Thursday, November 11, 2010

“This is college. Everyone cheats.”

A leader of tomorrow:

“This is college. Everyone cheats. Everyone cheats in life in general. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this testing lab who hasn’t cheated on an exam. They’re making a witch hunt out of absolutely nothing, as if it were to teach us some kind of moral lesson.”
That’s Konstantin Ravvin, a student at the University of Central Florida, commenting on a cheating scandal in professor Richard Quinn’s senior-level business-management course. Yes, the students involved — perhaps 200 of 600 — are seniors.

Konstantin Ravvin may be right about as if. The Orlando Sentinel reports that “Quinn brokered a deal with the business dean that would allow students to clear their records if they owned up to cheating before the rewritten exam started being administered this morning.” You read right: everyone gets to take the midterm again. That’ll teach ’em.

How might students get hold of an exam and its answer key? By breaking and entering? Sort of. If a comment at Inside Higher Ed is to be believed, students found the midterm and answer key online. Margaret Soltan draws the reasonable inference that the midterm was a canned exam, something supplied by a textbook publisher.

The University of Central Florida recently made the news for its efforts to stop cheating, which include surveillance cameras in “testing centers” and a ban on gum-chewing during exams.

[To readers visiting from this page:

From my perspective, one kind of cheating (if giving a pre-fab exam is cheating) doesn’t legitimize another. Two wrongs (if giving a pre-fab exam is wrong) don’t make a right. I’ve removed the final parenthetical sentence from the next-to-last paragraph — “(Everyone cheats!)” — so as to remove any confusion about whether I think cheating is ever acceptable. It is not, though cheating, like irony, abounds. I do think that Mr. Ravvin’s skepticism about moral lessons is reasonable: allowing a do-over here, because so many students cheated, seems to me to teach a very odd lesson about strength in numbers.]

Update, November 18, 2010: Details emerge in Inside Higher Ed:
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. . . .

[M]any have noted that the students’ initial intent was less troubling than their conduct once they realized they had an advance copy of the test. No one raised his or her hand during the test to acknowledge having had a copy of it, and the incident came to light only after Quinn statically analyzed the scores and saw that they ran a grade-and-a-half higher than in the past.
It turns out that Professor Quinn is on tape stating at the start of the semester that he creates the midterm and final examinations for the class. Thus the defense offered above — which seems a pretty feeble one.

In my experience, academic misconduct has a simple explanation: the student doesn’t expect to be caught, an expectation stemming from cluelessness, hubris, or both.

Related reading and viewing
“This is college. Everyone cheats.” (The Cap Times)
UCF Students Busted for Cheating (ABC News)

[Thanks to Stefan Hagemann for pointing me to this story.]

comments: 9

Ben said...


Anonymous said...

Isn't the professors use of a premade exam cheating? He should be looked down upon too, not just the students, even though they were just "playing his game."

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

Students getting the answers for canned exams is not cheating, but that doesn't sound like what went on. If he was able to determine who had cheated, it was probably because the cheaters used the same phrases as in the answer key, which means they either memorised it and weren't able to paraphrase or they brought in copies with them.

Anonymous said...

Atention everybody!
Konstantin DID NOT cheat!!!
His interview was manipulated by media.Stop this madness NOW.

Eustace Bright said...

I don't see any reason why a teacher using a standardized "canned" test is cheating, or why students who get those answers and pass them around to one another is not cheating. The point of most tests is to determine each student's mastery of specific content, not to test a teacher's ability to write test questions! Students who grab the answers ahead of time are hurting their own ability to gauge their knowledge and hurting other non-cheating students of the right to differentiate themselves from their peers, no more or less if the stolen answers are from a canned test or a customized one.

Elaine said...

I've read this twice now, and I find it so depressing that I don't know what to say. Textbook publishers want not only the book but also all of the 'ancillaries'--slides, transparencies, and tests. There is no reason why a professor should not use these.....except, perhaps, the actual idea behind *teaching*..... (as opposed to regurgitating...?)

Eustace Bright said...

Elaine, it sounds like you are saying that teachers who use the resources (tests, questions, assignments, explanations, etc.) from a textbook aren't teaching at all, but just regurgitating?

I agree that teachers can rely too heavily on textbooks. I've found in my own classroom that year to year and class to class the students in the chairs before me have unique prior knowledge, unique skills, unique interests, and unique personalities that respond somewhat differently to different activities and motivation. They do not all respond in the same way to the content as the "students" imagined by those who created the textbooks.

Of course, more to the point of the original post, we teachers open ourselves up to cheating by using the same tests class after class and year after year.

However, *regardless* of whether teachers who rely heavily upon a textbook can be accused rightly of not really teaching, I think that my original point stands:

"Studying" by memorizing just the answers to the questions on a specific test harms both those who "study" in this way and those who don't; that this harm is specifically antithetical to the very purpose of the assessment (e.g. gauging learning to help the teacher know what to re-cover, differentiating students' true mastery of content via grades for the important future scholarship, admissions, and employment decisions that are sometimes based in part upon grades); and that, therefore, students who "study" by memorizing the answers to the specific answers on a test (which are not intended to be genrally available) are acting inappropriately.

I.e., having a sub-par teacher or a bad test does not justify the way the behavior in question skews or even invalidates the test results.

Do you agree?

Michael Leddy said...

This scandal appears to involve an exam from an online test bank. I would imagine that someone with an access code (perhaps a graduate assistant somewhere) made the exam available to students. With 600 students, it must’ve been a Scantron exam, or the digital equivalent.

Whatever the exam involved, I’m happy to see that no one here thinks that the students are in any way blameless.

Thanks, everyone, for commenting.

Elaine said...

Responding to Eustace:

I realize I expressed myself poorly. I meant to say that the 'prefab' exams too often demand nothing more than regurgitating 'facts' on the part of the students. My experience of the canned tests is that they are generally poorly-designed--meant for easy grading (a la Scantron) and requiring little to no reasoning, analysis, or synthesis. I'm not unsympathetic to the burden of six dozen essay responses that require a mountain of time to grade, but still...

Absolutely, nothing excuses cheating, and attempts on the students' part to justify their behavior is a miserable denouement. As I said: depressing.