November
17th 2010
A wicked cheat

Posted under: jobs, students, unhappy endings

Is there something I’m missing here in this outrage over widespread cheating in a business class at the University of Central Florida?  Here’s the issue, according to a story at Inside Higher Ed: 

The revelation that hundreds of University of Central Florida students in a senior-level business class received an advance version of a mid-term exam has exposed the widening chasm in what different generations expect of each other — and what they perceive cheating to be.

“To say I’m disappointed is beyond comprehension,” Richard Quinn, instructor in the management department at UCF, told his students last week as he announced that all 600 of them would have to retake their midterm exam in his strategic management course. The discovery that at least 200 of his students received a version of the test prior to the exam shook Quinn deeply, leaving him “physically ill, absolutely disgusted, completely disillusioned, trying to figure out what was the last 20 years for,” he said in a widely distributed Web broadcast of his lecture, which a student posted on YouTube, after appending his or her own captioned commentary (a more complete version of Quinn’s remarks is here).

The “perception” problem alluded to in the intro graph above is this:

What is clear is that some students gained access to a bank of tests that was maintained by the publisher of the textbook that Quinn used. They distributed the test to hundreds of their fellow students, some of whom say they thought they were receiving a study guide like any other — not a copy of the actual test.

Several students have protested that they had no intention to cheat. These students say that they only became aware that they had more information than they should have when they took the actual test, realized they had seen the questions before, and knew the answers. . . .

Some students have blamed Quinn, accusing him of misleading them and being lazy. They posted clips from the first class’s lecture, in which Quinn can be seen telling his students that he is responsible for creating the test. The students have tried to use this statement to justify their acts; since Quinn told them he would be writing the exam, they did not think the prefab version they were using to study would be used.

I’m usually one to put the hammer down on cheaters, but I think I side more with the students here.  It seems to me that any instructor–particularly of a class with six hundred students enrolled–is really a complete idiot to use questions from a sample test, and lazy lazy lazy to boot.  (I don’t use textbooks, but seriously:  how hard can it be to make up even multiple copies of a test based on textbook material?)  Study materials included in textbooks frequently use sample questions students might see on a test–so I think it’s an unfair standard to suggest that students shouldn’t use textbook publisher-supplied information when studying.

But, worrying about this war between the proffie and his 600 students misses the real cheat here, which is the cheating of students and faculty alike by the University of Central Florida.  Why the hell are there 600 students in a class in the first place?  The students are being cheated out of classes in which more meaningful learning and interactions with the faculty and with each other can take place, and the professor is being cheated out of a sense that his instruction means anything to his students.  (Maybe putting 600 students in a class is an implicit invitation for taking the easy way out in preparing tests?)  Why are we surprised or outraged when cheating happens on a large scale in these massive classes?  That’s like faulting the rats for looking for the cheese in the maze, man. 

Inhuman scales of education produce predictably inhuman results.

48 Comments »

48 Responses to “A wicked cheat”

  1. Grad Student on 17 Nov 2010 at 10:46 am #

    How hard can it be to make up even multiple copies of a test based on textbook material?

    Pretty hard, actually. Especially if you are also incorporating information from lectures, building a valid test, paying attention to the difficulty of the questions, writing clear and unambiguous questions, and trying to get students to discern nuance or compare contrasting theories, etc. Just because a course uses a text book (or, gasp! scantron exams) does not necessarily make exam-writing easier than non-textbook, bluebook courses.

  2. Historiann on 17 Nov 2010 at 10:49 am #

    My point is that that’s what professors should do.

    I work hard coming up with new and interesting paper assignments and exam questions. I thought that was part of my job–difficult or no.

  3. Dr. Crazy on 17 Nov 2010 at 11:06 am #

    H – I’m so glad that you wrote about this and my opinion of it is identical to yours.

    Grad Student – I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the level of difficulty in creating a strong exam is actually lower in fields that aren’t terribly textbook driven (like my field, English) but not because of the material that we include on tests, or because we don’t use non-essay formats like multiple choice, matching, or true/false (which I do all the time on tests in lower-level classes). I’m going to say that the reason that writing a strong exam is easier for us is because we are trained to do it and that it is a clear expectation of our disciplines to do that work. The idea of just taking publisher-provided test questions (or essay prompts, or other assignments) and giving them to my students without any revision is *beyond* lazy – it’s just plain wrong. I guess what I think is that there are many people in many disciplines who for a very long time got away with just using the tests, assignments, essay prompts, etc. that came with the book. In the age of the internet, that’s just not a reasonable approach anymore, as this situation illustrates. So I’d imagine that in those disciplines where this is an issue, they will perhaps need to learn a little something from their “non-textbook, bluebook” colleagues about test design.

  4. Historiann on 17 Nov 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Good points, Crazy. I think we are trained to write challenging “assessment instruments” rather than just grab a test from the test bank.

    It all depends on what’s being measured and what the purpose of our class is, I guess. If a professor merely wants to see if students are reading the textbook, then grabbing a text out of the box makes sense (although in this day & age, it’s stupid unless you want to encourage widespread cheating.) On the other hand, if you want to see if your students are getting what you want them to out of the class as a whole–lectures, discussions, assigned readings, and other activities inside and out of class–then a more complex “assessment instrument” is required.

  5. Feminist Avatar on 17 Nov 2010 at 11:27 am #

    Instead of seeing this as an instance of cheating, perhaps we should view it as an example of problem-solving and entrepreneurship. Students saw a problem- used google- found answer. Is this not the very end goal of a modern university education in this global interwebby world?

  6. Grad Student on 17 Nov 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Oh, I’m certainly not trying to say that those of us in more textbook-oriented disciplines have it harder than other disciplines when it comes to writing and creating exams. Though it is true that many of us are never trained to write or design exams, so we have to learn on the fly and fail a lot before we figure it out.

    Truth be told, no one will ever win the “I have it harder than you” debate because practically no one has experience doing both and each field is hard in its own ways. I was simply responding to a statement that I interpreted as saying “it’s not hard to write a textbook-based exam.”

    For what it’s worth, I’m appalled by any professor, in any discipline, who would simply use the questions that are provided by a textbook publisher. Use them as a starting point or as an idea generator, sure. But to use them as the actual exam? Absolutely lazy and doing the students a disservice.

  7. loyal reader on 17 Nov 2010 at 11:47 am #

    So many problems contained in this story. (1) Why are there 600 students enrolled in this SENIOR LEVEL class? (2) Cheating is RAMPANT in the Internet age. (3) We need to bring back honor courts. And all of these 600 SENIORS deserve “F”s in the course, not just a “do over.” Give me a break! (4) Lazy professors invite problems. I custom make my essay tests each and every time, and I do different versions for each section. Granted I do not have 600 freaking students in my sections but I take the time to grade every short answer or essay. It’s not easy but that is called TEACHING.

  8. Western Dave on 17 Nov 2010 at 11:59 am #

    I use the new Keene, Visions of America text. I use some of the multiple choice questions I got free from them as support materials. I even used some particularly good true/false questions (which I generally loathe). I am using these because I have students who might want to take the SAT II in US History. In the past, I have warned students away from taking the SAT II in US history because my course simply doesn’t match up in any way shape or form with the SAT II. (When the SAT II teaches the social construction of whiteness, we’ll talk). Each chapter has about 50 multiple choice questions (plus lots of crummy essay prompts and other useless stuff). Of those, I generally use four or five. I have no doubt that despite the newness of the book, there is a copy online somewhere that students can get. It doesn’t bother me because if they are going to memorize the answers to 50 mc questions, they are going to tank the other parts of the test. For chapters where there was no mc on the assessment (essay, document quiz etc); I may even give out the multiple choice questions so that students can be prepared for what might show up on the midterm in multiple choice format. By the final, however, I probably wouldn’t. By that point, they’ll be writing their own mc questions (some of which I will use) and so they will have less issues moving from one type of recall to another. Again, these are 10th graders at a private school so they are just learning to use knowledge in multiple ways.

    When I taught 11th grade world history with the Worlds Together Worlds Apart text, I would pull at least one m.c. question from the on-line student review quiz because a) the quizzes actually quizzed them on the right stuff, and b) the rest of the review materials were quite good too and so I wanted students to use the site as part of their studying. Shockingly (Ok, I guess not shockingly), the worst students (not necessarily the ones with the worst grades, but the worst studentship skills) that is, those who were mostly like to cheat were the last to figure out that I was using those questions.

    While I agree with Historiann that these students should be feeling gypped, I also think the complaint about the retake is overblown. There are only so many questions to ask and if they can ace the test once, they can ace it again.

  9. Matt L on 17 Nov 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    600 students in an auditorium is not a class, its a profit center. The students paid there money and the university collected.

    The only thing that is appalling is the professor standing up like Claude Rains and saying he is “Shocked! Shocked! …to find cheating going on in his business class…”

    Dude, Who are you fooling? Its not the rest of the university, thats for sure. We all know what those auditorium classes are about.

  10. Tom on 17 Nov 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    I love it when the teacher says, “To say I’m disappointed is beyond comprehension.” Actually, that sentence is beyond comprehension.

  11. mandor on 17 Nov 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    Sheesh, if it had anything to do with math he could have at least changed the numbers.

    I give the students credit for circulating the exam to the classmates instead of keeping it for themselves.

  12. Perpetua on 17 Nov 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    I agree with the argument that the central problem here is the 600 person class. The set up for a 600 person class is to get hir to follow a textbook and its system (quizzes, exams, online material). Textbook manufacturers are increasingly selling “packages” not just books, and these go great with large lecture classes that professors 1) often have to teach; b) usually hate teaching; and c) have way too many students in them. All this encourages just teaching the textbook. IMO, the professor was just following the logic of the course (and in some unis, some surveys are offered in clusters during the same semesters and instructors are not permitted to give their own tests, but *must* give one standardized test to maintain the idea that all students are being taught the same material regardless of instructor. I know this happens esp in foreign language classes). I’m on board with the prof being lazy in theory (I write exams for each of my courses and always change them from term to term), but on the other hand I can sympathize with his alienation from this absurdity he was forced into by his university’s demands for $$ over quality.

    And Dear Students: Stop whining about the re-take. You’re lucky not you’re not being failed. “Intent” is not necessary for cheating, in the same way the insisting you didn’t know the speed limit won’t get you off a ticket. And the second you realized you had seen the questions before verbatim, you should have told the prof, and if you did not you were cheating.

  13. LadyProf on 17 Nov 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    From the story I don’t understand how anyone could accuse these students of cheating. Some authority from an “academic integrity center” who was quoted

    “said it was difficult to imagine that the students did not think something was amiss when they received practice test questions from other students, and not from the professor. “If the professor neither sent nor mentioned it, and it went to only some of the students — not to the whole class list (and not from the professor or a teaching assistant) — I would think they should have questioned its legitimacy,” she wrote in an e-mail.”

    Zuh? In a class of 600, some cohorts in the class had access to study aids or sample questions that weren’t distributed to everyone. These people should have refused to glance at these questions when they prepared for their cattle-call exam? They should have focused instead on the True, Organic Course Content handed out by Prof. Factory?

  14. Janice on 17 Nov 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    It goes to show that test banks and instructor’s guides aren’t shut off in a walled garden. I also feel that if you’re teaching so close to a textbook that all your test material can come right of their provided stuff, it’s a bit strange. Perhaps that’s more disciplinary than anything: how many historians use these test banks extensively?

    I do use one type of test instrument that, theoretically, should be super easy for students to “cheat” on. I sometimes have a “fill-in-the-blank” section in my survey courses. Students are given a list of three to five terms each class that are key to that session’s development and discussion. Then, on the quizzes and midterms, I adapt the first mention of that term in the textbook for a “fill-in-the-blank”.

    I tell students this from day one: terms provided in class, heavily discussed in class, tested on as per the textbook’s mention of the same. The average mark for this section of the quiz or exam still never exceeds 60%.

    Some students score 100%, of course. They pay attention and prepare effectively. I don’t begrudge them that because their preparation usually also pays off in essay answers that are grounded enough in useful information that they can formulate a kick-ass argument about history!

  15. truffula on 17 Nov 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    We don’t know anything about how the instructor approached the exam. Did he review the questions and conclude they were what he wanted or did he just grab-and-go? It would make more sense to me to draw questions from a large pool prepared by the publisher but whatever, I don’t teach in a business school. If an exam contains well-crafted questions reviewed by the instructor and fulfills its purpose in the class, why does it matter where the questions come from? “Lazy instructor” is a value judgement we are all free to make but that is distinct from evaluating the appropriateness of the exam in a particular context. I’m more outraged at the notion of a senior level class with 600 students.

    I’m also not thrilled about some of the quotes from students, for example “They’re making a witch hunt out of absolutely nothing, as if they want to teach us some sort of moral lesson.”

    We have an absurd micro-drama about cheating in my department right now. A professor caught a group of graduate students cheating and brought it up at a faculty meeting and explained how he dealt with it. A graduate student not involved in this particular incident, but who is known to have helped others cheat in the past, then attempted to rile up the masses by claiming that this discussion during our staff meting was “harassment” on the part of the professor. (How the student found out about a confidential staff conversation is another matter.)

  16. Historiann on 17 Nov 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    It’s true that we don’t know what was in the instructor’s head. But as others have noted above: using 1) testbook-provided questions for 2) one test (as opposed to mulitple different tests) 3) administered to 600 people 4) who all have internet access makes this outcome nearly inevitable.

    I like Tom’s analysis. The instructor’s disappointment is indeed beyond comprehension.

  17. Ruth on 17 Nov 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    I actually don’t agree with “you can cheat without intending to cheat.” Looking at copies of past exams can be a good way of preparing for an exam. I post the past exams on line so all students have access to them, not just those who happen to be in a frat or have a friend who took the course last year. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with students checking out previous exams if the professor doesn’t distribute them, and it is entirely possible that some students in this case did not know they were getting what is going to be on the exam.

    When I was in college, lo these many years ago, I took a science class that I really didn’t have the background for but that was really interesting. A friend who had taken the class helped me review for the final exam and we used his “A” exam from the previous year (which the students had been allowed to retain) as a study guide. Imagine my surprise when the essay question, which was half the exam, was identical to the one the previous year. I wrote a good essay, having carefully worked through that particular question already, and I didn’t tell the professor. I still don’t think I did anything wrong or that I unintentionally cheated.

  18. shaz on 17 Nov 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Am I the only person who does not do in-class exams? I give students two weeks to complete take-home, open book assignments that are a combination of short & medium answer, essays of varying length, primary source analysis, etc.

    Pedagogically, I’m not a fan of exams: I spend all semester telling students they have to think about what they write, plan it out, EDIT it, etc., so I don’t want to then give them 1 hour to scribble out essays.

    I use this in classes of 300 students, and yes, 1-2 get caught cheating every semester. But it is easy to find cheaters with The Google (as I tell them: if they can google it, I can google what they googled!), I require them to cite all sources, and strongly discourage the use of non-class materials unless impeccably cited.

    If exams work for you, great, but it seems to me we might think beyond that one option, even for large classes. But as you say, it requires significant professorial effort — much more than scantrons.

  19. Dr. Koshary on 17 Nov 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Another post I agree with, and appreciate since I too was wondering what planet everyone else was approaching this topic from. Few people anywhere are as unforgiving about cheating and plagiarism as I, and I have the war stories to prove it. But this whole situation at UCF just seems to me like a clusterfuck. The prof didn’t think very hard about either his exams or the structural position of ‘teaching’ 600 human beings at one time. The students, who no doubt are getting a shitty education at best under such conditions, responded by using every available resource to avoid using what little of their brains that might be necessary to study for such an exam. At no time did either the professor or the students speak to each other about what seemed like a reasonable expectation for an exam delivered in that context.

    The circumstance of a 600-person class is disgraceful, and almost certainly engendered the entire problem in the first place. Whoever cooked up that situation, though, doesn’t appear in the story. The prof was not only lazy but seriously out of touch with the material realities of the class. (And, as Tom notes, not very good at extemporaneous speaking, either.) The students were cheated on a structural level, but they responded in the lowest and most cynical way, and claimed CYA excuses to defend themselves.

    I’m reminded of something someone said about the German football team after they lost the World Cup to Brazil in 2002: Everyone should be put in a big sack, and then someone should hit the sack with a stick. Whomever gets hit will deserve it.

  20. Historiann on 17 Nov 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Shaz–I’m with you on the take-home exams. I always have done them for my upper-division classes (capped at 40), and am going to switch to doing them for the survey class next year. (I had been giving my students 2-4 possible the exam questions in advance, and then distributing the exams by chance so that students who prepared to answer any or all of the questions were rewarded. I think asking them to submit typed work is the way to go.)

    If the questions ask the students to address a number of particular sources and they have to submit such an essay to turnitin.com or another similar service, the exam becomes pretty cheat-proof.

  21. Perpetua on 17 Nov 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    @ Ruth – I don’t think any of the examples you cite fall in the category I was articulating of cheating without “intention” (although the issue of looking at previous tests without the instructor’s permission is debatable). We don’t really have all the facts of how the test was circulated or what the students thought they were getting; it’s possible that some of them really believed this was a random sample test or study guide and that it was ok. But the fact of the matter is 1) cheating is rampant; and 2) 99.9% of students caught cheating will deny that they were cheating, and usually when the evidence is flagrant they will say they didn’t “know” they were cheating therefore they weren’t cheating. If we were only able to punish students who admitted they knew they were cheating when they did x, y, or z nobody would ever be punished for cheating ever. Students say, I didn’t KNOW it was wrong to cut and paste exact language from wikipedia into my paper! I didn’t know I had to cite my sources! I didn’t know my roommate couldn’t rewrite part of the paper for me – ze was only helping! Etc. In some cases the students are generally clueless (though it’s very hard to tell the clueless from the cheater because caught cheaters usually lie). But even in cases of cluelessness, I believe we have to use the speed-limit standard. There’s only a certain level of cluelessness that’s acceptable. Of course it helps if you explain to your students at the beginning of the term what you consider to be acceptable behavior in your class. Using a test that has been stolen and not coming forward when you see what’s happened (ie when you recognize the questions as verbatim what you got from your “study guide” from classmate) constitutes an honor code violation in my book. In any event, it seems like these students were largely given the benefit of the doubt because they were permitted to retake the exam, rather than summarily failed.

  22. rustonite on 17 Nov 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    I’m trying to remember back to when I was an undergrad (which wasn’t that long ago, but there’s been a lot of beer between then and now). I had two classes that were 600+, both business classes, so maybe it’s something about business school. I had classes that were 200+ for biology, chemistry, logic, and English. The only small classes I had were in French, Greek and Latin, and in my major, but linguistics doesn’t draw much of a crowd so that’s not surprising. And from what I remember, most other classes were huge; I once sat in on a senior-level psychology course, and it was in an auditorium, although probably only for 100-150. This was at the state flagship, so I imagine it’s more a public school phenomenon.

    At least I can say I never cheated, unless we count studying off old exams kept at my fraternity, in which case I cheated a lot.

  23. Indyanna on 17 Nov 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    No small number of business school profs are in fact adjuncting, in a milieu in which adjuncting doesn’t mean hanging onto a moving train hoping to come onboard, but rather keeping your hand in a mixed bag of professional activities, being able to tell colleagues back at the shop that you’re doing a little academic work, that you really do understand the younger generation, etc. etc., plus making a little money for it. Lots of lawyers in urban centers with major law schools do this. I don’t know what it pays. But I can easily see the culture of “outsourcing” coming into play here. Viz., we do *all* of our back-office work offshore, out of building, whatever. So fire up that test bank and go. Getting too outraged would be like sending an overworked team of interns to get trays of muffins for a client conference and then getting mad if the trays came in a little “light.”

  24. Historiann on 17 Nov 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Good point. I think you’re right that it’s not coincidental that this happened in a business course.

    It reminds me of another ethically dubious course reported on last spring, in which the grading was outsourced to Bangalore. Here’s the punchline: it was a course in business ethics!!!

    Why is it never the business faculty who get accused of goldbricking or of “only” working 6 or 9 hours a week? I suppose I’d look a lot more cost effective if I “taught” classes to 600 or 700 students at a time. But I don’t think that’s really *teaching.*

  25. Matt L on 17 Nov 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    I really liked Dr. Kosary’s response. I agree with the sack idea… as long as the head of the B school is in the bag too. Nobody looks good. I would suggest that the problem will be papered over and similar outrages will emerge again at UCF (and other B-schools).

  26. Feminist Avatar on 17 Nov 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    At my u/grad university, all exams are filed in the library (and now online) after the event for the very purpose of allowing upcoming students to prepare for their exams (and presumably because it stops the unfairness of some students having access to old exams, while others don’t). This is something that is done by the registry, so lecturers have no choice over it.

    I think that I am with Dr Koshary on this- in that if you fail to give students a decent educational experience then you can’t be upset if they are alienated from the process (especially if they are essentially paying big bucks for something they could have bought online- not just the textbook but the exam too!).

    And, if the information is available by the exam provider to students as well as the lecturers, do students have an obligation ‘not to look’? I mean it’s a business course- is the ethics of the marketplace not exactly that if you have money, you can buy answers to your problems? If it helps with your studies, why can’t you buy the exam? You can buy tutors and study aids if you have money- and we just call that working-hard.

    Finally, other than fairness to others in the class, what is the problem with seeing exams in advance. Presumably the students still needed to at least memorise the information to pass the exam- so the process still made them learn the information. Sure, they might have learned more if they revised more widely- but equally some students might have just got lucky on the questions- are they also cheating? The minute the questions on the exam become analytical or require further reading for extra marks, the ‘cheaters’ are immediately disadvantaged.

  27. Nicole on 17 Nov 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    I use the occasional text-book exam question for my stats class, if it is well written. Sometimes I change numbers, sometimes I don’t. In terms of pedagogical laziness, I really don’t think the exam is what I should be spending the majority of my teaching prep time on. There’s some learning on the exam, but for the most part the in-class is just a commitment device to get them to study the material and go over the problem set problems they missed. I don’t like surprises on timed exams.

    I also personally don’t think the grades are all that important. What’s important is their learning. If they choose to take short-cuts that just hurts them later on. Very little skin off my nose. Perhaps that makes me less of a teacher. But my students do tend to be very well prepared for their subsequent courses so I must be doing something right.

    (I also give a take-home and there are plenty of tough problem sets. Depending on the class there may be essays. Multiple assessment modalities.)

  28. Z on 17 Nov 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Well, our freshman and sophomore courses are multi section and we are supposed to use the test bank from the textbook company for the sake of uniformity across sections etc., and we are supposed to not give the exams back to the students to study from. I’m against this and I make my own tests every time.

    But, partly from laziness (if you want to call it that — I just have a lot to do and I am in fact not trained to make these multiple choice, t/f exercises, and the book we have now makes good ones) and partly because I don’t want to be SO different from the other sections, my tests are heavily based on homework questions and exercises we have already done! Not from the test bank, but from the book itself!

    So there is no study guide except info on content and format, and I just tell the students they should expect to see homework problems reappear in a form close to the original one. They still don’t all do well (actually, they tend to either do really well or really poorly, I get few Cs).

  29. Comrade PhysioProf on 17 Nov 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    Not only that, but what the fucken fucke do 600 motherfucken management students at UCF think they’re all gonna fucken manage after they graduate? Each other? There aren’t even any fucken jobbes for the fucken people who actually do shitte.

  30. Canuck Down South on 17 Nov 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Several commenters on this thread have indicated that they dislike exams or don’t give them at all, which is similar to the sentiments I’ve heard from profs at my university. I’m starting to wonder if the lack of concern for exams is an American oddity. I’ve been puzzled by the sheer number of take-home only assessments that I’ve seen since I moved to the US (as an undergraduate in Canada, even English classes always had a minimum final in-class exam, and often a midterm/in-class essay as well–only 1 professor ever made a take-home exam). I can understand the justification in terms of encouraging editing, revising, etc., but to have absolutely NO exams or in-class work makes it extraordinarily easy for students who get someone else to do their writing for them to cheat undetected. When I talk to British colleagues, they say the same thing–how can we know that student is capable of writing a paper unless we’ve seen them do it at least once? Furthermore, there seems to be no discussion in the USA of what skills exam-writing does teach–particularly learning to think on your feet and study habits.

    Perhaps the devaluing of exams as an assessment tool makes it easier for students not to take them seriously, and to just do whatever possible to get through them. Though if I was an undergraduate and a friend showed me he/she had found some sample questions online, I think I’d just be impressed at that friend’s initiative in finding an online study guide.

  31. Historiann on 17 Nov 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    to have absolutely NO exams or in-class work makes it extraordinarily easy for students who get someone else to do their writing for them to cheat undetected.

    I disagree. If one writes very specific questions requiring students to address a particular combination of primary and secondary sources, AND if one uses a plagiarism detection software, then it’s more work to cheat than it is to do the paper or exam honestly.

    Just because an exam is a take-home doesn’t “devalue” the exam. And in my experience, cheating is less likely when students know they must submit their answers electronically to a plagiarism detection system.

  32. Western Dave on 17 Nov 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    Perpetua,
    Did you watch the video. The prof specifically claimed that he was the sole author of the exam and wrote it himself. Therefore, students would be perfectly safe in thinking that pre-prepared textbook questions were a legit way to study. So, you expect a student to say during the exam, “excuse me professor, I know you said never to talk to you, about anything except the wording of questions on the exam, but I have seen this exam before as pre-packaged study material which means you are a liar and I am a cheat.” Um, no. Ain’t gonna happen. And the people who do do that, are the ones who get fired at their jobs later on for causing problems in faculty meetings by speaking uncomfortable truths.

  33. takingitoutside on 17 Nov 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    I feel sorry for the students. This really doesn’t seem fair to them, from the 600+ class to the teacher lying about writing the content of the exam to being accused of cheating for doing what would in any other circumstance be considered good study habits. When you study you look for whatever additional resources will be helpful. If they had stolen a copy of the exam from the professor there would obviously be a problem, but they got a copy of an exam on the subject matter they studied from what is obviously a publicly-accessible place. With no guarantee that the test would look anything like what they had been given, they studied it enough to noticeably raise their grades.

    As far as being irritated about students not coming forward during the exam is concerned, what were they supposed to say? “Hey, professor, I know you told us you were writing the exam yourself, but these questions all came from somewhere else.” That’s more or less an accusation of plagiarism. Can you really see anyone doing that in the middle of their exam? I don’t know that I would, and I’m pretty confident.

  34. Z on 17 Nov 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Re exams in general: I would prefer not to give them in the courses where I am required to do so … in those contexts they are (to me at least) pedagogically counterproductive and irrelevant to actual assessment (although yes, we are required to give them and give grades based on them, so I do). In those courses, which are freshman and sophomore skills based courses, I’d much rather they compile a portfolio or something along those lines.

    Meanwhile, in upper division and graduate courses where the norm is papers and not exams, I’d love to give exams, because I think they do teach all kinds of skills … and nobody gives them any more, yet we have exams for the MA and PhD and we have the dissertation defense, so we DO seem to think exams are important (unless we simply keep them around as a fetish, I do not know), so when ARE students supposed to practice for those … ?

  35. Notorious Ph.D. on 17 Nov 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Nothing substantial to add here, except my voice to the chorus saying that a) any professor worth his or her salt should be writing hir own exams, and b) that even though I’m a fiend for academic integrity, I wouldn’t call this “cheating” on the students’ part. What if the professor had actually written his own exam as he claimed to? Then the advance copy of the exam would have been worthless.

    And 600 students in a senior-level class is unconscionable.

  36. quixote on 17 Nov 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Hmm. Maybe it’s a different world in the sciences. It was standard to have hundreds of students in basic classes for bio major undergrads at my university. That wasn’t a big state school, either. One of the biggest and the oldest Ivy. It was before the internet had escaped academe, but I’d be willing to bet most of those profs didn’t write their own exams either. The TA’s did.

    Having been on the TA side of that fence, and grading page after page after page after page of various profs’ non-multiple choice exams in multiple-hundred student classes, I’ve never been able to shake the conviction that there must be something in the Bill of Rights or the Geneva Convention against that sort of thing.

    Admittedly, multiple choice tests neither teach nor test anything worth knowing. The whole thing is a lot like a variant on that old Soviet joke. We pretend to teach them, and they pretend to learn.

    The only problem in that b-school case is that the pretense fell apart.

  37. Miranda on 18 Nov 2010 at 5:32 am #

    I had a college professor who gave a weird combination of take home and in class exam: He gave us the question, and we could research and write the response at hom. However, we THEN had to re-write it in class during the exam period. Instead of a nice, clear document written on a computer, he got several pages of the scrawl that was the result of having to write a lot of information in a relatively short time.

  38. Perpetua on 18 Nov 2010 at 6:27 am #

    @ Western Dave: Perhaps I misunderstood the process. I imagined that with the textbook company there was online material for students and some for instructors only (including exmas/ sample exams) – sort of like the old school “instructor’s” copy of textbooks that had the answers to the questions. I imagined that one intrepid student managed to lift this info that was clearly not for student use and then pass it along to fellow students imagining that ze had a copy of what could be the exam. If the exam material was available to everyone in an obvious way then the professor is (as my calculus teacher used to say) dumb to the fifth. I guess I’m overly cynical as I have dealt with many cheaters, and how rampant it is (combined with some of the comments by the students itself) makes me reluctant to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I’m definitely on board with the “this is primarily the fault of the university and the professor” rather than the students, generally speaking. Or rather that everyone is at fault.

  39. Thursday round-up: beating dead horses edition : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 18 Nov 2010 at 10:13 am #

    [...] random thoughts inspired by yesterday’s conversation about Cheatergate at UCF yesterday and other trivial [...]

  40. Tenured heads in the sand? « More or Less Bunk on 18 Nov 2010 at 11:22 am #

    [...] has been writing about that cheating scandal at the University of Central Florida in a 600 person class. With no intention [...]

  41. Non-stinky Linkies « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured on 20 Nov 2010 at 2:56 am #

    [...] Using test bank questions is lazy and short-changes students?    My stats book has some clever and thought-provoking suggested exam questions, and I USE [...]

  42. ss4bc on 20 Nov 2010 at 9:30 am #

    “I disagree. If one writes very specific questions requiring students to address a particular combination of primary and secondary sources, AND if one uses a plagiarism detection software, then it’s more work to cheat than it is to do the paper or exam honestly.”

    As the latest issue of the Chronicle of Education demonstrates, this is the perfect scenario for custom essays. And students use them. In class writing assessments are a must, otherwise you may only be grading the paper of a custom essay writing company. And they can write to however you specify your assignment.

  43. Historiann on 20 Nov 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Maybe so. I’ve found cheating on in-class exams to be a problem too.

    I suppose the reality is that people who are determined to cheat will cheat, and there’s not much we can do about it. But, from the results I’m getting from my students overall, I’d say that they’ve wasted their money for the grades some of them are getting.

    (And because I’m familiar with their writing b/c of weekly writing assignments, I’ve never had the experience of getting a brilliant paper from a previously marginal writer. The good students tend to write the stronger essays, and the not-so-strong students tend to submit the not-so-strong essays.)

  44. FrauTech on 22 Nov 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    I agree with the sentiments against the professor on this thread. Most of my favorite professors have been ones who write the exams and homework themselves. Being a friendless loner, I hate classes where the homework (worth anywhere from 10-20% of the grade) comes straight from the textbook and the prof will say straight zhe “doesn’t care” whether students use the solutions manual or not. Well that’s unfair to people like me who don’t drop halfway through to turn my B into an A or don’t know tons of people who’ve taken it already.

    Also, in the age if the interwebs I typically go on to the class site the semester before I’m going to take it and download all the exam and homework solutions I can. I use these past exams as study guides and they are tremendously helpful. I don’t see it as cheating if the professor posts it on there. I’ve had other professors who write all their own material, don’t let us keep exams, and don’t post the exam solutions or the exams online for the sake of non-cheatery. As a student I’m not fond of not being able to see the solutions of a midterm before a final, but at least it’s a way the professors are getting clever.

  45. How to make yourself obsolete. « More or Less Bunk on 29 Nov 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    [...] links to another post on the same subject that summarizes the situation well along the lines that Historiann did originally: [T]he more this situation unfolds, the more unhealthy it makes the whole educational environment [...]

  46. Teaching Carnival 4.4 - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 01 Dec 2010 at 6:58 am #

    [...] on the wicked cheat of the business classes at the University of Central [...]

  47. Not so lazy academics. « More or Less Bunk on 14 Dec 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    [...] I think I’ll call this the Historiann argument: I feel your pain Dan, but I think you are missing the bigger issue. You have 520 students [...]

  48. Creative destruction is still destruction. « More or Less Bunk on 16 Oct 2011 at 11:02 am #

    [...] Here’s the same dynamic as it plays out in higher education. Or maybe you’d prefer here. I’ve got a practically limitless amount of evidence here because the American example of technology in higher education is to use it to use it not to improve education but to juice total revenue, which inevitably means decreasing labor costs rather than making tuition cheaper. [...]

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