time, cramming wouldn't help), and I didn't care about my grades (a professor once forgot to bring the graded tests to class and said we could come by his office to get our grades; I told him I didn't care what my grade was, and he was shocked). I cared whether I was doing well or not, and generally I could judge that for myself. When I did get bad grades (which was rare because I took my education very seriously), I either knew why already or was quickly made aware of something I didn't know but needed to know. The most helpful grade I ever got was a D on my first English paper. It's the lowest grade I've ever gotten in my life, but by showing me what I did wrong, the professor helped me improve my writing so that I never got a bad grade on an essay again.

All that said, the test needs to be given again. Some students who got the test could have been using it to study, some could have been using it to memorize answers. Students memorizing answers don't deserve good grades, so the test should be designed to fail them. Students using the test to study weren't cheating, but there's no way to tell that they weren't cheating without testing them again to see if they still do well. In order to keep their grades meaningful, they should be tested again. For an A to mean anything, there has to be the possibility of an F. If students who weren't learning anything were able to get A's, then there's a problem.

Since few, if any, of the students actually knew this was a copy of the test, how could they be "using it to memorize answers"? They had no reason to expect the problems/answers to be the same on the real exam.

I always thought that teachers who reused tests year over year or used pre-made tests from the textbook publisher are just not doing their job...

I strongly believe that tests should be unique from year to year, calibrated to what has been taught in class, made hard enough that very few can answer all questions, have no multiple choice questions as they usually just rely on rote memory and be made in such a way that taking the test open book doesn't influence the result of the students (that's mostly for engineering...)

The problem I found when I was a student (and it was much more acute in the US when I was an exchange student at RIT) is that some test instead of measuring if the students understood the materials and was able to use critically, would only test for rote memorization and be worded such that students who have learned the content of the course of by heart without understanding it could still pass...

But later in life, pure rote memorization is useless, understanding the different subjects and being able to apply the knowledge gained during one's studies is what matters...

Writing bad test questions is easy. Writing good test questions is exceedingly hard, and very time-consuming.

I'm not taking sides, I'm just saying...

Yes of course it's not easy but it's the job of a teacher... And, in that case, the teacher didn't even make the effort to design test questions; he took the easy way out and didn't do his job...

Of course, the problem too is that too often teachers are researchers foremost and for them teaching is a requirement that they'd love to get rid of... I'm not sure how to solve that, because I do think that in a lot of cases it's good that university teachers contribute to research...

"What is clear is that some students gained access to a bank of tests that was maintained by the publisher of the textbook that Quinn used. They distributed the test to hundreds of their fellow students, some of whom say they thought they were receiving a study guide like any other -- not a copy of the actual test."

Using a pre-fab test is the teacher's fault. I am very concerned that the content of the class must have been pre-fab too.

Story: In my early years during my epically ill-advised attempt at an MS degree, I was a TA for an intro to programming course. The class had previously been taught by the same person for a number of years. The new class used an updated version of the language (think MS-BASIC to QuickBasic) and the other TA and I changed pretty much everything.

First day of class, I hand out the standard stuff with the class schedule and when the tests are going to happen. About 5 students are not seen again until the first test. I hand out the test, and see massive confusion in their faces. One (a freshman) actually says to me "This isn't the right test!". I am confused. I walk over, check the test, and say "yes, this is the first test for the chapters we covered". I am still confused, and while they are taking their tests I check the grade book and the 5 haven't turned in their 2 programs. I ask and he didn't know about them. All 5 failed and dropped the course.

After talking to my fellow TA, I found out the old teacher had given the same test for a number of years and every Greek / Club on campus had copies. Oops.

    > I found out the old teacher had given the same test for a number 
    > of years and every Greek / Club on campus had copies. Oops.
I think this is true of a lot of frats and clubs: there's the "course bible" that you consult for help with your psets. I don't know about your class, but when I've taught classes we had a very clear policy with respect to bibles: if you're copying your answers out of a bible, you're cheating, period.

There's nothing wrong with using previously-distributed material to help you study. There is something wrong with copying answers from an old test. There is also an obvious difference between the two, namely, one helps you learn the material, the other only helps you get a passing grade.

I really didn't have a dispute with the using of the old tests to study, but it probably would have helped them if they had realized that the tests they were studying had nothing to do with the current course. I changed my tests each semester expect for the first two questions of the final (write an insert sort and a selection sort). I figured it was just good form to change the tests as you might have learned something as an instructor from the previous year or had different programming assignments.

Story part 2: Three classes before the final I announced that the first two questions would be the two sorts we covered. I reminded the classes and wrote them on the board for the next two classes (it was kinda important they learn those for reasons I really don't remember). I arrived early for the final and was asked, in a joking manner, "What's on the test". I read the first two questions. I am pretty sure I allowed a 3x5 card for notes.

I had a space for comments at the end of the test. A senior from another major (engineering) wrote a rather pointed opinion on giving out the answer to the first two questions and how I babying the freshman. It was rather good (if insulting) reading and "had a lot of energy" as the other TA said. She sheepishly came to apologize the next day (I think she hoped I hadn't read it yet). I told her she had got her "A" but that she needn't have worried as no freshman answered the first two questions correctly.

So, knowing the answer before hand relies on knowing.

The ethical reasoning about student plagiarism has become pretty simple-minded.

Of course, students must not cheat. But instructors must not create irresistibly tempting opportunities to cheat. If a test becomes available on the internet, it's the instructor, not the student, who fails to meet an ethical responsibility. To ignore the possibility that a copy of your upcoming exam is freely downloadable from a website (nevermind your inbox) would require an inhuman resistance to curiosity. I don't expect the professor in this case would find this reasoning convicning, but if he had even considered it, I doubt he would now be "physically ill, absolutely disgusted, completely disillusioned".

Another example is the "the person who lets someone copy is as guilty as the person who copies" dogma. This idea is routinely cited without explanation or evidence on the first day of classes. It may be practically necessary to punish those who enable plagiarism, but we can say that without denying the philosopical difference between handing in someone else's work and sharing your work with a friend. Indeed, I can't help thinking that Richard Stallman would oppose this kind of rule, which can make people who naturally want to help their friends terribly uneasy about doing so.

So here is a situation that happened to me. A professor of mine has taught the same class year after year, and builds his tests for this year from last year's, changing only a few numbers. This professor also allows 1 8x11 "crib sheet" to be brought into the test, and distributes past years exams as study material.

For the first exam, I studied honestly and filled my crib sheet with important formulas I didn't want to memorize. I got a decent grade, but nothing spectacular. However, for the second exam I realized that all the questions to the last test were from previous exams, and just printed out the previous years exams as my crib sheet. I got close to a perfect score on this second exam.

Did I cheat?

Once you start limiting the publicly available information student can use to study, the situation gets very sticky very quickly.

Whatever is available online or anywhere public is fair game, as long as it's not gained by hacking the professors computer or something along those lines (and not used DURING the test). That's just my opinion.

"What is clear is that some students gained access to a bank of tests that was maintained by the publisher of the textbook that Quinn used." Textbook publishers usually make these things available only to teachers. Some kind of hacking or fraud would be necessary for a student to gain access. There is a growing sense in our online culture that if I can figure out how to access some information, then it's ok for me to use it how I want.

How do they make them available only to teachers? I don't know about the databases, but I know you can buy teacher's editions of textbooks online legitimately, like through Amazon. I also know that last time one of my (student edition) textbooks came with online material, access was restricted by requiring you to enter a code printed in the book.

Even if the teachers' resources are secured better than that, it must be nearly impossible to prevent all of their customers from posting those questions online -- most of my profs post assignments online rather than giving out hard copies because it is just more convenient for both them and us this way. Some of those questions come from the textbook; I don't know how many come from some other teachers' resource. I know I've stumbled upon other profs using some of the same questions, and sometimes even answer keys, because I Googled some terminology I didn't understand which was apparently unique to that publisher.

> Some kind of hacking or fraud would be necessary for a student to gain access.

Unless someone else had access to it, made it available online as a public "free" download and they found it by searching for it. No hacking or fraud was necessary there (by the students at least)

For example, when I was a student the professor assigned even numbered problems so that the answers wouldn't be in the back of the linear algebra book. However, I found a PDF online that contained all answers with solutions! I didn't have to hack anything.

That strikes me as an obnoxious professor. What conceivable reason could there be for a college instructor to do that? I only took a few courses before I withdrew, but the math instructors always assigned problems with solutions for homework, that way we could tell if we didn't understand something and ask about it in class.

>To some observers, the incident has amplified fears about the moral character of the generation that is now coming of age.

>The divide between the generations can be seen in Quinn's lecture to students after the cheating was discovered, and the response posted by a student in the YouTube caption.

I find it fascinating that previous generations have never cheated on a large scale, or when caught have never tried to justify it or weasel out of it. Well, I guess the YouTube part is true, at least.

>McCabe said the shifting norms that relate to cheating make it difficult to say whether the problem has grown worse over time. While acknowledging that his empirical data don't support the conclusion that the problem has worsened, he believes that it has.

Well, I guess handwaving about this generation without providing any solid data or points of comparison for previous generations is sufficient for this (and most "generation gap") articles.

I think much of the guilty / not guilty verdict would come from the intent of the person who first obtained a copy.

If they gained unauthorized entry into a computer system to grab the test bank, and then advertised their intent to get a copy of the exam over emails on the UCF network, then they're sunk and should just take the amnesty deal. If they got a copy from a TA friend at another school, with the intent to use it as a study aid, then they're on the whiter side of the fuzzy grey line.

And at the end of it all, a student will come out of a business school sporting a shiny degree, but not much else. If he didn't cheat on his tests, he would be surely cheated out of an education.

This professor places more emphasis on a test with recycled questions than practical work.

No kidding. Every question on that midterm came out of a test bank. Why didn't the professor come up with the questions himself?

If his "team" was able to write a new midterm exam in a few days without any recycled questions, I'm not sure why his "team" couldn't do this for every exam. This would ensure that no student would be able to cheat even if they wanted to.

Using standardized questions for part of the academic evaluation gives the schools and students some sort of objective benchmark. If all I know is that 'X% of students passed a test set by Professor Y,' it's not very informative, because I have no idea how rigorous or easy that test was.

Schools competing for student applicants want a meaningful way to measure the performance of their faculty against those of other schools, so as to attract more students and thus more funding. The same is true for students who work to achieve a good score on exams such as the LSAT or MCAT which can aid them in getting a scholarship; graduates competing for jobs want to demonstrate good performance at a school which is known for high standards. Academic brands can have a considerable impact on graduates' future earning potential, and so the tuition fees a school can charge, and the quality of the applicants for admission, are heavily dependent on how well its brand stacks up against those of its competitors in academic rankings.

Unless a school already has a good academic reputation - either because it is considered elite, or as a new school hiring a demonstrably well-qualified faculty - it may well be more effective to outsource part of their evaluation process than to spend years trying to improve their reputation by word of mouth. Excellent schools will tend to graduate excellent students who go on to do well in their academic or professional fields; but it takes a long time for such a pattern to become apparent. An external evaluation tool provides results within a single semester.

Nice theory, I've never heard of anyone caring how students performed against a test bank.

I wonder what percentage of the students might delay collecting their diploma until next year even if they have to spend money on a few extra classes. A business degree from the UCF class of 2011 may be regarded as irreparably tainted now, in a sort of academic guilt-by-association. UCF advertises its business school as a new but rising college, whose graduates get the best career ROI of any business school. Mind you, since attendance there is heavily subsidized by the state of Florida, this tells you more about the cost of attendance than lifetime earning potential.


This professor places more emphasis on a test with recycled questions than practical work.

Actually, the syllabus for the course shows the midterm and final exams being worth 200 points each, out of 1000 available. The other 600 are split up between various individual and group projects. Success in one of the competitive practical projects exempts the winning students from taking the final exam.


from http://www.bus.ucf.edu/capstone/fall/

As an anecdote, I'm teaching my first class this semester, and had a similar-ish experience, but with a much worse outcome for the students. To avoid this issue of people not knowing how the test is going to look like (and hence not knowing how to study for it), I decided to make two versions of each test question (and each question focuses on a simple part of the material that I want them to take home) and randomly assign each version of a question either to the actual test or to a practice test that I give them out a week or so before the actual test and then solve the practice test in front of them, clearly stating what I do and don't expect them to do.

Now, in the first test they did well, but in the second test a significant fraction of the class (like 60+%) just wrote in their tests _my_ answers to the practice questions, and some argued that since there was some similarity they should get half credit or something. My reaction was, and still is, wtf?

My teacher for the ASP.NET class said he used to make the link to the 'final test' live/unprotected early in the term, as if by mistake (the tests were online and performed at workstations), but uploading a paper which wasn't the actual test and only changing it on test day. I don't know if he was joking but it cracked me up. I remember when the Turnitin.com plagiarism detection system was introduced to us in a lecture, some audibly worried students at the front had the gall to ask if they could submit their essays in handwritten form.

Turnitin was just being brought online at my university while I was there, and there were some interesting (university) Senate cases about it - in particular, one student who refused to submit his final exam to it for various reasons was failed. He then appealed it, and in the end won (and got it marked without submitting it). When I left the school - and things may have changed since then - the deal was that for classes that used Turnitin you either had to submit your paper to them, or you had to submit multiple drafts of your paper (with notes and edits in them) and be open to an oral exam and discussion on any part of it, which seems like a fair compromise.

Personally, if I had been in a class that used it (or in a field where we regularly wrote papers), I wouldn't have submitted my papers to it. Arguments aside about how it poisons the feeling of trust (which I think are somewhat valid), I don't like that Turnitin makes its money off my work without my getting any of the action. The value of their product is dependent on getting a copy of my papers, so they clearly have some value. If that's the case, why should I be forced to give it to them for free?

Yes there's something not quite satisfactory about handing over your IP to Turnitin with little choice in the matter. I think in the end though I concluded that for honest students like us the pros outweigh the cons. I'm so sick of plagiarists in higher education.

Ironically Turnitin ended up costing me dearly - it shows your marker a percentage of how much of your essay consists of quotations. I was penalised for breaching the maximum threshold of original content to citation, my grade capped at 59/100. But I doubt the marker would have realised otherwise, because it was a well written report (about database copyright) that flowed naturally; I simply included longish quotations from my sources to make things clearer. Being told to 'learn how to paraphrase' rankles to this day. Argh. Maybe I can have the last laugh by making it my glorious blogging debut...

This seems like a classic case where many people tried to cut corners and they're now trying to claim that they're the victim.

The professor claimed that he wrote the tests while he was actually using pre-fab tests. One can argue that the pre-fab tests are as good or better than the ones he would write himself and, as such, there's nothing wrong. Except that passing off another's work as your own is usually known as plagiarism. With that declaration, it is perfectly conceivable that students would expect that these pre-fab tests are things from the textbook manufacturer that they could study off of. If that is the case, there is no generational disconnect about cheating and the premise of the article is overblown.

Personally, I'm very sympathetic to the students. Logic tells me that if you're cheating, you try not to spread it around to a group of 200 - most of whom you won't know or trust. I mean, there are two ways it could have played out:

1) You send the exam (or it gets continually forwarded down the line) to 200 people telling them that it's cheating (acting with bad intent). Odds are that one of those 200 is going to tell the professor that you're cheating before the exam. Plan foiled.

2) You send out the pre-fab exam to people thinking it's just a study guide from the teacher's edition of the book since the professor makes up his own exams. It gets widely forwarded because, hey, awesome study guide! Then it turns out that it's the actual exam questions and someone tells the professor that.

#1 seems more believable because it came to light after the exam rather than before. It seems plausible that the professor had been lazy for years using pre-fab tests and by chance got caught this year passing off pre-fab tests as his own. Rather than say, "well, unfortunately a lot of students got a copy of the test before since I wasn't making them myself and we'll have to re-do the midterm", the professor tried to defend himself by attacking the students. By accusing them of cheating, it wasn't his laziness that caused a re-take of the midterm, but cheating students. He shouldn't be blamed for wasting time, it's cheating students.

At the beginning of the article, I really disliked the students - people who didn't want to put in the work trying to get a good grade they didn't deserve. It's possible that's what they were. However, I can't see any evidence that indicates that's the case. All of the evidence seems to point the other direction.

* The professor said he made the tests

* The situation came to light after the exam, not before and one would think someone of the 200+ would snitch before the exam

This isn't a generational disconnect on what constitutes cheating. The students aren't defending themselves saying that it's ok to get a copy of the exam beforehand. The soul searching that the professor needs to do is around his exam preparation.

Let's say there's an open-source econ exam online (someone's written and published it). I, as a professor, print off 600 copies and give it in my class. It just so happens that many of the students, while looking for practice materials, found that exam. It's my fault for using a public exam.

In this case, the professor was using semi-private materials. The questions seem to be from the teacher's edition of the book (you know, the kind with the answers already written in). Yeah, it's not "public", but it isn't quite private either. If students think that you're going to be making your own questions, maybe an exam in the teacher's edition of the book they're using seems like the perfect practice test. It's the material you've been covering, but not the exact exam.

I don't want to sound too harsh on the professor, but sometimes you have to own up. Saying, "I thought that the teacher's edition materials wouldn't be available to students. Unfortunately, they were" makes me feel bad for the situation that both parties are in. It's a little sketchy whether it's ok to grab the teacher's materials of a textbook if you're a student. Clearly it's not all roses - you know that it wasn't written for you (a student), but if it doesn't affect the course of the class it isn't so bad, right?

This feels like when Harvard Business School denied entrance to students who looked at whether other people were admitted. Phil Greenspun wrote about it (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/2005/03/08/). Baiscally, they gave students a URL that had a code in it (with no check). So, students typed in example.com/admitted?stud=12345 and saw whether they got in. However, they could just change the number and see other people and were accused of hacking. They blamed the students for what was their error when, really, their disclosure of admissions info without protections might have left them open for a lawsuit. And it isn't just "hacking", curious users wondering whether their software was really so bad and those who made typos could cause problems. Imagine that I'm #12346 and you're #12345. I accidentally type in 12345 and pull up you, realize my mistake and pull up me. Now they think that you looked at you and then "hacked" the system to look at me when you're innocent all along.

In this case, even if a few students had malicious intent, it's highly unlikely that a secret conspiracy of 200 students of malicious intent could happen and the vast majority just thought they were getting a practice exam. Now, the professor and the university want to make them out to be immoral cheaters to cover themselves. I'm not saying that getting access to teacher editions isn't problematic and morally above reproach. However, if you're operating under the assumption that the professor isn't using it, it's understandable and certainly not the type of immorality that the professor is trying to paint.

I'll leave the professor's side out of it, as you've covered it adequately, but on the student's side, even if they did think they were just getting a practice test or study guide, it became cheating the moment they realized it and failed to inform the professor that they had already seen the test.

That's exactly what I failed to articulate. I knew I was missing something because the students didn't feel blameless to me. That's why it feels like a situation where each side is trying to yell at the other rather than both accepting responsibility for messing up a little.

It just makes me sad because everyone is posturing. Rather than saying "well, life happens and things go wrong and we'll work together to fix them" they're working on who is at fault. The professor wants the students to admit "guilt" or face sanctions for cheating because then things are found in his favor. The students would rather blame the professor for being lazy and not making up the test himself when they should have come forward once they recognized that they had seen it. It's unfortunate when we (and I've done it too) try to cover ourselves rather than working toward a solution.

Having seen the video, and some of the earlier articles about this issue, I don't see anywhere that the professor stated that he had written the test himself. I certainly can't find it in my nature to justify the student's actions simply because he used a set of stock test questions for the test.

The sheaf of papers he holds up as the pool of test questions was easily over 100 pages long; not something you would find in the teacher's version of a text book. It would appear to be an additional resource made available to the professors.

Also, from the professor's statements in the video and the earlier articles, it doesn't appear that this resource was ever meant to be public. This indicates that the resource was obtained through deceptive means from the publisher by the students, then disseminated.

I think you mean "#2 seems more believable." I was pretty confused until I mentally corrected that typo.

Anyone who teaches these days needs to keep in mind that pirated solutions manuals are easily obtained online for almost any text. Using problem sets or exams that are provided by a publisher for any course component with significant weight just invites cheating and punishes the students who don't cheat.

I find it ironic that he emphatically stated, "The days of finding a new way to cheat the system are over."

Before that he said that he had been teaching for 20 years and hadn't ever had to give this lecture before.

I can't see any ethical issue with the students' actions, so long as they were honestly under the impression that the professor would be creating a bespoke exam, and that canned exam came from a legitimate source.

The appropriate response, in that case, would still be to invalidate the exam due to the unfair advantaged gained by the students who studied from the canned one, but I can't see punishing those students much less disparaging their moral character.

Practice examinations are routinely used to study for standardized tests, and the organization responsible for creating and administering the LSAT even sells previously administered tests directly. If that isn't cheating, I can't see how this instance can possibly be construed as such.

The thing I'm not clear on (and to me, this makes a difference) is the nature of just how canned the exam was. Specifically, was an entirely pre-made exam (from a teachers' edition) given to these students, or did the teacher himself select an assortment of pre-made questions from an exam pack, thereby creating his own exam (made of canned components)?

This is really weird. I went to UCF and it was regular practice for instructors to either give you the tests beforehand, previous test for reference, or tell you to find students that may have taken the class before and look at their tests for reference.

Of course the students blamed the professor: they've been taught by example throughout their lives that the proper reaction to fucking up is to point the finger at everyone else.

An incredible lack of personal responsibility is a growing problem in this generation.

I love that the only lens we can see this story through is to take sides with the students or the professor. I expect any professor to write his own tests (or have his TA write them). I consider it cheating for a professor to contract out the work of writing a test.

If students knew that they were seeing the test early, then they cheated too.

I find it impossible to determine who has the high ground in this story because both the professor and the students are standing in the mud.

Here's an analogy: if you visit a web page with a password field, and the password is embedded in a comment in the HTML markup, who is at fault for unauthorized people logging in? While it may be morally wrong (and illegal) to exploit the system, I have a pretty strong opinion on which party is more at fault. The students' punishment seems fitting, it's sad that there is no mention of disciplinary action against the prof who is crying foul for leaving his password barely hidden, so to speak.

" In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young." - Plato (The Republic, VIII)

read the article before making blanket statements about the depravity of youth these days. the students studied sample tests from a textbook, and the midterm ended up being an exact copy of one of the samples

Gee, I haven't heard that one in 35 years or so.

I took a physics exam once where we had studied previous years exams and the test was essentially questions from those tests. Needless to say, that exam went fine, but it felt very weird. We weren't cheating, the exams were publicly available on the college's website, but the professor clearly didn't know that. The idea that you can reuse an exam multiple times especially in the science is just over. It sucks, but it's the truth. The same is becoming true of interview questions.

"just" over? and why especially in science?

I'm remember as soon as in middle/junior high school ("collège" in France, I believe equivalent to US grades 6 to 9), which i started in 1993, and continuing throughout high school and then superior studies (maybe excluding "classes préparatoires", which are notoriously very hard), it was well-known that _some_ teachers used to recycle their exams from previous years. And we had no need to use information tech to find somebody able to provide us both questions and answers. It did not happened a lot, but we definitely did so a few times, transmitting the informations in very small group of very close students. We occasionally heard about other small groups having had access to the exam prior to taking it (because it was recycled, not by stealing it) while we were not aware of it available too. I'm pretty sure it _always_ happens when a teacher recycle its own exams or only construct it using open or quasi-open content always from the same source. It was felt by pretty much every student as "fair game", taking advantage of teacher laziness. In retrospect it was clearly a form of cheating, but a kind of light cheating not as hard as e.g. getting the answers in the exam room, and also I would not put all the blame on the students (well it's hard to blame himself, so I'm biased on this)... Also it would have astonished me to see an exam canceled because of that, because the teacher would clearly be shown as lazy and sharing a huge part of responsibility.

If you haven't seen it, it's worth watching the video of where he explains how he spotted something was amiss via statistical analysis: http://vimeo.com/16637201

That's all in the first 4 minutes BTW; the rest of it is about the arrangements for re-administration of the test, chastisement of the cheating students, explanation of school ethics policy and so on. I found this equally interesting but for social rather than technical reasons.

His explanation of bimodal distributions isn't satisfactory. Bimodal distributions can occur naturally in nature--they don't require external force.

With that being said, DAMN that graph skews right. Almost everyone got a B or above.

I wonder how hard it was to get access to the first copy.

I know I've done similar things. Whenever I have a midterm in a class that I know is taught at other universities, I try to track down past exams to go through. They are really helpful to work through similar problems to those being presented on the test.

Also, whenever the class is widespread enough to have solutions to homework and labs posted online, our Professor generally tells us directly on day one, and that we should avoid them.

If they're widely available, he shouldn't be reusing them.

I've had far too many high-school teachers allow students to study copies of tests. The teachers are so worried about grades that they're willing to sacrifice integrity (?) to inflate them. As I understand it, this is something of a nationwide issue.

When these students get to college, why should we expect them to expect any differently?

This argumentation is assuming that the students really did cheat, but I suspect that there is not yet enough conclusive evidence available to make that call.

As a student in college, this story is alarming to me.

At my University, it is common for... 1. Departments to post up old exams for students to practice. 2. Professors recommend that you track down older students for their old tests. 3. Students often create practice exams and hand them out to their peers.

I do not believe that all 200 students are guilty of cheating but perhaps the initial few who had their hands on the practice exam knew exactly what they were getting into.

One point that nobody has brought up yet:

The instructor represented the tests as having been created by himself (a fallacy, as it turned out). If that was the case, then when students saw the exact same questions ahead of time, wouldn't the implication be that the test had been stolen? If that was the case, then wouldn't the students have had a moral imperative to report this fact when they saw the same test during test day?

a fallacy, as it turned out

A falsehood. A fallacy is an argument where the conclusion does not follow from the assumptions.

when students saw the exact same questions ahead of time, wouldn't the implication be that the test had been stolen?

Stolen by whom? The students or the teacher?

I can see the motivation behind this sort of "grades over learning" behavior in business school, since it's the sort of place where the Degree is all that matters.

For other disciplines though, where you're actually there to learn something, I just could never understand why you would do that. Why would you pay money to take classes, and then cheat on tests to avoid having to learn the material. Couldn't you achieve the same result by simply doing nothing?

I graduated with an Engineering degree, and a terrible grade point average. I could still, however, 15 years on, sit the final exam in any of my core classes and pass it. Somehow I doubt that the students copying each other's homework assignments as a "time-management strategy" will be able to do the same thing.

>trying to figure out what was the last 20 years for

Basically, don't get involved with exams either as an instructor or a student.

Why? Exams hurt all that encounter them (including teachers, markers and even successful students).

And they're pointless by their own terms because knowledge can't be measured.

Really? Because I found that my inability to do matrix math on my second Math 100 exam corresponded pretty well with my lack of understanding about how matrix math worked.

Good point, but there is context missing.

Are you interested in matrix math, or were you merely trying to pass an exam?

Alternatively, if you are interested in matrix math, did the fact that you had to pass an exam make it harder to learn?

Reading comprehension fail.

Probably related to why you do so poorly on tests.

"Tests are life. Rites of passage. They can be good, they can be bad. They should be learning devices. Take as many tests as you can. Take the CLEP tests. Have your tutor give you tests."

From the best self-education book I have read, and I have read lots of them, This Way Out, published in 1972.

How can the school punish students for using the prior test to study?

These kids were business majors. I would fail them not on the principle of cheating, but because they cheated and got caught.

First rule of cheating: never pass the exam with 100%

Given that it was allegedly detected at first by the bimodal distribution of the results (and BTW I've been in some highly competitive environments were the results were bimodal too more often than not, or even more strange, without any cheating possible), and even imagining nobody anonymously posted the disputed study source, it would have been hard to get better results without that detected (whether "that" or not is cheating not even being the question). People could have tried to only slightly increase their results by injecting lot of voluntary faults in known answers, but knowing the right amount would be very difficult...

Why is there even discussion about this? The prof is the cheater.

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