Now, it was probably common knowledge from prior semesters that this professor's exams were from the standard test bank. So those reviewing test bank questions may not have had pure motives in their study strategy. But it makes it less cut-and-dried, especially given that the students may have memorized (for example) 5 answers to potential questions for every 1 that happened to appear on the test. At some point, knowing all the answers to all potential questions is knowing the material... or else the whole idea of formulaic tests is bankrupt.
Why shouldn't a community of professors be able to cache and re-use questions? The bank should have been secured, yes. But caching/pooling is on ethical ground more solid than that of cheating.
Laziness begets laziness. I don't see how you can claim it's ethical for teachers to forfeit 1/2 of their job to a question cache. Cheating in this definition is using someone else's work to benefit yourself and by definition the teacher cheated too by using someone else's questions to form "his" alleged test. IE benefiting himself by not having to do the actual legwork to write his own test.
I don't think HNers are pro-cheating, I think we're pro-effort. We all work our fucking assess off at things we love, it's a little disrespectful for some shit-ass professor to claim his students are cheating by using HIS method to save time and effort. I call that his students learning a little too much from him.
That is a bizarre definition of cheating and shows that you don't understand the point of testing at all. The point of testing is to measure (perhaps crudely) students' understanding of what they are supposed to learn in the class. The teacher's job is to administer a test that does this effectively, and if a test bank helps him do his job effectively, he should use it. In this case as in so many others, it is perfectly appropriate to use someone else's work as a resource to improve one's own work. In fact, as long as one is honest about attribution, this is highly desired. Test materials are unattributed, and sharing is the assumption, so it isn't dishonest or unprofessional for a teacher to draw from a bank of questions when composing a test.
(Students are claiming that the professor said he created the tests himself, but even if he drew the questions from a test bank, he was still deciding which particular facts and concepts were most important to test. Maybe he said he composed each question himself -- that would be a lie. However, it wouldn't be a lie for him to say he created the tests. It is standard for teachers to compose their own tests but unusual to aim for originality on each question, unless it is an essay test with a small number of questions.)
Why is taking a test different from creating one? If the point of the test was to create a big stack of papers with the right answers on them, it would be appropriate for the students to collaborate and use any resources to accomplish that goal. However, that is not the point. The point is to measure each student's understanding and help decide how much credit each student should be given for their understanding of the material covered by the test.
When students cheat, they subvert the purpose of testing. By hiding their cheating, they dishonestly claim credit for understanding they did not achieve. The professor's job is to administer a test that will test student's understanding. It is not his job to demonstrate his independent powers of test-writing.
Are lecture notes cheating? The professor is likely to include answers to test questions in his lectures. I've had professors use in their lectures the exact questions — literally, not a word different — that would appear in the next test. Was I cheating by attending the lecture and learning what was taught there?
Where do we draw the line between smart studying and cheating if the professor makes no effort to keep the test questions a secret?
That's the whole freakin' point: the test is supposed to measure your understanding. The honest way to improve your test scores is to improve your understanding of the material. The professors administer tests, the students study and learn, this is the intended way of things. This is the way traditional college classes work, and if you want to go to college and get grades, then you have two choices: study and earn your grades honestly, or lie and cheat.
Everybody encounters a class that they end up cutting corners in, of course. For example, you can try to predict what topics will be on the test and study those most carefully. You can try to predict which problems will be on the test and learn to solve those. The question is, are you actually trying to learn something the class is designed to teach and hoping that what you learn will serve you well in the test, or are you trying to improve your score without learning anything useful? Drilling pattern recognition of potential test problems is not learning. That method relies on your mind's ability to recognize specific verbal patterns and associate them with other verbal patterns. It has nothing to do with understanding the material. From the perspective of learning, it's a complete waste of time.
By the way, I agree with you that professors should lift questions and answers from their lecture notes with great restraint, for exactly the same reason. One or two here and there to reward diligent attendance is fine, but if it's a significant portion of the test, then the professor is essentially conspiring with the students to inflate the test results by relying on familiar phrases or diagrams to trigger students' memories of how to answer a particular question. That's actually a good reason for teachers to share testing materials: will students still understand the material when their professor's particular phrasing is not present? I heard a student complain he got a physics problem wrong because the professor always said "inclined plane," but the test problem talked about a "slanted floor." Clearly the student did not understand the material and was relying on verbal associations; no matter whose fault it was (the student's or the professor's) it was good that the test result reflected the student's lack of understanding. In the real world, an inclined plane does not say to you, "Hi there, I'm an 'inclined plane.' Does that ring a bell?" Or if it does, it will probably not use exactly the same words your college physics professor used in his lectures! That's a very good reason for a professor to use problems written by someone else.
Exactly 1/2 of a professor's job is constructing exams? What part goes to lecturing and preparation? Office hours? Grading those exams and class projects?
"Cheating in this definition is using someone else's work to benefit yourself..."
No, cheating is gaining an unfair advantage in some kind of competition by violating the clearly specified rules. Your definition certainly is not how the word cheat is commonly used, and I have no idea where you came up with it.
I think you are thinking of "plagiarism," which sometimes intersects with cheating, sometimes not.
In your post above, you falsely claim that the students are being accused of plagiarism. They are not. While plagiarism can be a kind of academic dishonesty, it is not the particular kind of academic dishonesty at issue here. Then, to complete your false equivalence, you try to re-frame the de rigueur practice of drawing test items from an item bank as plagiarism, which is just laughable and ignores both the purpose of the test instrument and the different roles of student and teacher.
I contest that the professor is too.
The word "contest" in the above context means "to oppose as mistaken or wrong". So your sentence literally reads that you dispute that the teacher is also cheating. Clearly you have been arguing the opposite.
I think it might be time to give it a rest.
Call me old fashioned, but the roles of "student" and "instructor" make all the difference here to me. Although I'm not surprised that youngsters these days feel entitled to this behavior. Entitlement runs deep in modern American youth.
Are students entitled to lecture, assign homework, and hand out grades too?
You blatantly feel that teachers are entitled to perform with a different ethics set as their students, which is personally abhorrent to me. If you have a problem with students cheating at their job of studying, you have to have a problem with teachers cheating at their job of teaching. It isn't an ambiguous issue, it's rather clear cut. If a student cheats they risk expulsion, however the teacher cheats and there's not even an eyelid batter - I call that a society of entitlement.
I am deeply disappointed that so many here on Hacker News are resorting to such poor sophistry to defend a very simple, cut and dried case of cheating, and that so many are lending their approval through their up-votes.
I saw the video made by the students that attempts to "prove" that the teacher said he wrote the test questions himself, but it makes an extremely flimsy case:
1) It's a statement made on Day 1 of class, long before the midterm test
2) He only said that he creates the test, but does not state that he authors the questions. One algorithm for creating a test is to select questions from a question bank, so this statement has no evidential value.
3) The only remaining "evidence" in the video is a statement where he said that "he may write" a question that even he may not be able to answer. It's entirely possible that he intended on Day 1 to author the questions for the midterm, but ended up using the above method for creating the test by the time midterms rolled around.
The students are very eager here to turn the tables here and display some righteous indignation to deflect attention back to the instructor, but they haven't yet managed to make a compelling case.
"Why shouldn't a community of professors be able to cache and re-use questions?"
Well, the reality of having Greeks / Clubs that maintain a library makes this difficult, but even worse is what it actually says about the class and the teacher. If the class is so cookie cutter than why not just have videos from the publisher and an online test? What has this teacher learned from previous offerings? A test is a teacher's summation of the important points taught in the class. It should be improved and modified to account for new information and improvements in the teacher's teaching style. Cookie cutter tests lead me to believe he put the same effort into the lectures. I question anyone who probably spent more time proving cheating than creating the test in the first place.
Anyone who sees questions that they had early access to from some special source (a source not available to all students) has a clear ethical responsibility to inform the teacher that they had special access.
It might be slightly ambiguous when, by happenstance, a few questions are the same or similar. But when all of the questions are the same, what are these students thinking? They know that other students are seeing these particular questions for the first time even if they studied intensely.
Students can choose how they learn. But the professors choose how the students are tested, and this test was clearly compromised due to student dishonesty. You can throw other factors in if you want, but dishonest is dishonest.
I take it that you believe members of Greek / Clubs on campus that have old tests are dishonest (not everyone is a member)? A student buying a study guide that finds the teacher just used a sample test from the study guide is also dishonest?
I guess my big problem with your reasoning is that I can make a bunch of honest decisions in my studying for a class and then become dishonest by the dishonesty of a teacher.
The thing that I think you are missing is that it's all about mutual expectations.
It's the same thing if you take a picture of a TV and put it on eBay for $100. Then, someone buys it and you send them the picture of the TV rather than the TV itself. That's totally unethical of the seller, even if they never say that they are selling a TV explicitly. The buyer expects to receive a TV, and the seller knows that the buyer expects to receive a TV, and proceeds knowing that the buyer's expectation is flawed. Maybe the seller really likes photographing TVs as a form of art, and thinks that their work is worth $100 per print (honest so far); but that doesn't matter because they knew the buyer had other expectations, and did not inform them (dishonest now).
The fact that many students didn't have access to the test ahead of time, and that the students received the test surreptitiously (as another comment said) is evidence of the teacher's expectation, and of the students' knowledge of the teacher's expectation. The fact that students knew this expectation was flawed means that saying nothing is dishonest.
I was the president of a fraternity at this university. There has been no decent test bank for quite some time. However, I've heard that some of the archives from the international clubs are quite robust.
As noted in the previous thread, it might have been a good idea for the students to have said "Hey, we've seen these questions before." But the professor using a bank of test questions changes the situation from "a bunch of students stole the test" to "the professor maybe should have used questions that people didn't have ready access to."
You could say the students that used this test to practice should have informed the professor when they noticed that the test was identical to the one they practiced with. However, if you look at how defensive this prof is, that would have been quite risky for that student. You would risk being accused of cheating. So instead somebody did it anonymously.
The epitome of rationalization.
Academic honesty is taken seriously, and there are third parties that evaluate the situation objectively. If you simply say, "I didn't do anything that I thought of as cheating, but today on test day I realized that I had an advantage that I wanted to inform you about," there is zero chance of permanent consequences.
"So instead somebody did it anonymously."
Why didn't everyone then? Maybe those few people are honest, or some approximation thereof. But what about the other ~190 that didn't?
>... there is zero chance of permanent consequences.
Bull. Faculty are just as petty and lazy (ie: human) as any other person. There are plenty of instances of teachers saving their own asses by lying enough to get away with it, and with them wielding their mighty tenure in unethical ways.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't, if you don't know the teacher very well. Odds are certainly on your side, heavily even, but it's far from "zero".
Defensive suggests he acts like he thinks he did something wrong. He clearly thinks his students did something wrong.
What is it with this thread and using words to mean things other than their plain meaning in normal conversation? It's getting very Clintonian in here.
PS - That's the difference between school and real life.
The idea that students are only allowed to study from materials that are explicitly provided to them seems questionable. I would preface this with a statement of my own ignorance of the matter, if I weren't presently an engineering student.
I have never encountered someone who said "reading material given to you by someone other than the professor is cheating."
I don't necessarily agree with that.
However, those sorts of courses are not typical, and it falls to the professor to make clear and explicit if external material is forbidden, and to explain why.
Since the existence of a test bank implies the exam was (mostly) multiple choice, the above concerns do not apply. There is no reason to forbid students from learning from external resources if your idea of testing them on their knowledge is giving them a multiple choice test.
The proper (and common) scope for restricting external materials is an individual problem set, quiz, or test. It's implied unless stated otherwise that you shouldn't get help for specific problems or questions from external resources, but it is almost never implied or stated that external resources are banned in the scope of an entire class. In that context, if you go exploring for materials and find something that helps you on a later problem set, quiz, or test, that's your reward for seeking out more materials to learn from.
However, here the instructor has no way of knowing who cheated. He clearly made a mistake, knowing that using a test bank would make it easy to cheat. So, he should either let all the grades stand or he should point out the statistical anomaly and just make everyone take a new exam, which he did. I can't possibly see how students who didn't confess will be found out, especially if the exam was multiple choice!
What really annoys me about this story is he is covering his laziness / inattentiveness to his class of paying people and having "fun" doing mathematical analysis of his class to prove "cheating" instead of spending time creating a test. If he won't even put effort into original tests what effort does he really put into the class? Are all his class lectures equally canned? Would these students be better off with a video lecture series from the publisher and taking an online test? What value and insights is he bringing to the lectures. He sure isn't testing on those insights.
If you're a teacher, it's part of your job to write novel test questions. If you can't be bothered to do that, you can't tell people "this is what I'm going to ask in the exam, but don't read it". This isn't even the minimum amount of effort to keep honest students honest.
As another poster said, studying an entire test bank is studying the material.
What if someone came up to you and said "here's a test bank man, the prof pulls the questions right off it!" Clearly it is unethical to study from these materials. Similarly, if the test bank merely says "STUDENTS: Do not use this to study" then it is also unethical to study from.
In most large businesses knowing how to make pretty graphs that trend upwards infinitely is far more important than anything taught in business school.
No one have any say (if they have, they shouldn't) in what a student chooses to study. The student might choose to study from some cliff notes, class notes, books or test banks.
The professors, at best, can make a suggestion/recommendation which the student is free to ignore, because hell, he is willing to bear the outcome. It's his test scores that are going to be affected.
If the professor recommends a sub-par C book and I prefer K&R, no one can stop me from doing that. Similarly, if the professor suggests "Computer Architecture(Hayes)", and I think the book is a bit tough for me or I am not that interested in studying Computer Architecture, I will go ahead and use cliff notes or solve some test banks. A professor can't shove something down my throat just because he feels otherwise.
I don't really see why the professor is entitled to tell students what to read, or more importantly what not to read.
What if the professor says not to review past exams, because he may use questions from them. You still say it would be okay to use past exams to study? Well this is similar - the test bank says: students, do not use this to study. Obviously the teacher should have made up his own questions, but the students definitely knew better ...
If a professor tells you to not do X and you do X you're very clearly not doing what he says, whether that is 'cheating' who knows. A degree is largely a check mark on a check box for a perfect little life of doing what you're told. Now, if people think that having a degree means X then they are free to do that and will reap the consequences.
Honestly, why should the students bother to come up with original work when the professor can't even be bothered to create original tests? Why is it not 'cheating' for the professor to use another persons test?
Obviously, what's on the test was taught in the class, so why not use an abridged format of the information that makes it unnecessary to learn information not relevant to the course? The test is the subset of the information taught that is relevant to the conferrance of a degree. To know more is to waste your time.
In other words, you should do the bare minimum to get by. Well, everyone's motivation for getting a degree is different, and you are welcome to this opinion. However, if this is also your life philosophy, then I think you may be disappointed.
Now, I personally agree that this instructor was lazy. However, in a perfect world actually every single iteration of a class would use the exact same exam. This ensures that every student who ever takes the class is graded in the same way. However, some students retake the class and share exams, so this is not possible.
It's like if you're a magician and you have an awesome magic show. Why make up a new show for each new audience? If the audience is different each time, then your show is still awesome - even if it doesn't change.
I never studied in college in the US, and I'm horrified that this is the standard. In Israel, we had the previous tests in the library, and the student union created a (for-sale) curated versions, all above board and perfectly condoned. The assumption was that memorizing the entire test-bank, containing hundreds of questions, was harder than actually understanding the material -- but that if you thought that was your best way to pass the test, go ahead and do that.
In fact, some professors explicitly encouraged memorizing proofs for all important theorems by promising that the test will contain at least one or two of them. Of course, usually they followed this by explaining that you're free to come up with your own proof, or memorize key points and manage to interpolate. I would recite proofs in the shower, to myself, every morning.
It would only be cheating if you got the actual test being used ahead of time (or, of course, consulted a confederate or disallowed materials during the test). It would not be cheating, and in fact, tolerated explicitly, to harass the professor by asking questions from test banks that you failed to solve, and getting valuable information that way ("it's not going to be on the exam, don't worry about it").
The professors assumed that anyone who puts that much energy into studying for the test deserved the grades they got.
tl;dr: In Israel, only stealing the tests or breaking rules during test periods was frowned upon: anything else was viewed as "studying really hard."
The students probably messed up big time by not reporting that the test was publicly available first, but I think we're missing some important facts and only seeing one man's edited version of events here.
1) Ask the professor before the exam if it is okay to use the test bank. He will say, of course not! Why do you have it anyway, it's not made available to students - are you trying to cheat?!
2) Astonished that the test bank was the exam verbatim (though I'm sure few students were), students should have told the professor that many students used the test bank, not realizing he would pull the questions directly from it. Of course, no one would do this directly since students aren't supposed to have the test bank in the first place ...
1.5) Also note that the concept of a "test bank" that is supposedly inaccessible to students is not entirely common knowledge. We don't know how easily accessible and/or clearly warned this information was.
2) I already said that the students were wrong not to mention that they'd seen the test.
I agree that it's arguable before the fact that using the test bank is just studying. Once the students realized that they'd effectively gotten an advance copy of the test, deciding to benefit from it rather than admit it was unethical.
Another commenter here has already voiced the question about how so many HN commenters are apparently pro-cheating; I'll admit it's somewhat shocking to me as well. There is a (probably minority) group here that seems anti-higher education (or, said more fairly, anti-the present envisagement of higher education); is it possible that it's this bias showing through?
Isn't that to some extent what the professor reports as happening? Both the anonymous test-bank drop, and the other 'emails' from students reporting that some peers had question access, are students blowing the whistle once they understand the whole situation.
Further, perhaps some of those talking about 'others' are being coy about their own involvement until they know how their study behavior, which they had previously believed was legitimate, will be judged retrospectively.
Me too... I actually registered an account on HN just to reply. Society depends on honesty even in the face of complicating factors -- and if an intellectual community like HN doesn't stand up for honesty, that greatly disturbs me.
"There is a (probably minority) group here that seems anti-higher education"
I think most of it is more like a contrarian attitude. Some very smart people tend to pull in a lot of interesting -- though tangential -- perspectives and observations and then end up getting distracted from the fundamentals.
Cheating is cheating. Maybe the teacher or his teaching strategy was flawed. Maybe the students, at one point before test day, had honest intentions. Maybe some students were partially (or wholly) honest after the fact by alerting the teacher. But the rest of the students, who proceeded with the test even though they knew the test was compromised, were dishonest.
I think a lot of the comments in this thread are making assumptions about what the students did or didn't do, and might possibly be excusing some unethical behavior because of faulty assumptions.
I would love to hear some statistics folks weigh in on this. Or: speculation ftw!
Right after that, he said that he couldn't be sure everyone on the list had cheated. He is saying that he thinks every cheater is on the list, but not everyone on the list is a cheater.
At its worst, universities will sometimes assume a student accused of wrongdoing is lying, and punish the student based solely on the word of the faculty/staff bringing the charge. This happens in lesser cases where the administration thinks it can get away with it, and when the student is frightened of harsher sanctions that might be inflicted if the student asserts his or her rights and demands a full hearing process.
At its best (typically in more serious cases), the disciplinary process resembles a civil case (except instead of a jury, it's more of a tribunal) where the required proof is a preponderance of the evidence.
It's no wonder 200 students confessed. If I was in that class and I'd never seen the test bank, I'd have confessed too. It's been my observation that the disciplinary process is better at railroading not-provably-guilty students than punishing provably-guilty students. I would not want to take my chances.
At a smaller but growing scale, over several semesters, this tactic of using the test bank might not lead to any striking anomalies in the distribution... just a gradual rise in the average, and fattening of the above-the-median tail. For a while, that might convince the professor he's doing better!
(Also, while we see Summer scores for comparison, he doesn't show the prior Spring or Fall. Often Summer students are a different pool, who in this case may not have been privy to the same campus folklore. Perhaps there was evidence of the same tactic earlier, or another professor with a different exam style taught previously.)
Lots of speculation, I know, and I would need more information to assign levels of culpability overall. Were students specifically warned off using test bank questions? Did those who obtained the questions lie to the publisher to acquire them? How similar were the circulated test bank questions to other official preparation materials? Etc.
It could also be interesting to see, on the makeup exam with presumably all-new but similarly-difficult questions, has the average mastery gone up? Perhaps memorizing the test bank questions does have some persistent beneficial effect for understanding the material.
What evidence do we have for the large aberration?
Are there older reviews of the professor available online that say his tests are easy or that he reuses old test questions?
Were they hoping to see a few identical or similar questions? That would seem to be the typical scenario when you're studying off old tests or, for that matter, the homework problem set. If any show up on the test, great. If a lot show up, you're lucky.
Or, did they think it likely that the studied material would make up half or more of the actual test?
The duration of the test might mean that students can leave and come back (or even take the test at home). If that's the case and students are looking up the answers from the test bank (as opposed to memorizing them all ahead of time), then I'd definitely lean more towards it being cheating.
The bimodal distribution he showed did not have the massively sharp mode, or bulge at perfection, that might be expected if people were looking at the answer key while answering. Instead, it appeared to be two normal distributions, with different averages, superimposed. That suggests to me imperfect pre-test memorization of a larger answer pool, some of which was forgotten during a monitored in-room test.
How do you explain the bimodal distribution?