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


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Teeesen, 19 Nov 2010 @ 10:16am

    A few points on this

    (1) Defining ethics. There is no need to get too philosophical about this. By enrolling in a course students agree to abide by the academic behaviour standards set by the university. These are usually spelled out pretty clearly in the university catalog. Clearly not following these standards is unethical.

    (2) Is this cheating? Unfortunately UCF doesn't define cheating, it just says not to do it. My university mentions "Use and/or distribution of stolen material: includes the use of material which the student knows to have been improperly obtained and/or the distribution of such material." So at my university, what the students did would be explicitly considered cheating unless they could argue that they did not know that the material was improperly obtained. Probably the test bank would have said at the top of the first page that it was not for student use and that it was copyrighted. Probably the students knew.

    Test banks are not "publicly available" (as one poster claimed) except in the same sense that crack cocaine is "publicly available". Yes you can obtain it, if you know where to go, but that doesn't make it ethical to use it, copy it, and pass it on.

    (3) Did the professor cheat? Come on now; let's not be silly. Personally I've never used questions from a test bank, but I can't say that it is unethical or even lazy. (It is, as this story illustrates, a bit risky.) The instructor owes it to the students to give them the best questions possible. If they were written by someone else, so be it. You might just as well argue that an instructor who uses a textbook is lazy or unethical for teaching ideas that someone else came up with. Nor is it "copyright piracy" (as one poster suggested), as the question bank was provided to the instructor by the copyright holder (or his or her publisher) for the very purpose of being used on tests.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.