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
    mark (profile), 28 Jul 2019 @ 10:45am

    Lazy writing

    The riter of this article was almost as lazy as the students within the story contained therein. If they has done any research at all they would have found that the major problem was this Test Bank was hacked from it's publisher. Read this statement made by their representative:

    The publisher whose test bank was accessed before a mid-term exam by at least 200 students in a senior-level business class at the University of Central Florida said that students would have had to circumvent security in order to get to it, a spokeswoman for the company told Inside Higher Ed Thursday.

    The company, Pearson Higher Education, offers test banks to instructors only, said spokeswoman Wendy Spiegel. It is never made available to students, either for sale or for free, she said. "We do everything we can to protect the integrity of this material," she said via e-mail, and supplied a copy of the alert that accompanies the program.

    The security of the test bank emerged as a significant point of contention in the headline-grabbing story of Prof. Richard Quinn, who made all 600 students in his business management course re-take their midterm exams after he discovered one-third of them had gotten access to the test bank beforehand, and had aced it at levels never seen before. Students tried to turn the tables on Quinn, accusing him of dishonesty and laziness because he told them he was responsible for writing the test. They said they were no more guilty than a student who bought a print study guide and took a sample test in the back.

    Spiegel said that Pearson representatives verify faculty members' identities before they are granted access to the test bank. Approved faculty members are asked to select a user ID and password.

    While Siegel said that Pearson does have some programs that offer practice tests to students, the one Quinn used, Strategic Management, was not among them. "These practice booklets are sold to students and DO NOT contain any questions that are part of our instructor test banks," she wrote.


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