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Why I will never pursue cheating again (behind-the-enemy-lines.blogspot.com)
691 points by Panos 2107 days ago | hide | past | web | 482 comments | favorite



While there's much to be said in favor of more creative assignments that aren't minor variants of last year's assignments, the author has drawn the wrong conclusion from what happened.

22 cheats out of 108 is big - and the real proportion may have been even higher, given that it seemed like he caught only either blatant cheats or conscience-stricken/less brazen cheats (the latter category from when he acted people to own up). And it's a lot of work, and I've been around this process at a couple different institutions and seen how tough it is to see it through to an appropriate conclusion.

However, all this wasted time, and all this aggravation, wouldn't be necessary if all the other professors were doing it too. The only reason they're at 28/108 or higher is that people have obviously been getting away with almost anything.

The author has buckled (understandably) as being the only hard-ass in a environment where everyone else is getting away with it isn't feasible. From his perspective, I can see why he didn't fight this, but if he'd stuck it out for another year or two - and showed the next round of incoming classes just how ugly it will get - he'd have gone back to 'normal' cheating rates rather than 28/108.

The idea that you can always produce assignments that are 'unique flowers' that can't ever be duplicated year by year by cheating students has its own pitfalls. One problem is exactly that these assignments _are_ unique flowers, and might turn out to be systematically too hard or too easy or too vague. An advantage of the rather mechanical, "near-clone of last-years stuff" approach is that you can learn from last year's assignments and tune them onto the target. Faculty shouldn't be dumping the same material without fixes every year, but in many fields it's insane to expect that they have to prepare all new assessment material every year. They just don't get paid enough or get enough time for that.


I made a different conclusion. There are several problems, but the biggest is his approach.

Now, I'm not a teacher, and all those caveats. But in my imagination, my approach would be much less time-consuming. I cribbed this from my high school physics teacher. It involves little detective work and no long drawn out confessions.

When cheating is detected, simply send a note to the student with the following: "I'm aware that you cheated on this assignment. You have received a failing grade on it. The next instance of cheating will be referred to the honor board and you will fail the class." Any student who wished to contest the charge would be referred to the honor board immediately. Contest it with people whose job it is to handle this sort of thing. The policy on cheating would be posted at the beginning of class and strictly enforced.

The reason why this is so much more efficient is because the net time spent compared to a non-cheating assignment is probably negative. This is simply because you no longer have to read or grade the papers that are found to be copied. Since there is no conversation to be had with the student, there's also no extra time spent there. The only marginal cost is if a student wishes to appeal your verdict, but I doubt there will be much of that happening since the consequences would almost certainly be more severe.

This also solves the problem of bad ratings. There's no need to play the hard-ass in this situation, which is probably where the rating trouble comes from. Since the interaction is terse and factual, the students won't have much face-time in which to build resentment. You could even put something like, "I know you can complete this class successfully, which is why I'm not referring you to the honor board on the first offense. Please come to the TA's office hours if you're having trouble on your papers in the future. I look forward to working with you and helping you achieve your goals in this class" at the end of the email to put a positive spin on it. (Although the idea of having ratings come from people with whom the professor is in a somewhat adversarial relationship seems like one that could be improved.)

Anyway, I see where this guy is coming from but I'm not sure his is the right decision. Maybe I'm wrong though because as they say I have not walked a mile in his shoes.


James, I did exactly what you suggested. Every single student came to protest. I believed that things would play out exactly as you are thinking. Unfortunately, they turned out very differently.


How about taking a harder line then? Make your warning at the start of the semester, and to everybody: any reasonable suspicion of cheating results in an immediate referral to the honor board, no protesting or second chances. The first assignment rolls around, a few people are caught cheating, and you spend X hours submitting their cases to the honor board. Let the honor board handle the adjucation of the matter, which is where it belongs, and wastes less of your time. It also lets the department know that they have a problem, since some of them are probably involved with the honor board.

Students hear that peers are getting sent straight to the honor board, and they fall in line. The next assignment that rolls around, almost surely less students will attempt to cheat. If you have to spend Y hours sending more students to the honor board, hopefully Y is less than X. But it sends a loud-and-clear, unmistakable message to the students that cheating is unacceptable. With any luck the students that actually take the class seriously will appreciate your candor on the matter.

I agree that allowing students to actually come in and argue their case to you is a waste of your time. You're right, that's not your job. Send it to the honor board and waste the time of the deans and the department heads, since that's their job. If you let students waste your time by giving them an extra strike before they're out, you can't be surprised when they try to take advantage of it. One strike and you're out tells students that it doesn't matter if ex post facto you think your best friend's grandma's death drove you to do it: cheating is never acceptable.


Huh, interesting. But I got the impression from your article that you typically had a discussion with the student, presented them with the evidence, etc. after they protested to you. That's a little different than my proposal, where in the case of protest you hand it off to the honor board immediately. I.e. the students should know that the only discussion is one where they risk suspension if they don't manage to prove their innocence. Also, from what I read, you actually sent out an email inviting students to come talk with you. Hard to see what other outcome there could be than students coming and taking up a lot of your time.

Think about it in terms of incentives and scarce resources. If the students know they can come and protest to you with no additional consequences, they will certainly do so, guilty or no. Everyone has heard the story of merciful teachers and cops that don't give a ticket if you cry. At worst, they are out two hours, and at best, they may get a higher grade with very little work. Basically, your time has become a commons whose use has no real cost to the individuals taking advantage of it, but from which they believe some value can be extracted.

The economic solution is to make sure the time costs something, so that the students will consider whether there's really enough utility in protesting to make it worth the cost. The cost is that if they protest, they run the risk of suspension in the event they are actually guilty. It should be obvious to students that this will be the likely outcome if they do protest.

Let me know if I'm reading you wrong because I really am curious if students protested even though any protest would result in an immediate referral to the honor board. Also, thanks for fighting the good fight even though it got you screwed in the end. We need more folks like that.

Oh, I didn't mention the one other advantage this approach has. If you quickly and forcefully deal with students who have violated class policies, I think there will be less emotional "splash damage." It's the same way a parent should not draw out a punishment over a long period of time -- make it hard, get it over with, and wipe the slate clean so you can smile at each other the next day.


When I detected 15+ cheating cases, I just asked permission from the Dean's office to notify students over email, and then direct them to the Dean's office for appeals.

So I did that, notified the cheating students they got a -30 (negative the points of the homework) and directed them to the Dean's office for appeals.

Well, it was very difficult to enforce the "talk to the Dean's office if you have a problem with my judgment." When the student comes in my office during office hours, I cannot say "I do not want to talk to you, get out of my office". Yes, I could do it, in theory. Hard to do in practice. Would I physically push the student out of my office?


Of course I would not advocate physically pushing the student out of the office.

> Instead, I sent an email to the class. I just said that there were cases of plagiarism detected and whomever cheated, could come and find me. For the rest, I would report the case . . .

I guess I just read this as an invitation to come and discuss the matter with you. And I understood from this that any who didn't come would be referred. If I were a student and reading this paragraph, I would make damn sure to speak with you about my indiscretions. That is the exact opposite of what I'm proposing, which is that you only refer students to the dean if they do come and speak with you.

Perhaps you meant to convey something different than what I'm getting from the blog post, if so, sorry for misreading.

> When the student comes in my office during office hours . . .

Once again, I've never been a professor, although I did TA for a while when I was in college. That said, I had an expectation that my office hours would be utilized in some way or another by students. I would propose prioritizing any student that wants to ask about something other than their cheating conviction. For students who want to talk about the cheating, just say, "If you really believe you did not cheat, we can discuss the evidence. But that will only happen at an academic integrity board hearing. If they find you innocent, I will regrade your work. Think about it and let me know by email if that's what you want to do." And then just refuse to talk about it.

Again, you're the professional and I'm the backseat driver. You know more about how this works than I do. This is simply how I imagine it would go, and although you've disagreed with me several times I still haven't gotten the impression that you did what I'm proposing.


+1 on the office hours comment.

In fact, I would argue that office hours is NOT the proper venue to discuss these matters anyway. From my experience, the purpose of office hours was to clear doubts and further understanding of the class material. I would've been extremely pissed off if I came to office hours with a legitimate question about the material, only to waste my time waiting on a bunch of people arguing about cheating.


Well, for non-office hours I can always say to the student that they cannot come in, as I have other things to do. There is a legitimate excuse not to even start the conversation.

However, during office hours, any student can come in and discuss class-related topics. I cannot prevent students from entering my office, just because I believe that they will want to discuss their cheating penalty.


In my law school, everyone is graded on a strict curve and honor code violations are handled first by a board of students. Does wonders for reducing cheating.


Is it a departmental problem?

I understand that people will cheat and that as technology changes the game it's potentially harder to catch them and that's ultimately not your job. Does the school use character as one of the attributes when selecting students? Should they maybe be more selective? It just seems like a staggering number of cheats.

You ever collect any statistics on it? Are there certain trends?


This has the problem of false positives, and an assumption of guilt. In my experience (at the Naval Academy, so maybe a little different), honor boards were designed solely to award punishment with no realistic chance of presenting evidence in your defense. I imagine that most schools are less strict, but still expect the professor to have talked the matter through with their students before a formal inquest.


Were you actually involved in the honor board at the Naval Academy? If so, I am wondering: is the honor board really only designed to punish, or were the only cases that made it that far so egregious that guilty is the only likely verdict?

Of course, I think I would only refer students to the honor board if it was blatantly obvious they were cheating, and they opted to refuse my "warning" punishment.


The board was not "designed" to punish, but that was always the practical outcome. Something around 90% of cases resulted in punishment while I was there.

Basically, a group of students is selected to oversee the trial. They are repeatedly instructed that they must issue a guilty verdict if a preponderance of the evidence (51%) points that way. An overseeing officer (captain or admiral) supervises the proceedings and assigns a punishment after a guilty verdict. This combination creates a strong expectation that students will issue a guilty verdict. (If this does not make sense, then you have not been around "real" authority and I cannot succinctly explain.) For juniors or seniors, punishment is typically expulsion and a $100,000 fine to cover training expenses. For underclass, it is typically a six-month probationary period (this is closer to a jail sentence than a normal college probation).

In some respects, the Navy is an exceptional circumstance. Most people would rather have lots of innocent people be punished than have a potential cheat graduate and be placed in control of nuclear weapons. Still, I have seen lots of innocent people punished (or guilty people punished way too severely) to not be skeptical of a system that has any chance of going this direction.

As for personal experience, I was never accused of an honor violation, but I testified at honor hearings for friends. In my opinion, both were unfairly convicted and punished. All midshipman get training on the procedure at least once per semester, and it is severely indoctrinated in our version of boot camp.


Your claim that the author has drawn the wrong conclusion relies on a major assertion for which you have failed to provide support. Specifically: why do you think a 22/108 cheating rate is non-standard for a large US research university's business school? Are there institutions that check such things in any sort of systematic fashion (e.g., TurnItIn run on a substantial portion of the classwork)?

It seems to me that the incentives that Panos describes, such as poor evaluations, funding/salary, disinterested administrators, and awkward one-on-one confrontations are common to many top institutions.


Ah, the starchy HN argument style, lacking only a demand that I provide citations. Unfortunately, you're deploying your pomposity in the service of refuting something I didn't actually write.

I didn't say that 22/108 was "non-standard for a large US research university's business school". I said it was "big". It is big. This doesn't change if the norm at every other business school is 32/108. The OP also thought it was big and was unhappily surprised by it.


pbh brings up solid points. Stating that something is big will always lead to the question "relative to what?"

Your post indicates that you think 28/108 is big relative to what a normal cheating rate would be (as can be seen by your statement "he'd have gone back to 'normal' cheating rates"). How can you establish whether or not something is big relative to a norm when you haven't even established what the norm is?


From the rest of his comment, it seemed reasonable to assume he meant "big" relative to most people's sense of fair play.

I'm having trouble picturing an argument for how a 25% cheating rate would be "small".


Anecdotally, 25% cheating rate seems really low compared to what I observed at my top liberal-arts college. I would've guessed a cheating rate of about 60-70% to be "small", and 90% to be large. On my floor of incoming freshmen, I'd say those of us who had never cheated were in the minority, and in fact many of my floormates expressed incredulity that there were people who could've gotten to college without cheating once.


> However, all this wasted time, and all this aggravation, wouldn't be necessary if all the other professors were doing it too.

This is exactly why the author stated, 'The Nash equilibrium is to let the students cheat and "perform well"'

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhrnFGP4zks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nash_equilibrium


but if he'd stuck it out for another year or two - and showed the next round of incoming classes just how ugly it will get - he'd have gone back to 'normal' cheating rates rather than 28/108.

I don't think this is necessarily true. I can construct arguments either way, but they depend on big ifs. I think it's unreasonable to ask someone to go through a professional grinder for two years because things might get better.


"However, all this wasted time, and all this aggravation, wouldn't be necessary if all the other professors were doing it too."

This is a classic problem in economics: what to do if an entire group of people would be better off doing something, but you doing it alone makes you worse off? In his case, working on cheating on his own results in lower evals and a more contentious class environment. The incentive, as he points out, is not to bother.

I wrote about incentives in a longish post about grade inflation (http://jseliger.com/2011/04/02/grade-inflation-what-grade-in...) that comes to a similar conclusion: instructors are rewarded more for good evals than they are for grading harshly (or, for that matter, pursuing cheating). So we get situations like the one described in this post.


> 22 cheats out of 108 is big

Looks like standard 80/20 to me, nothing surprising.


The 80/20 "rule" arises when quantities are distributed as a power-law with typical indicies [1]. "Incidences of cheating" is not such a quantity.

[1] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Pareto_princi...


Please learn what's actually meant by 80/20 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle - "roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes".


A housemate of mine had a very creative solution: as a teacher he said that he would give anybody who cheated a 0 and that appeals could be filed with the Dean's office to prove they did not cheat. Most importantly, nobody would be told if they had been caught cheating, the zero would just show up on their grades.

The system plays on the student's mind: when they submit the first assignment and cheat their motivation to bother to make the minimal effort to dick around with the next one waivers. Most of the cheaters apparently dropped before the midterms. Any whiners with the balls to claim they had not cheated get to make their case to the Dean and voluntarily submit themselves to the school judicial process, but this was generally unneeded as apparently most cheaters dropped the class before midterms. No whiners in your office, and the reviews of you as a teacher are in before you fail them. Seems like it addresses all your problems.


That's pretty awesome - it's like The Tell-Tale Heart way of dealing with cheaters


I can't speak for college, but I cheated quite a lot in high school. I cheated "better" than the students in this post though, by copying sentence by sentence from various sources, rewriting it to make the cheating non-detectable, and reading over it to make sure the flow was good. It saved me at least 50% of the time compared to writing something from scratch, and the quality was good too.

Do I feel bad about it? Absolutely not.

It's imporant to consider why people cheat before you deem it bad. I cheated because the assignments were a waste of time. Plain and simple, a waste of time. It often felt like something the teacher gave us just so we shouldn't spend our evenings having fun. It wasn't something you were supposed to learn something from, it was something you were supposed to do because you were supposed to do it.

I should point out that that the Norwegian high school system is quite different from the American system. We couldn't choose our subjects, we had to take what the education law said we had to learn. Because of that I had a lot of subjects that I didn't have any interest in whatsoever, the only thing important was the grade I got. When you don't have any reason to study a subject other than to get a high number on a paper, it's natural to cheat. It's borderline impossible to be motivated to do something forced on you.

However, if the subject or course is your own choice, like the case with most university courses, cheating is something different. If the the only value the students get from a class is a grade and not relevant and valuable knowledge, I understand and sympathize with the cheaters.


A waste of time? Not if you learnt from them.

Still, they need to separate "formative" and "summative" assessment. If a piece of assessment is easy to game, it should be "formative" - the marks you get should not go to your final grade, and should only be used as a feedback. If the assessment is hard to game, it should be "summative".

UK universities used to give a final vocal exam, after three years of study. You can't cram for it, there's too much to cover. And it's an exam, so there's a hell of a lot less cheating. Still, it does seem a little extreme.

PhD thesis (and other research-grade work) are another example, but I guess its too hard for 90% of undergrads.

Commercial quality work might be another option, but it won't assess the fundamentals that universities should be teaching.


I would surely learn a lot about the lastest in pop music if I watched MTV five hours a day for a month too, but that doesn't mean that it would be a good use of my time since I have no interest or reason for learning about pop music. A lot of the assignments I got and subsequently cheated on felt just like that.

You actually pointed of something I didn't mention in my previous comment. If you learn something, it shouldn't matter how you learned it. I actually learned the topics and passed the exam with flying colors even though I cheated on a lot of the assignments.


"by copying sentence by sentence from various sources, rewriting it to make the cheating non-detectable, and reading over it to make sure the flow was good. It saved me at least 50% of the time compared to writing something from scratch, and the quality was good too." - with those kind of skills you could become a top-notch journalist for the huffington post.


Copying is only plagiarism if you don't cite/reference your sources.

(I'm being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here)


I remember once doing my assignment witch consisted of nothing but citations. it was perfectly valid by rules of writing such papers. as long as citations are proper. but that school was not very good, anyway.


"Most of us who went to American grade schools can remember long hours of copying articles out of encyclopedias. 'The abode of the penguin is a hard and difficult one.' It was called doing research. Then in college we found that it was also called plagiarism."

-- Mary Claire van Leunen, "A Handbook for Scholars"


Good point. Although, if students are cheating rampantly, which seems likely at your school, then teachers may feel they have to assign more busywork to compensate.


What you describe as "cheating" sounds more like "researching" or "studying". Cite sources for your facts and what you have there is probably a perfectly good paper.


Holy crap. They let so many people get away with copy-paste assignments, and they call themselves a postsecondary institution? That's fucking horrific. Where I'm from, a single sentence similar to one of your sources is marks deducted. A paragraph puts you on academic probation. Anything bigger is a bus-ticket home.


Yeah, I personally couldn't believe he had people copying entire articles into their paper and simply let it slide with a lecture on how to source articles.

I've always tried to agonize over drawing some unique conclusions from a variety of source material. Looks like the more efficient method would have been to just reword the wikipedia article.

All of the stories about education bubbles, unemployed graduates, etc, seem to make a lot more sense when you see data like this.


I think you are right in your comment about education bubbles. Cheating as blatant as this could be a sign that many of the "students" are either unqualified or there for the wrong reasons.


I remember doing some work on an essay with a friend of mine over the phone. There was one particular sentence he came up with that was absolutely stellar. I know it was original because we were working from the same text and discussing it over the phone - I was there when he came up with it.

When he got his essay back, this one sentence was circled in red with the comment "If you're going to plagiarise, be less obvious about it". He wouldn't go back and protest (he was pretty laid back) but I imagine that the rest of his essay didn't quite shine like this sentence did...


This happened to me in English comp. I decided to make the most of the class by really studying style. I turned in three papers utilizing different author's styles in my own way: H.P. Lovecraft, Hunter S. Thompson, and Henry Thoreau. I learned a hell of a lot but was told that I cheated. I told them I would sit after class and write a paragraph or two of each style for them. They said it wasn't necessary as they could 'tell', and that since they couldn't prove I cheated, the highest I could get was a C.

I almost quit college over it. That aside, the amount of cheating in my engineering courses was high. There was only a 10% grad rate within 4 years and 16% total. I think it was the top 10% and cheaters that could graduate.


There certainly is such a thing as being too aggressive in trying to detect cheating. It happened to my dad once but he cleared it up by re-doing the problem from scratch in front of the teacher.

I think it's absolutely critical that any accusation of cheating allow the student to respond, preferably to a different teacher if the original teacher still thinks they were cheating.


really studying style

I want to do this. How did you go about it?


Where I attended college, you get a year's suspension for getting caught copying a sentence without citation. Anything as egregious as this presented would've meant a class full of suspended students.


I'm sure that was the policy, but how often was it enforced? Most universities have draconian policies against cheating that are never enforced, except in the most egregious cases. It's extremely rare for any school to discipline as many people as this; when it does happen, it tends to be national news.


28 students last year (out of about 4,000) were reported. 17 were suspended, 7 got probation, 3 were found not responsible, and 1 had the allegations formally rescinded.

This is roughly consistent year-to-year.


Unless your school is dramatically different from other schools, you've just provided very strong evidence that only a tiny minority of actual violations are pursued.


The "were reported" is key. Who knows how many professors pulled a promising young student aside, gave them a stern lecture, and a second chance.


That's also the equivalent of saying "a single line of source code identical to other source code is copyright infringement". Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes there are limited ways to express obvious ideas, so I don't get how such a hard-line stance helps anything.


> Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

This isn't code, these are written assignments we're discussing. English is pretty damn flexible, and nobody gets suspended for "Abraham Lincoln died in 1865." There's no point invoking degenerate cases to argue against a policy. That's just silly.

When a nontrivial sentence appears both in an essay and in one of the listed sources, the Wikipedia page, or a top Google hit for the subject, you can draw inferences. If you can argue that you just happened to write:

> However, just six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was shot and killed by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

just as it appears on Wikipedia at present, and convince your peers it's more likely than not that you did, then you won't be punished. Not unsurprisingly, such pleas typically (but not always) fail.


Agreed. Anyone caught plagiarizing so blatantly should be expelled immediately. It is simply a waste of time to coddle people who should know better.


Yeah, standards seem to differ a lot.

There's also the whole grade inflation problem: http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/93987

... perhaps a part of the problem is accreditation of higher ed schools?


Where I'm from, a single sentence similar to one of your sources is marks deducted

Sounds like the purpose of the class is to teach people to use a thesaurus.


It is a deterrent. It is often easier to come up with an original sentence then sit around with a thesaurus.


One of the problems here (which I've heard is common to most universities) is the use of student evaluations to evaluate professors. That creates a very unfortunate incentive for profs to try to please their students. Not all students value the best education; some just want a high grade for as little work as possible. Their evaluations are not going to be in line with the goals of the university. By using them as part of the prof evaluation, the school is encouraging behavior it almost certainly doesn't mean to.


At my previous employer (a private college), we had a consulting group come and and discuss strategic planning.

I asked them whether we could justify improving academic programs using ROI. The lead consultant said, "Nowadays, it's all about the amenities," and that we should build a swimming pool.

I think higher ed really is about pleasing the students, parents and alumni, and keeping the money flowing, unfortunately. Bureaucracies just perpetuate themselves.


"Their evaluations are not going to be in line with the goals of the university."

Yes, it seems like the university goals are often to have the most published papers and the most prestigious research department, which is completely at odds with the students who want the best teachers.


Yeah, their really needs to be some independent evaluation outside of the students, I saw many times lecturers have got lots of bad reviews not necessarily because they were bad teachers but because they may have set hard assignments or forced the students to do more work during a lecture.


This +100. Surely the student's review of the teacher should only be one factor used when evaluating the students. A band-aid fix would be to preclude students found cheating of reviewing their teacher (or their review doesn't count), but all in all this systems seems set up to be abused.


How about delaying the release of this information? Students would fill out a review, but it would be locked and unaccessable by the university for a period of 3 years. (The professor ought to have access, if only to gather feedback.)


Given an overall badly damaged classroom dynamic, excluding those found cheating may not have made much difference.


While I sympathize with the instructor and think he should be incentivized to fight cheating, I'm not pleased with the use of services like TurnItIn. Basically, the student gives someone some faceless company a license to whatever they create for perpetuity. Are these companies ever compelled to delete material on request? And who could audit that?


I completely agree with this sentiment. It is difficult for me to express how extremely inappropriate I think it is for a school to transfer ownership of a student's assignment to a third party who uses it strictly for profit. It would already be iffy if turnitin was a nonprofit, but they aren't.

Papers that students legitimately write and no third party ever gains access to, are still inflating their essay counts and therefore making some guy rich.

The courts upheld that it isn't a copyright violation since they decided it was fair use, but I have to say even if it is legal it is morally abhorrent for schools to go along with it. Plagiarism is unavoidable from individuals that are trying to scam their way through school, and something that needs to be combated, but universities are supposed to be bastions of enlightenment not cronies for privately held corporations.

To be clear, I don't see any problem with automatic plagiarism detection. I do see a problem with very significant profits being made due to usage of students work that they cannot possibly opt out of (especially high school students who don't even have the option of transferring schools if they don't want their work being used that way)


So would writing "Copyright (C) 2011 J. Random Student, all rights reserved" on ever essay you hand in make any difference?


You already have a copyright just by writing it. Courts have ruled this is fair use, which means the courts feel this use of content is more valuable to society than writers keeping their rights.

I wonder if laws would change if we were talking about combatting plagiarism in film schools by keeping a database of all films to match against.


If it's fair use, the student keeps copyright, they just can't go after Turnitin etc. for copyright infringement. Lack of infringement != losing copyright. If the professor were to, say, publish an anthology of student papers, this would not be fair use and he'd have to either get permission or risk being sued by the students.

There're various other cases of fair use that make this fairly obvious, eg. when you DVR a TV show, that's fair use, but it doesn't mean that the MPAA has lost copyright over that show and can no longer go after people who share it on Bittorrent.


Yeah, my comment was unclear. I didn't mean to imply the students lost their rights, just that the courts have decided this particular use supersedes their rights under the fair use doctrine.


I am the professor who wrote the blog post.

What you mention was a very big problem for the adoption of services like Turnitin. In fact, when there is a match, there is no way of seeing the "source" of the homework, unless you get a permission from the "owner" of the homework.

Also, students when they submit the assignment to Turnitin, they assign a license to index the content for plagiarism detection purposes, and for nothing else.

And students have the right to remove their assignments from the index, if I understand the language of the agreement correctly.


students when they submit the assignment to Turnitin, they assign a license to index the content for plagiarism detection purposes, and for nothing else.

I thought you said it was integrated into Blackboard, thus not requiring students to directly submit their assignments to Turnitin?


A fellow grad student got blackballed and ultimately kicked out of the program for bringing this up to the chair of the department.


There are many ways for which most of the same benefit can be gotten, such as having the software be paid for by each school, which would host it itself and maintain its own database. Crawling from the web would still be feasible (just with a lot of duplication of effort between universities), and you would still be able to catch students at the same school who copy from each other---and most of the students who copy from others are going to copy from students who attend the same institution.


This professor is a huge part of the problem. He's a tenured professor saying "caring about cheating is counter productive", which to me says "I would rather have an easy life where I don't have to work hard than to protect the reputation of the institution I work for and ensure that students that graduate have learned something along the way".

He complains he had to work almost 44 hours (2 hours * 22 cheaters) and repeatedly moans and bitches about how much time that is, despite being spread over the course of an entire semester. I assume he's been in academia his whole career, because I can't remember a week where I've worked less than 50 hours.

My only solace is to know that this guy is a professor at a business school giving incredibly simplistic homework in excel, and his students are too stupid to do it. I can't think of a better punishment for someone who puts his leisure and student assessments above academic integrity than to have students like that.

Finally, what is the value of his class at all? If he can't tell his students are cheating without globally searching everything with this software, what are they supposedly learning? I would favor just eliminating this class; if you can't tell whether a student took it or not, they didn't learn anything. If you can't quantify the learning experience, it shouldn't carry credit.

This may be my strong bias as a Math major, but I know there is no way I could have cheated in almost any of my classes. If I had copied someone's homework, either the professor would have recognized it right away (since most professors actually knew and cared about the students in their class), or I would have failed all the exams. Do business school students not have exams that they can fail? If not, what are they supposedly learning? I know lots of business schools really drive their students hard to learn skills that they will use later. My opinion of NYU's business school (where the author of this is a tenured professor) is now so low that I will do a bit more diligence on MBA students with a degree from there as I review resumes and gauge job candidates in the future.

Edit: removed something criticized as a personal insult. This comment was modded up to 10, and at the time of this is now modded as 4. There should be some kind of meta-karma for controversial posts, since they inject lively debate instead of just attempting to game the system! That is my biased view anyway.


Justin, I am the professor who wrote the article.

The 44 hours is not a number to show how much extra I had to work. Believe me, a 14-hour day is a pretty common thing for me. Teaching is only part of my overall job (I also have to do research, supervise PhD students, review papers, serve on committees and many other things).

The 44 hours figure is given just as a contrast to the actual time that I spent in class. I would much rather spend these 44 hours on helping students, on creating new assignments, on finding things in the news that are relevant to tomorrow's class and so on. Instead, these 44 hours were literally wasted on the students that should have been the least deserving. (When I had the student crying in my office, I had actually lines of students waiting outside to ask me questions about the material in the class. Most of them ended up leaving, as they could not wait for so long.)

Also blaming NYU/Stern for this is a rather shortsighted approach. I would not be surprised if the situation is identical in many other schools but just nobody has the incentives to fight cheating.

Just a note: My PhD is in computer science. I have a technical background. I code for fun, and I detected cheating in the Excel assignments using my own code.


You're absolutely not alone in this experience, Panos.

A pair of my friends work for online colleges; one for a state college with a pretty good reputation, and another for a for-profit school with a decent reputation. Neither are tenured.

Both of them have had serious issues with student cheating. The one at the state college got support from one of her superiors, and was not penalized for fighting plagiarism, but it was still very time consuming. Another one of her superiors (in previous years) did not support her in any way, and she had to cut back on enforcing academic honesty to help protect her job, save for the most blatant cases.

The other one (at the for-profit college) stopped crusading against cheating when she found out that she'd (effectively) be fired if she continued. Pass rates are a sizable portion of what's used to determine which teachers are given which classes. In one class, more than half of her students should have been failed for academic honesty violations by the halfway point of the year. However, if she did that, her pass rates would have been low enough that it was extremely likely that she would not be given any classes next semester. (Not technically fired, but functionally so.)

So, you are not the only person encountering this, and you're not alone in realizing that fighting cheating can be hazardous to your career. It's a damn shame.


It's not shocking that a for-profit college was more motivated by getting happy graduates through their program than by enforcing academic honesty. But, this speaks to the larger issue of for-profit education as a whole.

As a whole, this seems like an administrative issue, rather than an issue with a single professor. In an environment where departmental heads and academic deans expected, and encouraged professors to report plagiarism - then dealt with it in a fair, consistant manner, this would be a non-issue.

Another big part of what this story illustrates is that individual professors shouldn't be responsible for both detecting and punishing academic dishonesty.


I think it would help if more people understood the time demands of teaching a course (neglecting other faculty duties, just looking at the teaching component). Many people have seen it only from the student side and not the instructor side.

From my experience, teaching a 3 credit course (meeting MWF for one hour each with no labs/recitation) requires the three hours for the course plus the following: 1. an additional 1 to 2 hours per class of prep. time to get yourself situated for that paricular class 2. 0.5 to 1 hours of meeting with your TA regarding grading and what is being covered in the course this week (more if the TA has a recitation session) 3. 3 to 5 office hours for students (of which a majority is not used, but still must be set aside)

All together, teaching a three hour course takes about 10 hours a week on the low end. Dealing with cheating students takes time from every portion of this 10 hours. You must waste time in class addressing the cheating. You must waste time in preparation thinking of ways to stop the cheating. You must waste time talking with your TA about the cheating. You must waste time dealing with students who will admit to "working together" but never "cheating" during your office hours.

The most important part of this, and the part that gets eaten up the most, is the office hours. This is where students should come to delve deeper into a subject or clarify material. Dealing with students during this time sets back students who truly have an interest in the subject and cripples students who have fallen behind (which will most likely lead to more cheating!).

While 44 hours over a semester sounds like nothing to most people, it is actually a significant amount of time wasted for the class.

As an aside, many students think that teaching is a faculty member's first and foremost duty. Depending on the school, this can range from absolutely true to downright false. Most schools have a layout on what they expect from their faculty regarding research, teaching, and service. Most schools weight that in decreasing priority as listed. If a school is well-known for its research, chances are it follows this pattern and teaching is not a priority for the faculty outside of good student evaluations.

Edit: A course at my school lasts for approximately 15 weeks which comes to ~150 hours per semester at 10 hours per week. At 44 hours, dealing with cheating would take 30% of my time spent on the course during the semester.


What about shifting to a teaching model where students review material and watch lectures (MIT OCW, Kahn, or even the professor's own recorded lectures) out of class, and do actual assignments (problem sets, essays) in class -- in an atmosphere that encourages working together so nobody feels "stuck" or gets stressed to the point where they feel like they have to cheat, while still preparing solutions separately? That seems to be direction favored by many of the advocates of reform in higher learning... advocates like Dr. Tae.


I thought of that as well. With this approach you hit another structural problem: activities such as solving problems etc are considered appropriate only for "recitations" (i.e., done by TA's) and not for "lectures" (the part where the professor teaches).

Kind of stupid, I know. But it is really impossible to violate the mandate that my teaching should not be "wasted" on doing assignments in class etc.

And yes, when I tried it, I loved it. The teaching time becomes so much more interesting and stimulating. But I can only practice this a couple of times over the semester, as otherwise I will be seen as "wasting" my time in class.


By whom?


By the administration, which separates the credits for the courses into "recitations" and "lectures". The TA's get paid for the recitations/activities-based hours, the professors for the lectures.


Can they actually stop you from using your lectures in any way you see fit? This, and saying silly things when you at last slip into senility, would seem to me to be the main perks of tenure.


So the root of the problem is a structural flaw in the implementation of undergraduate education and its conflicting requirements with your other university responsibilities?

The system is broken.


I am an honest student. How would you feel about me being in your class? Not every student is at university in order to tick a box on the way to a middle class lifestyle. Some are there to learn for the sake of learning.


Derrida, most of the professors teach because of students like you. Nobody that I know enjoys teaching disinterested or bored students.

Of course, there are professors that fail to teach well, the students get disinterested, then the professor gets even more disinterested and teaches worse etc etc.


I realize you are trying to maximize the quality of education you are providing. I don't think you can use that as an argument against failing students who blatantly cheat.

There's not an easy solution, obviously. You are taking a risk when you do something that some other members of your faculty are not doing. You must realize, they are threatened by your attempt to prevent cheating, because it will become obvious very quickly when you find such high rates of cheating and deal with them appropriately, that they are not doing so. That will raise difficult questions, deans will notice. I think you might find, to your surprise, that there are many other people in the same position as you, but perhaps not as bold as you are. I would wager that that many, many other faculty members hate cheating as much as you, and are disgusted by the blatant plagiarism, but also like you are pressured by the current state of affairs to bury it.

I would encourage you to stick to your original guns, and keep grinding cheaters out of your class. First of all, your reputation will be established very quickly among students. Students who know they have to cheat will avoid you every semester, saddling other professors who are softer on cheating with worse students, and concentrating the best students into your classes. More to the point, students won't try to cheat in your class nearly as much once your reputation is established, so the amount of time you have to deal with it will, I suspect, go down dramatically.

Edit: This is way more congenial than how I actually feel. It's your responsibility, and every other faculty member's, to identify cheating and run those students out of the university. They are stealing from the students who are trying hard and mastering the material, by graduating uneducated and unprepared. When they go out and embarrass themselves, it reflects on every other student with that same university's name on their diploma.

As for the girl crying for 2 hours, who cares? Let her cheating ass go cry in her dorm, I think you have very weird priorities to let her waste your entire office hours (with honest students waiting) with her obvious, transparent attempt to manipulate you emotionally.


I do regret letting the "copy & paste" students go relatively unharmed. I was naive to believe that they will not do it again. They were even more naive to try to cheat again in my own class.

Btw, all students were reported to the administration and have a mark in their transcripts that they cheated. This is communicated to all future employers and is an automatic block to entrance in law schools.

But again: 22 out of 108 is not a problem to be solved by force. It is a deep structural problem that got me thinking about evaluation strategies that are independent of cheating.

Btw, the girl was not crying to manipulate me. She really had a serious nervous breakdown, bringing out all sorts of issues that she had with her life. Apparently her parents kept reprimanding her for not "performing" at the university. There was a long term stress issue and the realization that she was going to fail the class was just the straw that broke the camel's back. But it was a very uncomfortable spectacle: her classmates outside my office looking at her, and other faculty members stopping by and making gestures, trying to figure out what is going on.


"What a lazy coward."

Ouch! This professor is caught between students who don't want to learn and an administration who does not know how to properly measure teacher performance. Give the guy a break; he's in a tough situation.

By the way, insults and personal attacks are not welcome here at Hacker News.


Insults and personal attacks against (external) article authors seem to be treated as less taboo, as they are on topic, and less likely to cause a flame war. Still, it's a bit rude.

It's hardly fair to call the one guy trying to fix the system a coward, just because he decided he had better things to do.

Besides, "No tolerance" is a bad way to beat corruption, as an individual. The best way is to occasionally bring it up. You won't lose as many friends, but some people people will still think that a crackdown might be underway. You might feel stupid, only catching one or two cheats, but it's more effective in the long run than being too hard.

He's not a lazy coward. He's just not a great political player. His boss is a lazy coward, for putting him in a position where he has to know how to be positively Machiavellian in order to improve things.


It hurts me to have to disagree with you because you invoked the He's a tenured professor statement (I have a general bias against tenured professors) and the rest of your argument was right on. I was spitting at my screen until the last few paragraphs of the blog.

I don't trust a college degree from anywhere to prove anything other than that the student was able to finance his/her purchase, regardless of school. I know this will not be taken well by several folks, but it's not a complete disregarding of higher education (take me on my word or call me an idiot, you'll probably be right).

Cheating is a fact of life. When I was in college, the punishment was expulsion. This rarely happened. It was the old "make the punishment so awful that nobody would want to commit the crime", and it fell flat as soon as human beings were put in the picture.

Those who knew how to get away with it almost always got away with it. And even when caught, the book was rarely thrown at them. This "tenured" professor is trying to find a way to separate cheating from passing. I don't know that he'll be successful. But the traditional "Turnitin" approach is working as well as anti-malware software/devices work. It's an arms race. The solution isn't to build better detection or encourage better behavior from users ... it's to make the attack irrelevant.

I'm skeptical that it can be done, but I like the approach. I don't believe this is a Lazy Coward operation (good to edit it out, but I didn't downmod you, I thought your comments were fair). It's a creative, and possibly disruptive, method to teaching.

Edit: Sorry, it's really difficult to write out a reasonable reply without reading it over a few times and making changes.


It amazes me that you cannot see it from his perspective. He tried to catch cheaters and was punished by the school system for it. He earned less money for trying to enforce a no cheating policy. Would you work twice the amount of time for less pay? Most of us probably wouldn't. It seems like a prudent financial decision for him.

The problem seems systemic, he throws his hands in the air and gives up because he cannot do anything alone and is punished. Others either came to the same conclusion or don't know/care cheating is happening to begin with. I don't think I can simply blame him for the calculations he went through in making his decision.


Since you asked, I would refuse to work anywhere that I was expected to stand aside and ignore fraud, or where I was punished for doing what everyone would agree is the right thing, in this case trying to catch and identify cheaters in compliance with the rules of the institution. I would rail against it every day and try to change the system by doing the right thing and calling out other faculty for not doing so, publicly.

It is likely that I would fail, but as I will sometimes announce loudly in the Milo office "I've got something to say! It's better to burn out than fade away!'


>I would refuse to work anywhere that I was expected to stand aside and ignore fraud, or where I was punished for doing what everyone would agree is the right thing (...)

You don't always have that much choice, do you?

>I would rail against it every day and try to change the system by doing the right thing and calling out other faculty for not doing so, publicly.

Yeah.

You will not simply fail, you'll get screwed by the system at the first opportunity. If you really want to "buck the system", cool down and watch some episodes of "The Wire". This series portays exactly and reallisticaly the inner workings of corrupt institutions and what happens to "lone wolves" trying to beat or change the system (spoiler - they get screwed by superiors and peers alike and achieve absolutely nothing).

I'm not saying it's impossible to transform the system from within. But trying to do it single-handedly is fighting a losing battle that is doomed to alienate your coworkers.


I don't think I'd be 'screwed by the system', and no I don't think I'll be taking my lessons from some TV cops and robbers show. Do you have any clue how hilariously bad this advice you are giving is?


"The Wire" is not "some TV cops and robbers show", but a complex narrative that depicts exactly the kind of situtations we're talking about (yes, it's styled as police drama, but it's much more than that).


That's nice. But you're not him. Even you recognize a high likelihood of failure. He doesn't want to fight that losing battle, I cannot blame him.


He earned less money for trying to enforce a no cheating policy.

No, his pay was increased by less than in previous years. He didn't actually earn less.

Would you work twice the amount of time for less pay?

He didn't work twice the time. 32 lecture hours is an indicator of the workload - he spends far more on the course than just contact hours.

The problem seems systemic, he throws his hands in the air and gives up because he cannot do anything alone and is punished.

He still got a pay increase. Not as much as he would have liked, but it's not exactly horrible punishment. In one aspect he's just as guilty as his cheaters - he is more concerned for the big bux at the end than in doing his job properly: "If doing things properly means I get paid less, screw that".

EDIT: it's important to note that he also reports on the changed dynamic of the class, not just the dollars. That being said, it's interesting that the dollars come first.


his pay was increased by less than in previous years. He didn't actually earn less.

If his pay increase was less than inflation, then many people would say he did actually earn less.


It was less than inflation, I am just confirming that :-)


He made less money if you consider opportunity cost. He could have made more by not pursuing the cheating. He also spent a lot more time, lowering the amount he earned divided by the amount of time spent at the job.


I don't know where in the article there was mention of the number of hours he worked in a week.

I've conducted several training sessions in the course of my career, and I can tell you that the time consumed by the actual class/training is a very small portion of the time spent by the one giving it. Preparation time can be 5-20 times as long, depending on the complexity. Now it is true that professors would reuse past materials, however, there is also time going through submissions of attendees, understanding them, and determining a fair grade. I'm not familiar with the US university system, except for what I see in movies/tv programs, so the professor likely had help.

That said, 44 hours spent on overhead that also degrades the experience of everyone involved, and as a result can interfere with the actual learning experience, is indeed worth finding alternative approaches for.

Instituting a system that by its nature is difficult to cheat is a much better approach.


Q: What interferes with learning? A: When the student's don't pay attention to anything going on and do all the assignments by turning in someone else's work.


He is complaining about 44 hours extra work. This is in addition to 32 hours of lecture time and however much time he spends on research.

(Based on his research output, I'd suggest he spends a lot of time on research.)

Further, his complaint seems to be that putting in this extra work resulted in a smaller pay increase (as a result of poor student evaluations), not that it cut into leisure.

Most people complain when they do the right thing and get punished for it.


This comment is complete flamebait. The fact that there isn't an outrage against this poster makes me lose a LOT of faith in the Hacker News community. If you want to be an ass, there are plenty of other places on the internet you can go. On HN, please try to treat everybody with at least a modicum of respect.


You have to put this into perspective. It's easy to condemn someone as "a lazy coward" if he was the exception in an environment where most professors "work hard to protect the reputation of the institution they work for" and "ensure that students that graduate have learned something along the way".

From the tone and from personal experience, I'd guess he has been the exception - in the other direction. Seasoned professors have already learned their lesson and reached the same conclusion he did eventually: doing "the right thing" by going after the cheaters is a losing proposition because (a) it steals resources that could be better spent on non-cheaters and (b) makes all involved parties (students, teachers and administrators) look bad. It may still be a problem for future employers and society at large but demanding from someone to sacrifice his personal well-being for the greater good (when most others don't) is unrealistic.


There are at least two aspects of 'personal well being' to consider here.

One is 'income', the other is 'fulfilling societies expectations'. Nobody want's to be seen as being unethical or not fulfilling their duty. By automatically explaining away their actions and taking a fatalistic viewpoint you give away one of these two pressures, and probably the greater of the two.


I'm a little late to the party, but as a Math major myself I wanted to say that I find your tone disappointing and, at the risk of being hypocritical, more than a little judgemental.

Discussion regarding your first point has already begun, so I shall focus on the latter half of your post.

> If he can't tell his students are cheating without globally searching everything with this software, what are they supposedly learning?

I can't parse an argument from this sentence or the remainder of the paragraph. I would like to point out that the learning experience is being quantified in the form of a percentage-based grading system so I am uncertain of your point. Globally searching the papers is an attempt to discover plagarism -- are you suggesting that he should somehow recognize plagarism without attempting to actually compare his students' essays with each other and outside sources?

Edit: I mean, I'm honestly curious. Please try to elaborate.

Secondly, Many classes don't have in-class exams, including most English classes, some social studies classes, and indeed a certain percentage of classes in almost any field besides mathematics and engineering. Exams are, in my humble opinion, a relatively ineffective way of determining learning in many situations. For a business school class to not have exams is perfectly reasonable.


A math majors can just copy the homework. 90% of it is mechanical, and 10% requires a "twist". You can copy the "twist", and the rest is easy. Or copy it all (in a slightly different format), and just claim that it's the same because it's ... well, the same. Unless you both make a mistake. But it's even easier than copying essays.

Still, the exam will be a problem. But if lots of students cheat, the lecturers will start making exams easier, because so many students struggle. And in Australia, there's a big belief amongst the education policy mandarins that exams are useless because they don't teach anything.

Still, most Math majors know their degree is useless if they don't learn anything, and they chose a brutally hard course with no set career path just to learn, so why bother cheating? But Engineering majors is another story.


A math majors can just copy the homework. 90% of it is mechanical, and 10% requires a "twist".

That may be true in the lower level courses, but around 400 level, the work switches over entirely from calculations to proofs. Proofs are as widely varied and difficult to copy as essays, and are much harder to edit without screwing up unless you really understand them.


I would say the proofs required for an undergrad math degree are "90% mechanical, 10% twist". If you have a general idea what a proof is supposed to look like, it's pretty easy to fill in the details.


There's a continuum, just like in other subjects.

As I've said, many students self-enforce (somewhat - it's a continuum), because a Math degree that you didn't earn is barely worth the paper it's printed on.

With most students self-enforcing, the exams can still be rigorous. The 400-level courses can still be rigorous. And nobody will complain that the exams and 400 levels are too hard, because they still learnt enough to deal with them.

It's not a result of Math being "harder to copy". Math is easier to copy than an essay, because it's just not as unique. The difference is cultural. Most Math students don't want to cheat their way through, and so the professors are under no pressure to be soft.


I don't believe that 90% of majors copy homework. I can say I never saw any cheating at all on 400 level math homework at my university. I graded assignments for Number Theory for several semesters, and I can say I didn't see any cheating there either.

Generally the homework is just meant to give you a good bit of practice, there is no way to pass the class without passing the exams.


There are varying degrees of cheating. There is flat out copying, which this article addresses, and then there are the lesser degrees of cheating.

Having experienced upper, lower, and graduate level courses in math and engineering (as well as taught at the lower level) I can honestly say that the amount of people that directly copy another student's assignments is much higher than most people think. This type of cheating tapers off as you enter the higher levels. On the other hand, I find that the "helping another student out" or "group study" type of cheating probably occurs with a 75%+ frequency among all levels of academics.

The first type (plagiarism) is definitely cheating while the second type (group think) is most likely classified as cheating but never acted against. The fact that you didn't see any cheating in your Number Theory course could simply be due to the fact that the second type of cheating is much more difficult to spot unless you are intimately familiar with the subject material and solution methods.


The 'group study' thing is true, but often explicitly allowed by the professor. In the end the exams should sort it out, since homework is rarely worth more than a token amount of the total grade.


It's only "token" if you score the same amount on all the assessment items. If you pick up a large portion of your marks on a homework component, it's not token for you.

A student gets 80% on a 25% weighted "token" homework component, 60% on a 25% "lab" component (due to copying large portions of someone else's report), and 30% on the 50% exam (there's always a few low apples). They pass with 50%.

The lecturer sees that the exam is too hard, and makes it easier the next year.


25% is not token, that's 1/4th of the course! most math classes i've taken homework has been from .5% to 5% of your grade!

if your homework is 1/4 of your grade in the class, that class is a "pass me" class. in some math classes the prof refuses to acknowledge that homework actually has a measurable effect on your grade, but he will use its presence to round up instead of down (i.e. 89.5 becomes a 90 instead of an 89)


There are some classes where homework is more than 1/4 of the grade. Maybe not good math classes in the US.

Cheating doesn't happen when there's virtually no incentive. I stand by my point that you can cheat in Math homework more easily than equivalent non-Math homework, if you want to.

If 400-level Math coures are really impossible to cheat on, but there are 400-level non-Math courses that are possible to cheat on, I'd just argue that this is because they aren't really equivalent.


I can sympathize with him, as it seems he actually loses money if his student evaluations aren't high enough. The fault would then lie with the institution that doesn't properly asses the teaching prowess of a professor.


Perhaps next semester he should teach 'business ethics' in which he can explain to his students that when confronted with the choice of 'do what you think is right' and 'maximize your income', he went with the latter.


He doesn't lose money, he gets a smaller raise.


Semantics. He didn't get money that he would have received otherwise. I think it's fair to say he lost money.


Getting a raise less than the rate of inflation is losing money. His purchasing power declined.


The article does not make the claim that his raise was lower than the rate of inflation. If it was, then yes, it was effectively losing money.


From the article: "my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation"


Well, I look like an idiot now. That's what I get for not going back to reread an article before making a claim about what it says, I suppose.


Look if you want to level attacks at someone, level them at the administration. They gave this guy the catch-22 that led him to give up.


I saw your comment before it was edited and calling someone to the carpet (in your case by calling him a coward) isn't the kind of name-calling that should be frowned upon here. He is a coward. He comes out and plainly says that it's in his best interest to go along with the incentive structure in front of him instead of standing up for academic integrity.

Let's not let the cultural politeness here get in the way of calling it like it is. "Coward" may be a strong word, but it sometimes does apply.


I don't see how he's a coward, he's coming up with new ways to teach his students that make it so they are not able or less able to cheat. If he was a coward he would just continue to teach in a way that was still easy to cheat. He's even asking for ideas on other ways to prevent cheating.


Perhaps he's come up with some novel ways to deal with the dishonesty of his students. Time will tell.

Preventing cheating ultimately comes down to changing the incentive structures in the university system in America. Allowing students to take revenge on their professors by basing financial rewards and promotions on student evaluations is clearly wrong. The metric by which professors are rewarded should be as independent from what their students think of them as possible. Outside exams by an unbiased third party is one idea, but I'm sure there are others.

What surprised me more than anything was the lack of mention of any sort of organized protest on the part of the professors. The faculty at many colleges throughout the U.S. has protested a number of issues very successfully. You'd think there would be a more unified voice on this matter, but perhaps I'm overlooking an incentive that guides most professors to just not care.


The man has a job. The job states that he will be rewarded based upon customer feedback. If you have a problem with universities who measure their professors by popularity, then take it up with them.


Hi Panos. I was actually a student in your class last fall semester. To alleviate any doubt you may have, the class was known as “Info Tech,” and you had two sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays (2-3:15, 3:30-4:45 pm) in KMEC.

Now I have a couple of problems with your post. Firstly, you attribute your lower evaluation rating of 5.3 for last fall semester solely to your lower tolerance of cheating. However, there is something very wrong with this logic. As you may (or evidently, may not) know, correlation does not imply causation. In other words, your lower overall rating was not necessarily due to your increased surveillance of plagiarism; it could have been due to other factors. As someone who was a student in your class, I can speak for myself and say that I did give you a low rating, and it was NOT because you punished the cheaters—it was far from it. To put it rather simply and bluntly, you were unkind (that’s an extreme euphemism) out of the classroom. Sure, you had your favorites (my best friend being one of them) as most professors do. However, you had, what I perceived to be, an irrational disdain for some of your students, I being one of them. When I asked questions in class, you’d quietly giggle or give me a blank stare as if the question I asked was completely stupid (forgive me, I’m not technologically inclined), which of course discouraged me from participating in class. When I stayed after class to ask you questions I was too shy to ask in class, or to just discuss the subject material in greater depth, you’d answer in a very short, annoyed tone, as if you had more important things to do. My thank you’s went unanswered. My smiles to you were not reciprocated. Sure, it sounds silly, but it was very clear you did not like me. And I had no idea why. Some people noticed, while others in the class also felt like you hated them for no apparent reason. It got to the point where we, as well as others who experienced better treatment, discussed it and concluded you were just racist. Now, I know you and many others reading this post probably think I’m just a pissed off student who didn’t get the grade he wanted and is now bashing his teacher out of revenge. However, that’s really not the case; I just figured I’d give you my honest opinion of you seeing as your perception of your students’ mentality towards you is completely mistaken. I’ll just quickly recount one experience that perfectly illustrates my overall experience with you. For the WiMax assignment (which is what your blog post is based on), after all the students had received your email demanding those who plagiarized to come in to talk to you, naturally everyone, even those who didn’t cheat, felt very uneasy and worried. I, who collaborated with a friend on one small part of the assignment, got worried and came in to see you during office hours. When I arrived, there was one other student waiting in the seating area; she said you weren’t in your office. So we waited for a good 30 minutes until you came strolling in. She then went in to speak with you. About 20 minutes passed until she emerged. You then walked out, saw me, and then said “I’ll be back soon.” 50 MINUTES ELAPSED, and you finally returned. You were munching on a sandwich. As you walked by me, you mumbled “emergency.” So, almost two hours after I had come to your office, I finally was able to speak with you. We went in, you looked up my assignment, and then you said “there’s no problem with your assignment; you’re fine.” So I left. There was no apology.

Now, aside from me having a bad experience with you, what really irks me about your post is your complacence with cheating because it’s not in your self-interest to pursue those who cheated. A true capitalist at heart, I guess. As a student who did not cheat, worked very hard, and still received a relatively low grade in your class, there’s nothing more infuriating. Is it not your job as an educator to make sure those who put in the most effort and demonstrate the highest level of achievement are awarded grades accordingly? Is it not your job to make sure the playing field is level, especially at a school where there is such a high pressure to do well as a result of a strict grading curve policy? I guess you don’t believe so. I mean, after all, you did give my friend, who consistently received a B average on assignments and exams throughout the semester, an overall grade of A (which he was very, very shocked by).

Anyway, that is not to say I did not learn a lot from your class. You were a great teacher inside the classroom. However, teaching evaluations don’t just measure your ability to give good lectures; they are holistic--meaning, they also measure intangibles, such as the professor's willingness to help students, or his attitude. And that, Panos, is where you failed.


"who put in the most effort and demonstrate the highest level of achievement"

I've noticed a growing problem with people equating effort with achievement as the parent does. Just because one "works really hard" doesn't mean that one creates something of value. I'm not sure where this belief arose from, but it doesn't apply in school and it certainly doesn't apply in life.


I agree in general, but remember that we're talking about an MBA program here. Just what "value" is there to be created sitting in class?

The point of schooling is to develop the skills that will help you in the real world. Hard work is one of those skills; it's not outside the realm of plausibility that schools should incent it. (FWIW, cheating - when you don't get caught - is another one of them. Maybe schools should incent cheating and teach you how to not get caught. Oh wait, they do. Mission fucking accomplished. ;-/)


Though I certainly can't speak with authority about what might constitute value in an MBA program, I would think it would be the ability to understand systems and their organization and to think creatively about solutions to complex problems. I'm probably wildly optimistic.


From what I've heard from friends and coworkers who've gone to HBS - the value of the MBA is almost entirely in the network, in getting to know all the other folks who also got into Harvard. (This is perhaps a little bit less valuable at NYU, but the general principle still applies.) Logically, therefore, if you want to maximize value as an MBA program, you should have your students party all day. Which may not be all that far from the current truth.

The classroom aspects of the MBA have been uniformly criticized by the people I know that've gone through them, except for the few idiots who believe every business situation is like a case study and then run their businesses into the ground basing decisions on that. Business is just too complex to reduce to classroom principles. I think Marc Andreesen once wrote on his blog that at the time the executive makes the decision that an HBS case study will eventually be based upon, he has less than 10% of the information that the students who will eventually be critiquing him have.


In the US at least people are constantly saying that hard work should be rewarded, with no mention of whether the effort produces any particular value. The assumption may be that, well, no one works hard to create _no_ value, but indeed there's at least a lot of misguided hard work that people then think deserves some sort of arbitray reward.


You commit a fallacy here because your comment (as well as the one it's in reply to) assumes that work is rewarded proportionally to its value. It isn't. If you have the bargaining power to get paid more, you get paid more regardless of your contributions.

The assumption you're referring to I think has to do with the question of whether it's moral to reward people for working hard (even if inefficiently). I think there are clear situations where it is moral and necessary to do so. Perhaps not always, but at least sometimes.


You commit a fallacy here because your comment (as well as the one it's in reply to) assumes that work is rewarded proportionally to its value.

No, I nor my comment don't assume any such thing. You commit a fallacy by assuming that because I do not think people should expect work to be rewarded in proportion to how hard it is that therefore I think work is rewarded in proportion to how valuable it is. If only.

Work is perhaps more likely to be rewarded based on greater value, but one has to make the case for the reward. Most of the time claiming "It's hard" as the reason will not get you much reward.

If you have the bargaining power to get paid more, you get paid more regardless of your contributions.

No kidding; this is part of my point.

Unfortunately there are cultural tropes that keep people from learning this sooner rather than later.


How to you propose to measure the value of work? I'm certainly not limiting it to financial remuneration. Whatever the value is measured by, it certainly doesn't correlate to effort. Sometimes something of great value takes much effort, sometimes little, but the value cannot be predicted by the effort. Teaching people that it can is a disservice.

In what situations is it a moral necessity to reward people for hard ineffective work? I'm not excluding the possibility, I'd just like to understand what you have in mind.


Measuring the value of work is a hard problem and it's politically loaded, so I don't really have a good answer to the "how" question.

In my biased opinion, it is morally necessary to reward people for how hard they work at least partially when I consider what most work (jobs) consist of, which is economically disenfranchising hard manual labor. If I am younger and/or healthier and/or genetically stronger I'll be able to have higher throughput at those jobs, creating more value. However, I'm not sure that it's moral for people who are older, sicker, or not as genetically gifted to be rewarded less than me for doing essentially the same job. I'm not talking exclusively about monetary renumeration, just general "rewards".

I'm sure not everyone buys into this, but it's what I meant with my earlier comment.


I don't think he's conflating effort with achievement, rather actually doing the work, with earning the grade he got, or rather not getting the grade he should have.


Correlation != causation, but I doubt it wasn't related. You might not have marked him down for his anti-cheating stance (directly), but chasing cheats might have affected his attitude (playing "prison guard" may not have put him in a nice mood), which caused you to mark him down.

Here's a theory - Panos burnt himself out trying to chase the cheats, and deal with the bad-will and tantrums. This left a lot less time and energy to deal with students who had genuine problems. Playing the bad cop is not a good way to build relations, and makes everyone a bit paranoid.

So he turned himself into a bit of a jerk, by chasing cheats, which resulted in the worse assessment by the students.

As for his complacence, would you rather be taught by a hard-assed jerk who cracked down on the cheats, or a nice guy who turned a blind eye? There's no right answer, is there.

It might be good if the lecturer of a subject was not responsible for the summative assessment. Let some other lecturer do the marking, and set the exam. The lecturer could set (and mark) formative assessment, but that wouldn't go to your final grade. Why don't universities do this? They generally treat the lecturer as "King of the class", provided the students don't complain, so it would be seen as an "insult" to bring an outsider in. Like, have you ever seen another lecturer auditing another one's class, so they can offer suggestions about how to improve it?


would you rather be taught by a hard-assed jerk who cracked down on the cheats, or a nice guy who turned a blind eye?

The guy who turns a blind eye will probably be an effective teacher to those willing and wanting to learn.

Removing a cheater from the class does not help them learn more effectively, nor does it help the non-cheaters learn more effectively.

Why waste on policing, what can be spent on teaching.

It is not like the cheaters, when confronted, realized they were losing all sorts of knowledge they could otherwise obtain.

Ethically, I have a bigger problem with a student submitting his creative works to be used in a private corporations database AND charge the student and school for the "service".

It is not only the cheating students that are undermining the credibility of the University and its degrees.

If you want to teach morality, once somebody gets to college age, it may be a bit late for reformation.


Because grades matter a lot and cheaters devalue everyones legitimately-earned grades.


Also, professors will adjust the difficulty of the course to get the right grade curve. If everyone is OK with a 3,000 word essay, bump it up to 5,000 words. Eventually, you will more or less have to cheat if you want to pass.


> what really irks me about your post is your complacence with cheating because it’s not in your self-interest to pursue those who cheated

Why don't you hold the other professors to the same standard? It's not as if the other professors are oblivious to rampant cheating. But what's the point of trying to catch cheaters if it hurts the class dynamic and if those who get caught don't even get suspended? The students are clearly OK with cheating otherwise the cheaters would be ostracized by the other students. The school management clearly doesn't care, since they don't take action against those who are caught red-handed. The teachers who care are punished for it: bad reviews and bad class atmosphere in return for extra hours on top of an already heavy schedule. And yet you don't thank the professor for trying to fight against cheaters (and losing that fight) but you effectively criticize him for having tried in the first place!

> discussed it and concluded you were just racist

A teacher is in a bad mood when a significant portion of the class is exposed as having no academic integrity, doesn't want to teach the class but still, according to your own words was a "great teacher in the classroom" and "gave good lectures". How do you explain his bad mood? Why of course, he must be racist.

> all the students had received your email demanding those who plagiarized to come in to talk to you, naturally everyone, even those who didn’t cheat, felt very uneasy and worried

This exact scenario happened in a class I attended some years back. Guess who felt nervous? Those who knew they cheated on the assignment and those who plagiarized habitually but didn't remember whether they plagiarized in this instance. The students who would never, ever, ever, copy-paste plagiarize did not feel the slightest bit worried. I'm sure you "collaborated" with a friend on a small part of the assignment. Yeah, that's the word all cheaters and plagiarizers use.

> teaching evaluations don’t just measure your ability to give good lectures

If you give a better evaluation to mediocre teachers who smile and say sorry when they're late, then that's exactly the kind of teachers you're going to get instead of the teachers who are great in the classroom and who teach classes where you learned a lot.

Save your post and re-read it a few years from now. You'll probably be able to see it from a different perspective.


all the students had received your email demanding those who plagiarized to come in to talk to you, naturally everyone, even those who didn’t cheat, felt very uneasy and worried

This exact scenario happened in a class I attended some years back. Guess who felt nervous? Those who knew they cheated on the assignment and those who plagiarized habitually but didn't remember whether they plagiarized in this instance. The students who would never, ever, ever, copy-paste plagiarize did not feel the slightest bit worried.

That isn't true at all. I've never cheated once -- from elementary school through grad school -- yet I've been accused of it twice by professors. In one case, I created something so novel and excellent, the professor assumed I had taken it from an obscure book; in another, the professor misunderstood how my software worked and thought it couldn't possibly produce the output I claimed.

If a blanket accusation of plagiarism went out, I would be very concerned that another student might have found a way to copy my work, or that I might have subconsciously reproduced something, or that there might be some other false positive. I would definitely show up to find out what was going on.


You're right, I shouldn't have said "slightest bit worried". That was an overstatement. I stand by the rest of my arguments though.


This type of condescending, defensive reply enlightens no one.

I mean, equating anxiety about being accused of something to actual guilt... that's thoughtcrime. Implying that the GP is so stupid that he/she couldn't distinguish racism from bad mood... that's a straight insult.


Hold on a second! The student accused the professor of racism in the post I replied to. I quote: "It got to the point where we [...] discussed it and concluded you were just racist". To accuse a professor semi-anonymously of racism is completely outrageous, so yes, I ridiculed him for that. Especially when absolutely no evidence of potential racism is provided. Careers are destroyed over baseless accusations of racism, y'know.

Note also that the student is extremely condescending. His opening insinuates that the professor doesn't know the difference between correlation and causation, which is ludicrous. The student concludes with "And that, Panos, is where you failed". Again, unnecessarily condescending.


"One interesting observation: Almost all cheating happened within groups with cultural ties. Koreans copy from Koreans. Indians from Indians. Greeks from Greeks. Jews from Jews. Chinese from Chinese."

Is he racist? How is he able to determine ethnicity and statistically link it to cheating?


Because the software showed the assignment the cheater cribbed from. Either knowing the students, or in most cases their names would give away their ethnicity.


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I do have a problem with that. But in this case the professor said he went to great lengths to avoid false positives and only took action against those students who confessed after being confronted with a mountain of evidence.

In this case the professor stated that collaboration was absolutely prohibited. Cite: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2776039


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If you look at his post carefully, you'll notice he "collaborated" with another student. He knew he broke the rules, and he was terrified he would get caught. He did not.

Personally, I think students should be able to discuss such assignments with each other, but I don't think you've accurately characterized the situation.


What's wrong with just giving people who cheated a bad grade, rather than wasting hours talking to them?


One (not uncommon) scenario is when two identical (or high match) assignments are turned in, and the professor does not know if (1) the students collaborated or (2) one student cheated off of the other. Penalizing both students is clearly wrong if one student did the assignment properly without cheating, and the other student copied the first student's work.

How can the professor determine which student cheated (or if both students cheated), without spending substantially time looking into it and talking to both students?


> Penalizing both students is clearly wrong if one student did the assignment properly without cheating, and the other student copied the first student's work.

I had a professor who would actually give the person who did the work the worse grade, under the justification that you can never get rid of demand, but you could discourage supply. I thought it was a pretty clever solution. If I'd worked my ass off and somebody copying me got a 50% where I got a 0%, I'd be much more careful about what I shared.


> (2) one student cheated off of the other

You might believe that it's morally wrong to penalize the person who did the work, but I would have to disagree with you. Both Cheating and giving others the ability to cheat undermine the credibility of an institution and harm the legitimate efforts of others.


not really. people who do the work are usually pressured to share it, and are ostracized if they don't. I don't really think its fair to punish a victim unless there's some kind of evidence that they played a more insidious role.


Neither student is a victim in the scenario you give. Peer pressure does not make one conspirator innocent.


They will whine. Endlessly.

Then again, they'll do that anyway.


So give them a chance to appeal.


Sure. What I mean is, they'll whine to you anyway, trying to get around the system. And, practically, refusing to talk to them is difficult-to-impossible.


I'm not sure that it should be the professor's job to handle appeals. It should be the same sort of process that schools use to handle appeals for missed tests and work.

You miss a test, you get a zero. You go to the office of the dean with a note or explanation, get them to sign off that you should be allowed to retake, reweight, or whatever else it is that is needed, and then you go to the professor to deal with it.

The same sort of process should probably be put in place for plagarism. The professor flags you, and if you want to appeal, you go to the dean's office, they review the possibly-plagarized paper, and if they feel that the professor was in error, or that the student deserves the benefit of the doubt, they allow some sort of corrective action.


It shouldn't be their job at all, I agree, but the practical consideration is that they'll have a line of complaining students in their office that they can't exactly get rid of.


> But what's the point of trying to catch cheaters if it hurts the class dynamic and if those who get caught don't even get suspended? The students are clearly OK with cheating otherwise the cheaters would be ostracized by the other students. The school management clearly doesn't care, since they don't take action against those who are caught red-handed.

So, what you're saying is, it's too hard, the risks too great -- therefore we shouldn't try?


If 30 out of a 100 students were cheating and annoyed at the anti-cheating measures, his rating would significantly drop. That alone would be a sufficient explanation and is reason to infer causation from correlation, as we humans do every day of our lives to make sense of what is happening. We constantly successfully defy Hume.

You are not accounting for the fact that his ratings dropped, which implies previous classes did not have the kind of experiences you described and rated him low because of it.


>As a student who did not cheat, worked very hard, and still received a relatively low grade in your class, there’s nothing more infuriating.

I have no idea if you were graded fairly or not, I just wish to point out that grades should be based on results, not how hard one worked.


Speaking from personal experience (both as a student and a TA) nothing is worse than ECE professors for bad teaching or ECE students for cheating, neither aspect of this scenario really surprise me.

I think it is sad but telling that the author gave up so quickly on what is (as the OP pointed out) the basic expectations of his job, but it is also telling about the overall quality and current state of ECE departments that cheating is so prevalent. The solution isn't however, to pursue cheaters but to change the environment, but that isn't going to happen if every professor gives up after his or her first kick at the can.

I apologize that this partial rant isn't very constructive but I'm far to tired right now.


Please read the whole article first and then post here. You will see that this teacher actually comes with a reasonable solution to the problem (described at the end of his article). Please don't post without RTFA.


As another poster mentioned, please read the article, the author did not give up so quickly.


Business students, not ECE.


Wait, as I just noticed this: You collaborated with another student? In an individual assignment? In which you had very clear directions not to collaborate with other students?

I am really sorry that I did not catch you. You would have received the penalty that all other students who "collaborated" received, which I guess would have brought your grade to a C-.


I speak as an undergraduate here, so I realise that there may be some things about your position that I can't really appreciate properly.

I also think that if you made it very clear that NO collaboration was allowed then it is true, this student cheated.

However, I would say that a no collaboration rule is something you may want to be wary of if you're keen to have a good class ethos. I have always found that classes where some level of conferring between students has seemed to bring the best out of the assigned task. Direct copying and working together is obviously outside this, here I am for instance talking about doing your work at a computer next to someone doing the same work - and discussing the task with them as you go through. The very best lecturers I've had, whose coursework I have learned the most from, have been the ones who allowed and encouraged this practice.

The end result is a class ethos and atmosphere where people learn from one another and take an active interest in the subject matter. Another result is that people can become more competitive among themselves, especially if the coursework is creative enough to allow some 'flair' to take place. (For instance in a programming task 20% of the marks are often given for extensions). A side effect of this competition is that students will not tolerate other students stealing from them. They certainly won't tolerate copying from previous years solutions. Quite apart from this intolerance of cheaters the sense of competition allows a sense of personal pride, whereby students want to hand in a good piece of original work.


I would say that a no collaboration rule is something you may want to be wary of if you're keen to have a good class ethos.

I learned about this sort of thing in a roundabout way. I did my degree in philosophy, and everyone in the department actively encouraged students to be talking to each other both in and out of class, bouncing ideas off each other, etc., and it worked out quite well. We all learned to get along with each other, and we all learned a lot more than we would have individually.

Meanwhile, I had friends who were over in the various sciences, and who would talk about how that sort of thing could never happen in their classes because of strict policies against students "collaborating". One professor (and I actually got this confirmed, rather than just believing the anecdote) went so far as to state that if a student came to her -- the professor -- for something as simple as pointers to journals (not individual articles -- journals) which covered particular sub-fields, she'd bring them up on academic charges.

Depressingly, I found out later that my school's science departments were not unique in this attitude; this level of hostility toward collegiality seems to be a common part of studying the sciences in many places.


"I, who collaborated with a friend on one small part of the assignment,"

So you admit you cheated and then you turn around and say "this guy is a racist"? LOL. I guess I could make some more observations from my own experiences here, but that would make me "racist" too I guess...


Each university and individual course has its own collaboration guidelines. Collaborating with a friend on a part of the assignment could be completely kosher. Not enough information to judge.


From the syllabus and the assignment description: "Students may not work together on graded assignment unless the instructor gives express permission. Collaborating on graded assignments with students from other sections, is a violation of the Stern Honor Code. Similarly, getting help to complete the graded assignments from students that attended the class in the past is also a violation of the Stern Honor Code."

I explicitly prohibited students from working together on individual assignments. There were plenty of group projects for doing so, but for the individual assignments I wanted the students to work alone.

The student clearly violated the Stern Honor Code, and he is openly admitting that.


Let me start by indicating some logical flaws in the timing of the events: The office hours for the class were from 12.30 to 1.30, Monday and Wednesday. The class was starting at 2pm. According to your account, I showed up at 1pm, being 30 mins "late". Then the first student came in at 1pm and came out at 1.20pm? Then it took me another 50 minutes while I was running around? So I came to talk to you at 2.10pm, when I was supposed to be in the class? What time did I show up in class? 2.30, and half an hour late?

I do remember the incident but you are greatly exaggerating the timing. The first student was waiting, I showed up at 12.30 and she was out at 12.50. Then I did run down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. Sorry, my blood sugar was running low, the line of students was getting longer, and I could not go and teach at 2pm for 3 hours straight without food. (Usually I was getting lunch at 1.30pm but with this line of students, things were not looking good.) At 1pm, I was back, we discussed the case and I continued the discussion with the remaining of the students in line.

You were waiting for two hours mainly because you were so worried that you showed up outside my office at 11am, a full hour and a half before the beginning of the office hours. Expecting me to be always in my office, and at your disposal, is understandable from the point of view of an undergraduate. But you may need to learn that professors have other tasks they need to accomplish during their workday.

Btw, I thought that the you got the joke about the "emergency" (that I had to grab something to eat), by obviously seeing me walking in front of you with a sandwich in my mouth. You can blame it to my bad attempt at humor.

Now that the timing issue is resolved, let me get back to the core of the argument, which I actually addressed in the post. It is the fact that I felt mostly sorry about: The fact that the cheating cases really changed my mood and attitude towards teaching this class, and this also affected the class dynamics. What you felt as unfriendliness was the direct causation of the cheating cases. It is very difficult to feel like hanging out with students when feeling that a very significant fraction of the class is actively trying to cheat. This the part that I said that I hated the most: the very different dynamics in class.

This is the part for which I should apologize: For now offering you the same experience as I offered to the students in prior semesters. Go and ask students that took my class in prior semesters. Or even check my ratings in prior semesters. I did not suddenly become an arrogant bastard.

PS: About the issue of a "true capitalist," yes I am a libertarian at heart. And I do believe that people respond to incentives. And I would strongly encourage you to read the article until the end.


I don't think being pissed at 28/108 students is a valid excuse for acting pissed at everyone. That is a major professional flaw and a post on how you plan to control your emotion may be appreciated by future students.

I have had professors that had me write huge essays and then proceeded to just put a huge ass check and never really read past the first paragraph. If I plagiarized and cited my frustration with all those other professors just glossing over hours and hours of my work, would you accept that excuse?

I guess what I am tryin to say is that your 80 students who did not cheat have as much right to be pissed at you as your right to be pissed at the 28 students that did cheat.

As for the evals, I always found them to be kind of a joke and would agree that the better grades you assigned, better your ratings would be. As for me, I was too lazy to bubble in stuff.


I see your point. But consider the following: these numbers are for the students that admitted cheating. There was a significant number of other assignments for which I suspected cheating but I did not have enough evidence. So, I erred on the side of having false negatives in the accusations, rather than false positives.

Now, if you are teaching a class where you have some suspicion that half of the students have cheated, one way or another, the attitude changes. I wish I could be a cold, rational, emotionless professional, and ignore this feeling altogether. Unfortunately, I am a human. And I felt that I am teaching a class full of kids that come just for the grade, and not for learning.

And I am kind of disappointed that nyustern still demonstrates this grade-seeking attitude: He learned in the class, he appreciated my attitude in the lectures but his main complaint was that I was not approachable outside the class, and outside office hours? And that, out of all things, did not return his smiles? Hint: at 5pm, after 11 hours of work, 3 hours of lecturing, I am tired, mentally exhausted and I want to go and get some rest.


I felt that I am teaching a class full of kids that come just for the grade, and not for learning.

From reading your blog post and your comments here, I got the impression that you cared more about your pay raise than about the students learning.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I could have misinterpreted whats been said and that you were probably a victim of circumstance, but you blame the guy for demonstrating a grade-seeking attitude while you yourself demonstrate a they're all cheaters, who are not worth my time and I don't want them to rate me lower in my evaluation money-over-doing your job attitude - I think he deserves the same benefit of a doubt as you do.

Your comments here seem very whiney and bitter and you show no sign of sympathy to the students who didn't cheat.

FWIW, the guy didn't sound very grade-seeking to me.


I got a different impression from the blog post. Being a teacher does not mean you have to do charity. Everybody needs to get some food on their table. I can relate to that being rewarded less because of something you feel you were not responsible, makes you feel upset. However, I didn't get the impression that it's all he cares about. It was just one paragraph among many after all.


Similarly the part where the student cared most about the grade was only one paragraph among many after all.

I'm more arguing that the professor should treat his students under the same standards he wants to be treated and from the article AND his comments here (reading the article alone gave me a similar impression as what you wrote, kind of), he seems to be quick to blame the students without accepting his own shortcomings (not entirely true - he does acknowledge some and I do agree with how he intends on tackling cheating in the future: by changing the homework format to a more cheat-resistant form). I know I was a bit harsh in my comment, but I do get the sense that the prof is bitter and unapologetic for most of his own mistakes.

Still, I wish him luck in the next semester. I imagine the new homework format should help alleviate a lot of the problems he had and avoid this in the future.


Everyone is arguing over a flawed education system, who are any of else to judge?


I got the impression that you cared more about your pay raise than about the students learning.

I get the impression that most people care more about their compensation than about <insert bullshit feelgood metric>. Money is an important thing in the modern world, and I guarantee that 99.99% of people in the workforce do their work solely for the money. Stop paying them, they leave. So it's natural that this professor would want a pay raise, too. Everyone does.


Jesus. Thank you.

My wife just finished a grueling, thankless year for bullshit pay as a visiting professor at a local branch of a state college. She poured her heart into it, ended up with health problems from lack of sleep and irregular access to food (not that she'd admit that, but I'm on the outside and could see it clearly), and didn't get her contract extended because she was so perturbed at people cheating their way through class instead of sitting the f* down and learning some really simple physics that she couldn't bear it. Couldn't sleep, really. (She's kind of an idealist.)

I loved Panos's post for this very reason, knowing the human side of academia as nyustern and GP obviously don't. This attitude that people should teach for the love of the field and that wanting to be paid for it is venal - that's sheer poison.

The triviality of the pay is just the last droplet of spittle.


This is a classic False Dichotomy fallacy. There is a massive difference between "working for free" and "got a payrise that didn't quite meet inflation". This tenured professor isn't complaining that he no longer draws a salary.

Yes, most people won't work for free (note that there are heaps of charity workers, though, more than .01%) but it's not about "working for free"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Watch this video - it makes the point that money is indeed a prime motivator... until you have enough to keep you fed and housed. Then it changes - and not only is your 99.99% number meaningless, but straight out monetary rewards can reduce performance.


Yeah - the tenured professor is complaining that his management talks big but when it comes to showing actual appreciation, they complain that his evaluation figures are off. It's not the money - it's the fact that when it comes to real appreciation, they show what they really think, which is that doing something about cheating is unpopular and they don't really want to do it.

tl;dr: it's the respect, not the money.


My impression was that it was just another (small) data point in the long list of negative incentives for chasing down cheaters. Most of it seemed focused on the disproportionate amount of time it took to enforce the rules, and demonstrating how blatant the cheaters are about it.


Absolutely correct. The compensation part was just one of the many data points, but a point that many people can relate to. A couple of thousand dollars per year would not make a difference in my life. It is mainly a signal of appreciation for the work.


Fair nuff.

Though each time you point out your former student's grade seeking tendencies, you are just highlighting the disconnect between you and your students. Many of us would love the utopian dream of going to class to learn without worrying about grades, but at the end of the day, grades matter. May be a lot, even.

It is why you care about folks plagiarizing. It is why your former student cares about his grades.

Again, I don't think you would take kindly to a student who plagiarized complain that you are still stuck up about that one incident when the student has demonstrated he's learned a buncha stuff from your class that is as reflective of him as the plagiarizing.


It's good that you've found a career that will tolerate your unapologetic selfishness, whining and indifference. All of these things will surely limit your success outside academia.


This guy's a cheater


I don't like most police either, but that doesn't make me a criminal. It's a matter of disliking people with bad manners. Scheduling important office hours and taking a break in the middle is bad manners. Not returning smiles is bad manners. Believe it or not, living in a world with pleasant friendly people is actually nicer than having an NYU MBA, or a high paying job. So when I see people trying to justify their unpleasantness I don't like it.


I don't think being pissed at 28/108 students is a valid excuse for acting pissed at everyone. That is a major professional flaw and a post on how you plan to control your emotion may be appreciated by future students.

FYI professionals are humans first and professionals second. If think that professionals can easily turn off how they are feeling and always act properly, then I conclude that you have little understanding of humans and little experience of how professionals act.

Rather than see this as a flaw, I see this self-awareness as something to compliment the professor on. OF COURSE spending so much time dealing with unpleasantness towards students is going to affect any human's mood towards the class. That's human nature. But now that the professor is armed with an awareness of this fact, it will be easier to address the underlying cause.

I know that you do not agree with me. But hopefully after you have a few decades of experience in a professional environment, and possibly experience as a spouse and parent as well, you'll learn the truth of what I say.


FYI professionals are humans first and professionals second. If think that professionals can easily turn off how they are feeling and always act properly, then I conclude that you have little understanding of humans and little experience of how professionals act.

You've got that exactly backwards. Behaving professionally means turning off emotion and acting appropriately. Anyone whose job involves dealing with people has to do it, from grocery store cashiers and waitresses to doctors and lawyers.

It's expected, and literally millions of people do it successfully every day.


It goes both ways. Are you willing to listen to the many excuses for why each student may have plagiarized and potentially extend the same they-are-human-too sympathies?


>Are you willing to listen to the many excuses for why each student may have plagiarized and potentially extend the same they-are-human-too sympathies?

Unless their reason for cheating is "I don't care about my studies" and the way you extend your sympathies is by getting them kicked out, your argument is bullshit.

OK, the professor sucked. You know what? Some do, thats life, and you suck it up. The academic policy doesn't say "you have a right to a teacher you love a whole huggy bunch", but it does say "don't fucking cheat".


I understand why the students cheat. However it is possible to be in their positions and not cheat. I don't want to have co-workers who cheat. I therefore would like to see the book thrown at them so that they learn not to cheat.

If they truly had no choice about cheating, then I'd show more sympathy. But they do. By contrast we truly don't get to choose how we as humans are emotionally wired.


> By contrast we truly don't get to choose how we as humans are emotionally wired.

What a lame excuse. He still had as much of a choice in being a dick as the students had in cheating.

Even under his own account of the office-hours incident, he was very inconsiderate and doesn't seem to understand it. If you have office hours, know there will be many students showing up on this particular day, and yet you aren't prepared with food, compound that by not bothering to explain that you need to eat now, that's a dick move, without excuse and explains the evaluations. His fault, not the students.


If you look at any of us during snapshots of our worst moments, you'll find a lot to criticize. If you are caught on the spot, you seldom make the response you wish.

The fact that the professor remembered that specific incident strongly suggests that this was one of those moments that he'd like to have over. The fact that he has come up with a strategy to avoid the problem suggests that there will be future improvement. I see a lot to applaud here.


For the love of God, man! What a trivial fucking complaint. I guarantee there have been times at your job when you weren't in peak form.

How can you possibly say that one case of leaving the office for maybe 20 minutes during office hours explains an overall 1 point drop in evaluation averages? Many here are so quick to pile on the prof, am I the only one that read this and was shocked at the amount of cheating going on??


Likewise, I know professors who under similar situation do not react like the professor in this discussion.

Also I don't understand why the same emotional wiring that can explain the professor's behavior cannot potentially explain the cheating student's behavior?


How so a similar situation?

You have known many professors who are going through reporting a fifth of their class to the deans for cheating? You know how they feel and act during that event? Really?

I firmly disbelieve. I spent 9 years in a university setting, knew a lot of professors, and I personally knew exactly nobody who went through that. And from what I know of human nature, and the likely emotions that someone in that position would feel, I very strongly suspect that your judgement of how they would react is completely wrong.


Can't help if you choose to twist my use of the word "similar" into "same".

I've been through multiple stop-te-cheating lectures and each time, the professors went out of their way to appreciate the non-cheats and minimize negative impact on the innocent due to the actions of the guilty minority.


Anti-cheating lectures aren't similar. The thing that caused problems here was a mass of effort spent going against specific students. Was that also the case with your professors?


Indeed. The stress associated with individual confrontations is orders of magnitudes higher than the stress associated with giving a general anti-cheating lecture.


For what its worth, in the one class I've had where the professor did catch a fifth of the students cheating in the first midterm (and immediately handed everyone Fs), his mood towards the rest of the class changed similarly.


"Look what they made me do" is such a pathetic excuse.


I think you are reading, look at what they made me do into a situation better described by look at the impact of my emotional reaction to this course of action.

The first paints you as a helpless victim of circumstances. The second one takes responsibility for ones poor actions, and charts a course to do better in the future.

There is a world of difference between the two.


  >>  That is a major professional flaw and a post on how you plan to control your emotion may be appreciated by future students.
I think he is readily admitting this is a major flaw, and he plans on controlling his emotions in the future by not obsessing about cheating. This is probably not the ideal response, but it is very human, and you have to give him props for admitting his weaknesses.


What this, and indeed the whole monologue, emphasises for me is that the teachers should probably not be involved in the process of disciplining students. It's wasting their time and decreasing their effectiveness.

Create a position (or probably department) for quality control. Automatically send "you plagiarised, warning" letters to the student and the person who paid for the course if the submitted work receives a score above X threshold for plagiarism (this threshold to be chosen by an inter-university body and preferably standardised across universities).

Obviously a student would be able to appeal and have proper analysis done by a department member. A second warning without appeal would get a student a P grade for "admitted plagiarism".

This way the teacher just teaches, just marks the work submitted and the administrative duty of notifying students that their plagiarism has been spotted is separated and codified.


Yes, this is probably the correct thing to do. Unfortunately, most universities are too cash-strapped for such a thing.


They're paying uni professors/lecturers to do admin work that they could pay a fraction of the same amount to have done. I know that in practice it's more complex than this - for example here it only works because the lecturer is not actually being paid by the hour; they're still under-utilising their lecturers.


> you have to give him props for admitting his weaknesses.

Um, no. No props for simply admitting his weaknesses.

Props are for succeeding in controlling them, and for having shown that one actually does more than just going "look at these weaknesses in me these students are triggering in me with their terrible behaviours".

Props for just admitting weaknesses has a good chance of making people go complacent and "look, I'm just not good at XYZ and therefore I have to be an asshole", instead of working to improve.


Judging someone on their strengths and weakness are probably done best after we've walked a mile in their shoes.

This would be appropriate to anyone and everyone who is using a judgement here.


Imagine yourself living in a small colony of 109 individuals, 108 plus yourself. At least 25%, or one in four, want to kill you, and you don't know who they are.

Would you act friendly, trusting, kind and natural around everyone because up to 75% of them do not deserve your fear and suspicion?

It is perhaps a bit of an extreme thought experiment, but I think it illustrates handily how the human mind reacts in this kind of situation.


In non-life-or-death situations, people endure quite a large amount of discomfort to achieve other goals. But a high-enough level of discomfort kills people. Does this mean the ones enduring small amounts are irrational?

Reducto-ad-absurdum is a proof only when it takes into account everything in the argument. In life-or-death examples, other normally-included portions are dropped, making the argument something else entirely. It's just a straw-man attempt, not a valid point.


It's not a straw-man. I have attempted to refute nothing. I was merely asking my parent to consider how he might behave in such a situation.

I used a different situation, it is true, but only because I have found being on the instructional end of cheating feels very different than you might imagine, so I guessed my parent was not familiar with it.


You attempted to refute the claim that people should control themselves better in such situations. And you did so very clearly, by inferring that spreading the mood to the 75% was perfectly logical.

As a student who has not cheated, but has had to sit through countless lectures about cheating, and a few where large portions of the class did, I ask you and (other?) teachers this question: to whom are you teaching? The ones who are learning, or the ones who are cheating?

I understand that you're stuck with both, but either find motivation in the successes or consider another line of work - it's part of the job. Otherwise you're screwing the ones who did the right thing.


He's not saying it's logical. He's saying it's inevitable based on how people are wired.


And therefore we shouldn't control ourselves better?


People have limits. I don't know enough about the situation to know if he was under the kind of load that would cause most people to act differently, but I suspect that is the case.


No one wants to kill anyone here.

I am all for using analogies to reassess my views, but the degree of comparison should be similar for the analogy to work. I can't even process for a second how cheating is anything like threatening to kill someone.


Have you ever talked to a group in which more than a quarter were actively hostile and disinterested? It poisons the room. It's not "logical" that it should do that, but it is an empirical fact that it does.


The cheaters to non cheaters ration should be 0/108. If 80 of the students are allowing 28 other students to cheat, I'd be definitely pissed off at them.


First off, many of the details you cited are inaccurate. However, its pointless to argue over such things. I was not aware of your health condition, but given the pattern of treatment given to me and a handful of others, I was left to assume you were acting as usual. Anyway, my post was to make you aware of a few other reasons as to why you received a low evaluation score. Blaming the students wholly is unjust and there are a plethora of other reasons as to why they may have viewed you in a bad light, as I've elucidated a few already. Thanks for your response and best of luck handling this issue in the coming terms.


Again: read the article until the end. I do not blame the students.

Students respond to incentives. If I give them opportunities to cheat and remain undetected, they will cheat. I do the same as a human. If I were getting a 50% increase in my salary for detecting cheating so aggressively, next year I would have tried to detect cheating even when there is none.

What I truly blame in the article is the structure of the homeworks and the overall student evaluation approach. Which is something that I use. And I criticize my approach of trying to detect cheating post factum, instead of building projects and homeworks in which cheating is just meaningless.

Just tell me: Could anyone cheat and copy the presentation on augmented reality by your fellow classmates? It was simply stunning and they fully deserved the 10 points extra that you and your fellow classmates assigned to them. That is an evaluation strategy, where nobody could cheat because nobody could cheat your own instincts for detecting and recognizing quality.


Students respond to incentives. If I give them opportunities to cheat and remain undetected, they will cheat. I do the same as a human. If I were getting a 50% increase in my salary for detecting cheating so aggressively, next year I would have tried to detect cheating even when there is none.

People do respond to incentives. That is an intellectual fact, and should be taken into account when designing systems. But to say that a given individual always should or always will is a moral absurdity. It is tantamount to justifying all criminal action.

If your moral axiom is "I am most important", selfishness is rational behavior. But that is only if that is your axiom. If it's "everyone is equally important" or even "other people are most important" things will look quite different.

It comes down to how you relate to the rest of humanity -- as an enemy, an equal, or a friend.


You've mentioned incentives a number of times -- I'm glad you bring them up and would like a better understanding here. I fully believe incentives affect us much more than most people appear to think.

However -- So I understand that when the system encourages certain behavior, that certain behavior is very likely to arise regardless of how logical, ethical, or correct the behavior seems. For example, many students have a very unhealthy focus on grades and living up to expectations, teachers on evaluations, and administrators on high enrollment numbers, etc.

However, this doesn't mean that the incentives can't and shouldn't be circumvented. For example, if one is put in a place where performance-goals are encouraged (a focus on grades), I sincerely believe part of the teacher's role is to do their best to encourage a learning-focus and discourage performance-goals.

So this applies equally to a teacher's behaviors -- when a teacher is encouraged one way or another based on evaluations, it is the job of the administrators to either destroy whatever causes that encouragement, or in some way encourage a learning-outcome focus instead. I wonder, do you feel anything is in place to do that? And what could be?


> If I were getting a 50% increase in my salary for detecting cheating so aggressively, next year I would have tried to detect cheating even when there is none.

Wow. While a 50% salary increase is quite substantial, admitting that you'd hypothetically frame your students in order to get it is ... well it's definitely below cheating in my book.


He's not saying he would frame students - he's acknowledging that he would respond to the incentive by following it aggressively. This is how humans act. You're just reading into this because you have a negative opinion of the guy.


This is a much better attitude than the one I read from your other posts. Changing the homework structure, as described in the article, I think is also a reasonable solution. Congrats.


OK, here's something that I don't get. Why do you care that students are cheating? In the end, the only people they are harming is themselves - leave them to it, I say... You are there to teach them, if they decline to learn, hey it's not your problem.


"In the end, the only people they are harming is themselves "

No they're not. Grades are important in moving on in academia and moving on one's career ultimately. Cheaters are hurting other students by out-competing them on graduate entry exams and job applications. They hurt their prospective employers by not learning and out-competing competent students for jobs, (possibly becoming one of those jerks you read about on TDWTF.) And, they hurt their school's reputation by lowering the average quality of the graduate. Cheater's hurt everyone else in the system.


This is only true if you think that good employers are hiring on the basis of grades. You know what, I've hired a half dozen or so programmers, and I've done interviews with about 100, and not once have I ever looked at their grades or their faculty. I don't think I'm unusual in that respect.

I think employers using grades as a basis for a hiring decision is every bit as silly as professors worrying about their students cheating, precisely because you can cheat for grades. Don't do that.


You're failing to think things through. Employers only base their hiring decisions on grades for recent graduates, but nearly all employers base their hiring decision on the student's degree and the institution it comes from. Good grades help with that. There is also the issue of graduate school which certainly does take grades into account.


Anyone who disagrees isn't thinking? Please. I've been in interview loops for years at different companies. We discuss every candidate's demonstrated problem-solving and design abilities, and culture fit for the ones we don't rule out quickly. Nobody ever brings up the reputation of any school they went to. We just don't care at all. Allegedly somebody out there does, but I have yet to see it happen.


"Anyone who disagrees isn't thinking?"

I didn't say that. But the whole world is not the Bay Area. I've known folks for whom this was an issue.


Edit: (A few examples)

My brother went to West Point and got a degree in CS. At West Point people with higher grades get first pick the corps they go into. People with exceptionally low grades get saddled with chem-corp or transpo.

I have a friend who is a librarian. Librarianship has a huge bias towards degrees and a qualified individual without a degree will be routinely passed over for an unqualified individual with a high level degree, even if that person is antagonistic to the project.

I have another friend who is a school teacher, his academic credentials are checked whenever he has to change jobs and they are the major limiter in his ability work for better schools.

The people on this forum mostly belong to an exceptional segment of an exceptional industry. I agree that academic credentials really shouldn't matter as much as more objective evaluations of ability, but for most of the country, they do and not realizing this implies a certain myopia and failure to think outside of one immediate condition.


You're failing to think things through

Really?

Employers only base their hiring decisions on grades for recent graduates, but nearly all employers base their hiring decision on the student's degree and the institution it comes from.

False, I am a walking talking counter-example, but it's the same for all of the companies at which I have sat on recruitment interview boards, and also true for every company that has ever hired me. Nobody has ever requested to see my University transcripts (in fact I've only had one employer even verify that I have a degree). Grades just aren't a consideration. Your ability to respond to questions that we ask, your history of code for open source projects, sample code that you present, your overall demeanour/character - these things are looked at very closely.

I'm curious as to how you explain the very best tech employers recruiting before students have even graduated? Whilst I agree that there are employers out there that do care about grades, the people that are actually the most able to honestly obtain good grades are probably not terribly interested in working for them. I know I wasn't.


"I am a walking talking counter-example"

A single counter example is not a trend. Your experience is not the entire industry and the tech industry is just a small portion of jobs available to college graduates across the nation. Many, many industries care about degrees and how well you did. Just try to get a job at a major law firm without one. I've had friends apply for jobs as AAs and their grades came up. The tech industry is the exception, not the norm.

So, grades matter. They just didn't for you.


>Grades just aren't a consideration.

This is just flat out wrong. Not all companies use grades, or care about the institution you graduated from. But there are entire industries where your main ticket for admittance is your pedigree. Cheaters water down the degree affecting everyone who didn't cheat.


Employers in software regularly use grades to do entry level hiring. In some fields (law), your JD grades follow you around for the first 5-7 years of your career.


What you are pointing out is not the major damage from cheating. Yes, there is a serious moral problem going on, and the student is not learning the material that they are supposedly paying for. However, the major problem is that they are making it unfair for those that don't cheat. A lot of grades are based on "a curve" so cheaters can screw everyone else in a short term with immediate consequences.

Also, over time, such cheating leads to a disaster. Assignments start to become harder since obviously students don't have problems with them, those that really try to be honest are finding it is more difficult to do well, while they see cheaters zoom right by them, getting As and Bs.

Not all classes are viewed as core classes that one needs to understand or they'll fail some future test during their interview. There are lots of requirements, and elective classes which end up contributing to the final GPA score. So again, it is not just about students cheating themselves, as much as screwing everyone else.

Yes, in real life, often cheaters, manipulators, and liers do get ahead, but I don't think we should become complacent, and at least try to somewhat push back against dishonesty in the academic world.


but given the pattern of treatment given to me and a handful of others, I was left to assume you were acting as usual

Perhaps much of the "pattern of treatment" that you observed could be equally explained? When we interact with someone in a bad mood, we tend to assume it's because of us, but it's often likely to be external factors. Having taught before, and held office hours, I can tell you how absolutely exhausting it can be. Maintaining a fair demeanor gets increasingly more difficult.

Also consider how a professor feels when meeting students outside of office hours, and the student has not made a prior appointment. How would you feel if the professor showed up at your home and said they had to hold lecture now? It's obviously not the same thing, but it may give you an indication of how it feels.


> About the issue of a "true capitalist," yes I am a libertarian at heart. And I do believe that people respond to incentives.

Libertarian, maximum personal liberty. If you were a libertarian, you wouldn't care about the cheating. Let the little bastards screw themselves.

Libertarian doctrine (such as it is) says nothing about incentives.

Getting worked up about the cheating, you assume society (or at least your class room) should be merit-based. Pretty much the opposite of libertarianism.

A clever teacher would figure out a way for students to police each other. I've seen it work to great effect. No one grades harder than a peer.

Edit: I was being a dick, comment about whining removed.


"A clever teacher would figure out a way for students to police each other. I've seen it work to great effect. No one grades harder than a peer."

I could not agree with you more. This assignment, in which students get to teach "emerging technologies" to each other, and grade each other, is the highlight of my class. The whole point that I wanted to make with this post is that cheating is something that needs to be structurally avoided, not something to be detected and penalized.

Btw, touché on the libertarian point.


I need to apologise. I just RTFA. I really like your "future" section, the public projects, the peer reviews, the competitions. Exactly right. You are several steps ahead of me.


> Libertarian, maximum personal liberty. If you were a libertarian, you wouldn't care about the cheating.

Not when there is an existing agreement in place otherwise, that being the one between the honest students, the school, and the teacher calling for the teacher to fairly assess performance and grade accordingly. Unless the policy of the school on cheating is "whatever, no problem" (which doesn't seem to be the case), then the libertarian position is to stick to the contract he signed on for. Or is the new libertarian position something more like: honoring contracts is for suckers, screw everyone who hasn't caught on to it yet.


I don't miss dealing with tenured professors.


  As you may (or evidently, may not) know, correlation does not imply causation.
"Evidently, may not" - don't be a dick. Would you say that to his face?


Sounds like you should talk to the Dean. Publicly stating that you won't pursue cheaters no matter how blatant probably isn't something your school will enjoy having in the press, and it sounds like there might be a few other issues which, if documentable, could be a something your school may want to sort out. It also gives everybody a chance to explain their side.


I have the proposed solution at the end of the article. Please read that part as it is at the very heart of the point that I want to make.


I appreciate what you are trying to do but as a student I was consistently frustrated by peer presentations because I felt the quality of my education suffered. Likewise, while I'd be thrilled if somebody presented me with a high-quality video that would help improve my education, I would resent paying tuition to sit in a classroom and watch a recording that I could be watching from the comfort of my home in my off-hours. We attend school to learn material and context yes, but also for the experience and dialog of getting to ask questions to a world expert. That is what makes the education more valuable than reading a book. I am sad that you have chosen this as an element of your solution. However, if you publish that video or others online, please give us a link to it, it sounds wonderful.

Having students do individual research projects and then presenting can also be very hard on the students because one badly done presentation, if the material is never retaught, can create gaps in a student's education. This is particularly difficult for classes which are part of a sequence, where this lack of knowledge will impact a later class. You are creating work for yourself too, as the lectures which you teach which build upon these principles will frequently have to be adjusted to cover material which was not adequately expressed, and make it harder for you to recycle and perfect your slides.

Additionally, students in classes based on rotating presentations tend to specialize in what they presented. This gives them an unusual advantage on the test: the optimally localized behavior for a class on a curve is to learn the material, convey as little as possible while making the class feel well-informed, and then ace it on the test, thus lowering the curve. If you do insist on doing this, you should have the class' average success on the exam reflect in some way on the presenters.

This is the solution that I know http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2774695 I posted it on your website as well. I respect your desire to not have your class be fearful of you. Perhaps you could trade with another professor: you address his cheaters and he addresses yours.


One thing you don't address in the article that I would like to hear more about is how you handled cheating in previous semesters? Do you think it was just as prevalent, but you simply weren't aware because of no automated processing? Or were you teaching classes where cheaters were much less likely (such as an upper level research course)?

I think the comparison would add a lot of valuable info to the debate.


Ah correct. I should have mentioned that.

I was detecting some cheating in Excel assignments, but I was only pursuing the very obvious cases. At most a couple of cheating cases per semester.

For essays, it was pretty much impossible without the use of Turnitin, which I used for the first time in the Fall 2010 semester.


A bit too meta for a comment maybe, but ah well.

You're getting downvoted quite a bit in the comments in this thread I see, even for this one which seems very factual and without any reason to downvote. I guess it's because the average age of the audience of HN has gravitated downwards over the last year or two, and that many readers are still students who identify much more naturally with your students than with yourself; causing you to start with a disadvantage in the pathos department, so to speak.

I guess it's the same dynamic that is causing the discussion on the business-type articles to be much more, well, anti-business nowadays.

Anyway, just to say that I feel sorry for you for having to work in a system that is set up in such a way (by no individual's fault, btw) that those with the best intentions are destined for failure. It reminds me of my experiences with doctors in a hospital I've been interacting with a lot lately, who share your fate - they all mean very well but the deck is stacked against them in the form of a dysfunctional system they have to work in. My wife is a professor too and I recognize your dilemmas all too well; I've posted about it here in the past, but back in those days I still got upvoted for it ;)


Essays are inherently problematic in most fields, because they're effectively always at least partially graded on the quality of writing, which doesn't have any connection with how well something was learned (which should have a connection with grade). Some profs separate it out better than others, but students usually have only vague or zero knowledge about who falls where, so the default approach is that, regardless of what the prof states, writing quality matters. Copying from someone who is a better writer than you is a sure-fire way to sound better, which usually leads to a disproportionately-higher grade than an equivalent amount of copying simply the information.

If I write extremely poorly, the pain of reading through it taints what data exists. The irritation lowers the perception, which lowers the grade. It's a pretty well known phenomenon, lots of studies supporting it, probably most classically known as: sitting in a hard chair makes you more "hard" in your dealings with people.

Note that your example with the presentations only supports the belief that the delivery of the proof-of-learning matters. Not that there's a way to fix it, of course - awesome results are awesome, and should be encouraged. It's simply that I wish more professors were (more acutely?) aware of it, so it would (hopefully) have less impact. I would think that there would be a bit less cheating if delivery didn't matter.


While writing in and of itself is not connected to field knowledge. You really need to be a good writer to be an effective communicator.

One of the university degrees I did (effectively an arts degree) involved doing a lot of essay writing as part of the major. While I don7t really use the field knowledge I studied in the degree I credit my reasonably ok writing ability to all essays I wrote - which I have put to good use in writing technical reports and user documentation that no one else wanted to write because it was seen as beneath them.

Even with the ability to catch copy-pasters with tools such as turn it in, there is always private essay/thesis writers you can hire (there was an article from one of these writers sometime last year).

I just have to trust that despite a fancy degree, the cheaters get caught out in the place where it really matters - the workplace.


I completely agree, it's a skill everyone should have. But it has no relation to any kind of proof that you've learned something, outside of communication courses. Despite this, it still impacts grades everywhere. That's a pretty definite disconnect.

Not that I think "standardized" tests are any better. Just that increased awareness of this kind of effect on perception might decrease its impact.


For reference, the story about the essay writer is here:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Shadow-Scholar/125329/


As someone who was a student in your class, I can speak for myself and say that I did give you a low rating

What the HECK is that sort of system for? Students rating teachers and those ratings have an effect on the teacher's annual review?

I hope I'm wrong but if that's how it works in that particular school there's no chance for professional integrity if the teacher has to keep the students happy. A teacher should always be in a position where he has an unchallengeable authority over students (with regard to the class, of course), and thus being able to be harsh when necessary without having to self-correlate his behaviour in fear of being financially punished. Otherwise it'll be screaming for A's for everyone.


> those ratings have an effect on the teacher's annual review?

Yes. And with adjuncts (folks brought in to teach one or two courses per semester), getting low scores on the ratings means you don't get your contract renewed for the following semester.

For tenure-tracked teachers, your ratings are included in the things that they look at for tenure review.

> and thus being able to be harsh when necessary without having to self-correlate his behaviour in fear of being financially punished

You can only do that after you're achieved tenure.


By your own admission, you are "not technologically inclined", so what is it that makes you think you achieved anything remotely like "the highest level of achievement"? You might think you did a good job, but not only are you obviously going to be biased, but you're probably totally unqualified to make that assessment in the first place.

Your post just sounds like someone who was bad at the class and wants to blame someone else.


What I got from his post wasn't that he deserved a better grade, but more willingness by the professor to field his questions. If other students felt this way, I really can't trust the author's claim that his low evaluation score was solely due to the fault of his students. Seems pretty unfair...

The cheating, although not excusable, could very well be partially blamed on the professor.


I don't understand some of the negative responses directed to the professor (both in this case and in others; they seem to represent a popular sentiment). Why isn't blaming professors for cheaters analogous to blaming rape victims for being insufficiently vigilant against rape?


Because professors are in a position of authority over their students, and part of their job is to evaluate the students. Thus preventing or detecting cheating (for example, by changing the structure of the assignments, or using various plagiarism-detection tools) is legitimately the professor's responsibility (though not solely theirs; the school and the department are responsible for setting policies, and handling violations after the professor detects them; and of course the individual students bear the ultimately responsibility to not cheat!)


"Why isn't blaming professors for cheaters analogous to blaming rape victims for being insufficiently vigilant against rape?"

I don't think the analogy holds well. The point is that a professor is supposed to help his/her students when they have questions. If they don't do this, they increase the probability of cheating occurring. It's less of "blaming" and more "noting" that this happens. If the professor is partially ignoring this duty, he/she is partly to blame. (I'm not saying that happened here, just explaining what I think @reason's logic is).


All we have at this point is the word of someone who admits technological disinclination, says he received a poor grade, and publicly accuses Panos of racism. There's no real evidence here that any other student felt this way, nor that there was any substantial number of them (he doesn't even provide a number).

Panos has provided documentation, reasonable theories, refrained from naming students, and put his own reputation on the line. "nyustern" has simply whined about perceived slights, thrown anonymous accusations of racism, and vaguely claimed that other unnamed and unnumbered students felt the same way.

nyustern is free to voice his thoughts and feelings, but I don't think he should be free to anonymously throw serious accusations at Panos with no evidence.

There might be a serious personality conflict here, it's also possible Panos was a jerk. But at this point we have only the inherently biased word of a purported student who feels they didn't get the grade they deserved.


Ha. Your shit got dismantled.


Some of this might have been better expressed in the evaluations.


I think it's completely fair to respond to a public blog post here. The professor invited the response when he accused his students of giving him a poor rating for the wrong reasons. If I was a student of his, I would probably be offended.

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