200 Students Admit To 'Cheating' On Exam... But Bigger Question Is If It Was Really Cheating Or Studying

from the wait-a-second... dept

A friend passed on this Telegraph story about how 200 students in a Strategic Management class at the University of Central Florida came forward to admit to "cheating" on the midterm exam after the professor in the class, Richard Quinn, gave a lecture where he noted the evidence that about 1/3 of the 600 student class had "cheated" on the exam. He then gave them an option: saying that, if they admitted to cheating within a week,re they would be able to complete the class and the incident would not go on their record and they would not face discipline (they also had to take an ethics class). If they did not, and they were still caught, then they could face expulsion for violating academic integrity policies. You can watch the video of the lecture here:
Not surprisingly, the story of 200 students "turning themselves over" made all sorts of headlines. It's a good story of "cheaters" being pressured into 'fessing up... right? It's leading to typical hand-wringing stories about what should we do about cheating in schools. But, as I watched the video, the whole thing started to feel just a little bit off... My main interest was to learn two things: (1) what the students did to cheat and (2) how the professor was identifying who cheated. Both points seemed like pertinent details.

The answer to that first one surprised me. The "cheating" was that students got their hands on the textbook publisher's "testbank" of questions. Many publishers have a testbank that professors can use as sample test questions. But watching Quinn's video, it became clear that in accusing his students of "cheating" he was really admitting that he wasn't actually writing his own tests, but merely pulling questions from a testbank. That struck me as odd -- and I wasn't really sure that what the students did should count as cheating. Taking "sample tests" is a very good way to learn material, and going through a testbank is a good way to practice "sample" questions. It seemed like the bigger issue wasn't what the students did... but what the professor did.

In looking around, it looks like a lot of the students agree. They're saying that the real issue is that Prof. Quinn simply copied questions from the publisher, rather than actually recreating his own test, and noting that this seems like a massive double standard. The professor is allowed to just copy questions from others for his tests? In fact, some of the students have put together a video pointing out that, at the beginning of the year, Prof. Quinn claimed that he had written the test questions himself. As the article notes:
Can the UCF students be blamed for using all the available tools to study for the test? How were the students to know that Quinn would take his questions from the test bank, when he explicitly said that professors do not do so any more? Moreover, why did Quinn tell his students that he is the one who creates the mid-term and final exams, when in fact it wasn’t so?
The students have put together a video pointing out where he said (in the first lecture) that he writes the questions himself:
The local student news operation sent a reporter to speak to Quinn and ask him about the double standard and his copying of questions, and Quinn totally ignored him:
Now, there's a pretty good chance that some of the students probably knew that Quinn was a lazy professor, who just used testbank questions, rather than writing his own. That's the kind of information that tends to get around. But it's still not clear that using testbank questions to study is really an ethical lapse. Taking sample tests is a good way to practice for an exam and to learn the subject matter. And while those 200 students "confessed," it seems like they did so mainly to avoid getting kicked out of school -- not because they really feel they did anything wrong -- and I might have to agree with them.

We've seen plenty of stories over the years about professors trying to keep up with modern technology -- and I recognize that it's difficult to keep creating new exams for classes. But in this case, it looks like Prof. Quinn barely created anything at all. He just pulled questions from a source that the students had access to as well and copied them verbatim. It would seem that, even if you think the students did wrong here, the Professor was equally negligent. Will he have to sit through an ethics class too?

Filed Under: cheating, ethics, students, tests


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  1. icon
    Danny (profile), 19 Nov 2010 @ 10:37am

    This discussion misses the big picture

    First a point to the previous posts:

    1. Most text publishers make review questions available to students (back of chapter or online); if a professor tests from these he has to accept that some students will use them to study. Most publishers also make "test banks" available to professors. My reading of this case is that it is such a test bank this professor used. While these are not supposed to be accessible by students, we all know that there is no way to fully secure information that is distributed to some.

    Second, this whole discussion misses the point that testing from a publisher's test bank is no way to help students learn skills useful to the real world. This professor is doing his students a disservice and his teaching/testing technique should change ASAP.

    a. The publisher test bank notoriously do not ask for any conceptual thinking, they simply ask students to feedback as fact information presented to them in the textbook.

    b. There is no useful reason to memorize textbook information (except, perhaps, toward building a functional professional vocabulary--and even then I am not sure simply knowing the word means one knows how to use it properly.)

    c. Once one is finished with school, one can always Goolge information. We no longer live in an age where information is a useful resource--or memorized information is a useful job skill.

    d. What differentiates people in the workforce are several things: [1] knowing how to access the right information quickly; [2] knowing how to apply that information to inform decision making; [3] knowing how to combine information in novel ways to solve problems; (there are probably more statements along these lines). All of this assumes one can easily access basic factual information; all of this assumes no reason to memorize information because one can access it upon need (and anyway, information changes quickly--so what is memorized in school is potentially out of date by the time the student is in the workforce and would need to be reconfirmed anyway.)

    e. So why would a professor ask students to memorize a textbook and feedback factual multiple choice information?

    f. I am giving a final exam Monday in an undergrad Content Management Systems course (IT-320 at DePaul). I've arranged to give my final exam in a computer lab. I've told the student the final is "open everything"--the only thing they are not permitted to do is have synchronous or asynchronous communication with anyone inside or outside the classroom during the two hour exam period. I've told them they can access anything on the Internet they want (outside of communication tools); and that they can even pre-build their own repositories of information to call upon if they like.

    My exam is about 20 multiple choice questions (that I've written myself) that take a form when you have to understand the underlying "why" to get the question right. Plus, one short essay (on a topic related to one of my lectures, but not exactly the same--so they will have to give it some thought or quick research). Plus I am having them build two quick and dirty CMS (one in WordPress and one in Joomla (probably) to my specifications.

    I am testing deeper understanding of concepts and the ability to solve problems under time pressure. I am also testing that they've been doing their own work all term as this is far to much for them to complete if they've been having someone else do their project for them.

    My system may not be perfect (and my teaching leaves a lot to be desire), but I think I am better preparing my students than this UCF professor is his.

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