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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2010 @ 7:52pm

    Teaching the test

    There is a deeper issue about learning here. If passing an artificial test is what matters to you in education then the students cheated the test. If learning is what matters then the professor cheated the students.

    I taught classes at a US University after having been an undergraduate in the UK. I was stunned by the way tests were administered by some professors in the US.

    There is a culture of fear around testing and grades. There is huge pressure from students - and sometimes phone calls from their parents - if students fail or do poorly. It is right that they should stand up against bad teaching, but unfortunately its often bad grades they complain about not bad teaching.

    That's even when they never turned up for class, or haven't read the book(s). It's can come down to your word against theirs (and their parents cash if the administration is to get involved).

    That is somewhat relieved if you use a test written by someone else.

    If you use a standard test from a publisher you are not responsible. You were not unfair. It was marked multiple choice by a computer, how is that unfair? How is that my problem? I didn't make up the questions, talk to the central publisher.

    Its unfair because it largely ignores the way you learn. For instance, in the UK almost all tests are essay based. Not that this is the only answer, (and the UK has plenty other problems) but the attitude to assessment different. In Psychology you write science papers in a couple of hours. In mathematics you have to show working and that counts more than answers. In computer programming you have to show code. What counts is that you show your thinking - preferably original thinking that goes beyond the set reading. Tests are there to demonstrate how you think about what you know. It's not just what you know, otherwise you won't get an A.

    When I was teaching, I couldn't understand how I could have done any teaching without writing the test myself. It is simply inconceivable.

    There is no such thing as teaching that is not teaching to the test.

    The test is the goal of your learning. That is what structures learning - and helps you remember stuff as many studies show. The important point is to create valid tests that exercise your learning.

    On the other hand, you have to deal with certain groups of students that would complain. And you knew exaclty who those one or two would be. And they would take out an inordinate amount of your time - which could have been spent on other students.

    In one notoriously lecture based class I assisted a famous professor. He had me take attendance in a 200 person class because he'd been threatened with lawsuits on multiple occasions from very rich, very angry parents who's children he had failed.

    He only got away with that because he is famous, invited them to bring it on because he could publicise it up and down the country and was able to prove that the student in question turned up for less than half the lectures. However, he told me that he doubted he could have continued to run his class to the standard he wanted were it not for his fame. He got plently of pressure from the administration, but he had enough power to keep that at bay. I took a couple of his classes as a student too. They weren't that hard at all - if you turned up and payed attention. Many students really love him and get a huge amount from his classes. I know I did.

    However, if you're a nobody and a recent hire at a University, it can be a hard road to walk if you give out something other than a short answer/multiple choice even pre-published test. You invite criticism, you have to defend yourself and that can be tough.

    And apart from anything else, if you ask real questions you have to actually mark the damn essays. That takes a long time in a 200 person class. If you give multiple choice tests it takes seconds for the computer to mark them.

    On the other hand, that's a valuable, important part of teaching - and you learn about the students. Anyway, some of the toughest, most fiendish exams I've taken have been open book exams.

    I am totally on the side of the students in this case. The professor appears to have been lazy, lied to his students and been self righteous about it later.

    There is a systemic problem here and the arguments around testing and cheating are symptoms that demonstrate this quite clearly.

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