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
    Berenerd (profile), 19 Nov 2010 @ 9:29am

    I have just started school again...

    I am going for a degree in CIS. I am taking a class on writing DOS batches (yes I know...old school and boring but its required apparently) The professor requires you to be at every class to listen to her lectures which come directly from the book. She will not do any of the activities as you need to do them on your own. then has homework that was designed by the people who published the book (and by the way have no idea how to clearly word a question as this was writted for windows XP and most of the machines students have is windows 7. The computers in the lab have mostly windows Vista/windows 7 on them there is one lab of 15 computers which has XP on them The class have 400 students. I, out of the kindness of my heart (and with a wonderful donation of bandwidth and drive space) created some virtual machines with windows XP for student to connect to and do the homework from. I then confronted the professor with this fact and told her if she marks me off for not showing up for class when I can simply save time and read the book myself, she would have some serious issues with lawyers. All her tests are online via the publisher as well. I have so far gotten a perfect A in the course (in my eyes) but 60% of my grade is attendance so we will see where that goes. I have already talked face to face with the dean and my boss who approves my reimbursement for educational expenses) about this and they have both told me to keep doing what I am doing. I am 35 years old and have been in the IT field for over 10 years. This professor has been teaching at this college for 20+ years and I wont stand by watching her rip off kids and the government like she does.
    This stuff pisses me off because its the kids that suffer. They don't know any better, sure there are some who will rebel but few do because they don't want to fail. I don't care if she fails me. I also like to rebel a little, though when i first went to college in 93, I was the other side, not wanting to fail.

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