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The UCF Cheating Scandal
November 18, 2010 8:52 PM   Subscribe

University of Central Florida professor Richard Quinn uses highly-detailed analysis to accuse many of the students in his Strategic Management course of cheating on their midterm exam. Since posting his online lecture, 200 of the 600 students in his class have come forward to admit they cheated using testbank exam answers. While some are calling Professor Quinn a "folk hero", many students in the class are now complaining because they feel their professor has been dishonest about where he obtained the information for his exams. But Professor Quinn isn't exactly responding in student news sources to these complaints.
posted by SkylitDrawl (183 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I'm under no code of conduct to make my own exam questions, thanks for asking. Sorry you got caught cheating!"
posted by boo_radley at 8:59 PM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is a business class, right? Shouldn't the cheaters be given extra credit?
posted by eye of newt at 9:06 PM on November 18, 2010 [53 favorites]


The problem isn't cheating, the problem is you've got 600 students in your frickin class.
posted by storybored at 9:06 PM on November 18, 2010 [61 favorites]


Previously
posted by auto-correct at 9:07 PM on November 18, 2010


I thought the point of a test bank was that it was a very large body of possible questions from which the actual exam questions were selected. The bank would be large enough that memorizing the entire thing would be ridiculously impractical, and anyone that could do that should ace the course anyhow. (assuming show-work type questions)

When I was instructing, I had such an exam question bank, and I encouraged anyone who wanted it to study it. Not to memorize specific answers, but to see if there were any types of questions they didn't know how to do and get help learning them before the exam.

Isn't that what the point of a course is? I think Prof. Quinn lost the big picture.
(or his exam bank isn't big enough)
posted by ctmf at 9:07 PM on November 18, 2010 [14 favorites]


How do test banks work anyhow? Do schools pay for subscriptions with the text book agencies, and that gives them access to them?
posted by Think_Long at 9:07 PM on November 18, 2010


Why are there 600 students in a class.

Fuck me I would cheat just so the TA would talk to my ass.
posted by Avenger at 9:07 PM on November 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


Professor Quinn appears to be quite the hypocrite.
posted by ged at 9:10 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


A little more Googling shows that UCF is the third largest university in the nation, which maybe explains the DAMN HUGE class sizes.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 9:11 PM on November 18, 2010


ged: why?
posted by zug at 9:12 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm under the impression that he got his test from an online test bank? And that the kids "cheated" by "knowing the questions ahead of time"?

Maybe it's just me but that sounds more like good study habits rather than cheating. I mean, if they had been reading the books then supposedly they'd also know the questions ahead of time, right? Unless the prof has some new and ingenious method of testing wherein he asks questions about the material that nobody could ever see coming or something.

This situation strikes me less as "200 students caught cheating" and more "angry prof gets caught being lazy, takes it out on students".
posted by Avenger at 9:12 PM on November 18, 2010 [12 favorites]


Oh man I'm sorry . I'll never do it again!

Wait, I wasn't even in the class. Why do I feel so guilty.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:14 PM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


They get 51 hours to take the make up exam? ...51 hours? Someone got a 60 out of 200? That's hilarious.
posted by pwally at 9:14 PM on November 18, 2010


Still true even for non-math-type exams, and even for essay assignments. (Somehow I got the impression it was a statistics class the first time.) If you write your exam questions from your learning objectives for the class, and your students memorize all the things you might possibly want to ask them on an exam, then you've got to say to yourself, "Learning objectives: met. Check."

If you're relying on tricky unfamiliar questions the students haven't seen before to keep your scores down: you're doing it wrong.
posted by ctmf at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2010 [14 favorites]


Man, I bet that student who got 60 is felling pretty good right now.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


There are good reasons besides laziness to use testbank questions: Reliable multiple choice questions are difficult to write and there's no way to check the reliability of the questions without pretestig, which obviously isn't possible if you write your own questions.

That said, I've been known to give my students my test bank (written by me) when the questions consist of short answers or essays. I'm ok with them having these questions. Since everyone in the class has it, it's not giving some students an advantage over others. And as for "cheating," as far as I can tell, the only way they can "cheat" with this is to learn the answers to all the questions. I don't think that's cheating. That's learning the material. I'm ok with that.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:17 PM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Was this test multiple choice? If the test doesn't ask for text-based answers or essays that could be plagiarized, how could you ever prove, through stats, that any specific student cheated? Sure, you can look at the aggregate and determine that something ain't right ...

In other words, why would you ever own up to cheating?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:17 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait so 200 people memorized potentially thousands of questions and answers. Sounds like being prepared to me.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:18 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the professor was completely full of shit on the investigation, too. He got 200 students to admit guilt and every one of them could have shut their mouths and got away with it.
posted by empath at 9:18 PM on November 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


We had these in law school, it never occurred to me they were cheating and well they weren't as the school itself would post former exams online (if the professor ok'd it). I mean all the exams posted were ones released by the professor. Some exams had a strict policy that they were not to be shared and had to be returned, but almost every professor had at least a few old exams that were fair game. Hell some even let us look at old model answers.

Of course all but one of my professors actually wrote new exams every semester, so it was just great practice for the style of the exam and to test yourself and your weaknesses, it didn't hand you the answers.

I find it ludicrous that a professor would use commercially made exams and then accuse students of cheating when they used the readily available exams as study tools. I find it unacceptable that a professor would recycle exams. Sure, I can see covering similar ground. Using a similar format and questions, but this professor is sure high and mighty for someone that couldn't even do his own work.
posted by whoaali at 9:20 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


CPB, if you had enough previous years' data, you could look at specific questions with historically poor scores, pick out students who did (statistically significantly unlikely) well on those questions, and accuse them. If you lean on them hard enough with the "evidence" they may crack. Still, that's not proof. Just circumstantial evidence.
posted by ctmf at 9:20 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Wait so 200 people memorized potentially thousands of questions and answers. Sounds like being prepared to me.

By having something the other 400 students didn't have. However, I guess we now know when in college you take "insider trading 101".
posted by Decimask at 9:21 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


The guy who got 60 was probably still sleeping off a hangover and didn't even make it to that lecture.

Downside: fail the class by getting a 60.
Upside: prof still likes you! Fuck yeah future CEO!
posted by Ad hominem at 9:22 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


By having something the other 400 students didn't have.

The foresight and give-a-shit enough to study a question bank provided by the textbook publisher? That's just a good idea, even if you don't suspect the prof uses those questions.
posted by ctmf at 9:24 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


And yeah, my test bank contains enough questions, that attempting to memorize them all is the least efficient way to study.

Test banks come with textbooks for professors. You email the publisher, request a copy of the textbook and it comes with a textbook and CD. The CD includes test software and a question bank for each chapter. The software can create tests either letting you choose the questions, randomly, or based on some criteria. It can randomize the order of the questions and scramble up the answers so that the answer listed as A can randomly be listed as B or C, etc. And it can create multipel versions of the same test: same questions but in a different order and with the answer options in a different order.

Since the question bank is just a CD, I've always assumed students could in theory find this on bittorrents somewhere, but I would think that studying by trying to memorize the questions would be harder and result in lower grades than just learning the material.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:25 PM on November 18, 2010


The only problem I see with this is that the bank wasn't necessarily available to every student in advance.
posted by casconed at 9:25 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


CPB: It could just be a bluff, confess and I can help you with a deal, if you don't they'll throw the book at you.

And you own up because if the prof and administration are telling the truth, it's basically consequence free vs a risk, however small that you get expelled for cheating.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:26 PM on November 18, 2010


Why are there 600 students in a class.

There aren't necessarily 600 in the same class. There's usually multiple lecture slots at different times, multiple workshops, multiple everything supporting the same unit. Exams would be taken at the same time for obvious reasons.
posted by Talez at 9:28 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


How do test banks work anyhow? Do schools pay for subscriptions with the text book agencies, and that gives them access to them?

The way it works in my field, the test bank comes from the textbook publisher. The instructor gets either a CD or an authorized login+password to access online instructor-only materials. The students get open access only to the textbook "companion site" with various learning materials, study guides-n-shit to supplement the book.

As someone who has on many occasions thrown the fucking book at plagiarists with great force (but with no pleasure), I say the problems here are:

--some level of intellectual laziness and dereliction of duty on both sides, plus ethical weaseliness and dissembling if not outright cheating by the students
--600 person courses
--passive lecture-based learning
--machine-scored multiple choice tests instead of authentic assessment of learning

Basically, if there are too many students in your course for you to learn and remember all their names within two weeks, that class is broken. If there are more students in one of your courses than are on your [holiday] card list, your institution is a fucking money-grubbing factory.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:30 PM on November 18, 2010 [13 favorites]


The only problem I see with this is that the bank wasn't necessarily available to every student in advance.

It was available to every student, just not handed out. Some did the additional research, and he's pissed because they found out how he was being lazy.

I kind of hope he sees serious disciplinary action. He's wasting student time and university resources.
posted by explosion at 9:33 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Explosion: I'm a little confused by this whole story, because I watched the full 15-minute video, and he implied that the "cheaters" knew the answers by way of some ill-gotten material. Can you (or anyone) explain to me how we know that these test questions and answers were somehow public facing and easy to access?
posted by orville sash at 9:37 PM on November 18, 2010


The Prof mentioned that they were reviewing all means of communication. It sounds as if they are looking at emails that went through the university's system that included the attached test bank file or used words such as "test bank". My problem with that is that I cannot stop someone from sending me an email. I can delete it when I get it, but to be guilty because some jamoke sent me an email is wrong.

So, even though I think there are serious flaws in the assumption that having the test bank is cheating, I am even more concerned with the fact that there is a presumption of guilt if you received the email.
posted by AugustWest at 9:37 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


They studied the off-the-shelf questions suggested by the textbook publisher? One which, for all we know, some other prof at some other school made available as a study guide? Hmm, unless there's an awfully specific academic dishonesty policy there addresses this I don't know that this is "cheating" at all. I might have happily and innocently studied such a bank of questions and then been astonished to see them, unchanged on the actual exam.

But then maybe my reaction is colored because I end up not liking Quinn much. His threats are a bluff, because while using the test bank can be analyzed as likely from the stats, "likely" isn't proof enough, So, he's being a deceptive bully, like a cop in an interrogation, and I don't like that.
posted by tyllwin at 9:39 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


If only I had a penguin...: "Test banks come with textbooks for professors."

I can see both sides on this but ethically, I think that's the crux of it. Test banks are for professors. If the professor does not make the test bank available as study material, the students should not have used it.

We're talking about an ethics violation here, not the law vs the letter of the law. The text bank is not open source material, and the student who acquired it should not have treated it as such just because it became freely available.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:39 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lazy students seek out lazy professors, and vice versa. It's usually a match made in heaven.
posted by peeedro at 9:46 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only way students could gain access to these test banks is to access them illicitly. Quinn mentions in the video specifically that the text books company involved is looking at this from a legal perspective. Someone either had to (a) hack their way in or (b) a person with access sold the information to these students.

So yeah, Quinn is lazy. But his students DID do something they weren't supposed to.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 9:47 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait, he caught the students cheating and then made his TAs work overtime to draft a new test? What?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:48 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess I'll retract my earlier comments about the prof being lazy because, holy shit, he has 600 students in a course.

He's fucking overwhelmed. If I taught that course I would just pass everybody who showed up most of the time.

Everybody in this situation really needs to get mad at UCF which is apparently running itself like a puppy mill. The University is taking advantage of the fact that the economy sucks and people are taking courses to get a degree in the vain hope that they'll land a better job somewhere, somehow.

They're cramming 600 people to a class and raking in huge piles of Pell Grant and federal loan money in the process. That's the real cheating here: that our Universities are becoming cynical, soulless degree factories for desperate Americans who are riding down the express elevator to poverty.
posted by Avenger at 9:50 PM on November 18, 2010 [17 favorites]


The students gained access to material that was explicitly for the exclusive use of the professor. (It should go without saying that acquiring something like a Teacher's Edition of a book in order to gain access to questions ahead of time is cheating.) Neither the professor nor the school provided that material to his students. Thus, it seems to me, this is a clear case of cheating.

I'm willing to bet a large amount of money that not one of these students would have asked the professor if gaining a copy of the bank was inappropriate. Not one.

(Although making his TAs work like dogs is a dick move.)
posted by oddman at 9:51 PM on November 18, 2010


They're cramming 600 people to a class and raking in huge piles of Pell Grant and federal loan money in the process.

Probably not. Any Florida public high school student with something like a B average can go to state schools in Florida for essentially free.

They call it the "Bright Futures scholarship." I called it the "leads to grade grubbing and cheating so that barely-literate students can keep their GPA-of-a-2.5 scholarship."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:53 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I prefer to write new tests every semester just to avoid this type of cheating. Writing fair and valid test questions can be hard, and every now and then I have to throw out a question after the fact. Cheating on exams is unacceptable, but reusing questions from semester to semester is semi-enabling that kind of behavior. I think this trade-off between fair and proven questions v. new and harder to cheat-on questions is something every teacher struggles with. If these questions were available to students ahead of time they should not have been used on the test. It isn’t fair to punish students for using publically available resources in an attempt to earn a better grade. If the questions were stolen ahead of time, then I think the teacher in question is actually being lenient with the cheaters in question.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:54 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought the whole point of test banks was so that text book companies could say to instructors "Hey, look, we've got a bank of a million questions, just pick out a bunch and viola, INSTANT EXAM." If they make the same test bank available to students, then what are they going to say to instructors? "Hey, look, we've got a bank of a million questions that are available to your students, just pick out the... What? Yeah, we gave the students access to all the questions and answers in the test bank. Oops."
posted by 23skidoo at 9:57 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


His better strategy once he noticed the bimodal distribution would have been to conclude, not that "cheating" had occurred, but to feel bad for the students who didn't get the memo, as it were, and try to make it right for them.

No accusations or bullying. Just explain the situation, distribute the exam bank to the whole class, write up a new exam from that same exam bank, then invite anyone who wants to try again for a better score to do so.
posted by ctmf at 9:57 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


You have got to be fucking kidding me. People are defending the students who cheated? Just because the professor uses materials provided to only to instructors to prepare the exam? The students essentially stole the exam and you're defending them?

Think about if this happened in high school. Some students get a hold of the teacher's edition and use it to do their homework for the semester, you would defend them? Really? Because the teacher should have known better than to use the materials that come from the textbook manufacturers to be used by the teacher. This is the exact same situation.

Sounds like it was a take home exam that students cheated on. (Hence the long "open" time.) He's not at fault for using a test bank. The students are at fault for cheating and stealing the exam.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:02 PM on November 18, 2010 [15 favorites]


SkylitDrawl: But his students DID do something they weren't supposed to.

Hard to say, really. Sometimes people just upload stuff, and you stumble across it, and have no idea whether it is open-access or not - and even then, it may not always be clear if the person who wrote it is the one who made it available. There's a pretty good chance that someone just stumbled upon it randomly online.

Once one person got it, it probably spread from student to student, and I doubt they really knew about any illicit source. Hell, schools themselves don't always respect copyrights, and for all most of the students knew, the professor himself had sent it out there for them. I've seen them do things like that before.

Also, I'd say that if you want to make any source off-limits for studying, you probably should specify it ahead of time. It isn't really obvious, particularly if the student doesn't know your questions come straight from it, and I can see how you'd still think it might be a valuable source to study.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:02 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


23skidoo, if my students had memorized a million of my exam questions well enough to write coherent answers (I'm not a short-answer fan; multiple choice is difficult to do right, but it can be done), I'd have given them an A on the spot. Obscurity of the question, or "surprise, I asked you about this trivia" is not a desirable feature, as far as I'm concerned.

I'd still buy the exam bank (well, get the school to buy it for me). It would start me out with a million questions I didn't have to write myself, so I could start replacing them with my own and throwing out crappy ones, little by little. It might also remind me of topics I might want to cover in my presentations better.
posted by ctmf at 10:04 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I contacted the school, the test makers, the test book people, Oprah and everyone else and you're going to get caught unless you give me your names, then we'll just forget the whole thing."

People fall for this shit? It was like a bad cop show.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:06 PM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


This was not a take-home test. The Business students at UCF apparently take their exams at a high-tech computer testing center:

The College of Business Administration [has a] high-tech testing center. There, seven video cameras monitor and record students taking tests on 164 computers.

posted by SkylitDrawl at 10:08 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


[...] exams at a high-tech computer testing center

Ah - that explains the long open time. Thanks!

I'm still completely bowled over that people are defending the students. It's like night and day with the essay writing FPP this week.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:12 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes. If the students memorized thousands of questions and answers and they remembered the 200 that popped up. All the answers are already in the lectures and books are they not? Studying your notes and attending the lectures is the same level of crap shoot. It's not like they had the answer key like that episode of goodtimes where Roger cheated. The test is to gauge that they learned something not to play gotcha.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:12 PM on November 18, 2010


Once one person got it, it probably spread from student to student, and I doubt they really knew about any illicit source. Hell, schools themselves don't always respect copyrights, and for all most of the students knew, the professor himself had sent it out there for them. I've seen them do things like that before.

Sure, but if students thought they were just studying from readily available materials that they thought miiiight have originated from the professor, I wouldn't expect 200 of them to admit to cheating. Why would someone admit to cheating if they thought they were just studying?
posted by 23skidoo at 10:12 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


My wife is taking an online course for a grad degree in biz-mgt. The prof uses software that randomly generates questions based on the source material, formatted specifically to trick the test-taker with stupid gramatical and linguistic "gotchas", employing a quadruple negative at one point. "If condition A isn't met, how is it not available to to negate situation B if situation B is a key component of condition C, which relies on condition A being..."

If a prof can't trick test-takers who don't grok the source material in this day and age, they're cheaters who aren't trying hard enough, not the other way 'round.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:13 PM on November 18, 2010


If the prof is using test banks or exams that are available online, how does that explain his data graph showing a noticible difference between the last summer quarter and this quarter? Do we assume that nobody from summer used the same info? Something has changed and I'd rather educators err on the side of caution and investigate.
posted by l2p at 10:15 PM on November 18, 2010


stoneweaver, using an answer key as a reference to manually copy your homework out of without understanding or practicing the skill is not anywhere near the same thing as buffing your knowledge up ahead of time using a large body of example questions that you do not know for sure will be on the exam, and then doing the exam later with that knowledge.

In the homework case, you've avoided learning what you were supposed to, and in the exam case, you've actually caused yourself to learn far in excess of what you needed to (for what happened to be on that particular exam.) Stealing a key to WHICH questions from the bank would be on the exam and then studying only those questions would absolutely be cheating because again, you would be avoiding learning the topics that did not happen to be asked this time.

Knowing answers to questions is not cheating. Ideally, one would know as many answers to as many questions as humanly possible before the exam, and the professor would WANT that.
posted by ctmf at 10:17 PM on November 18, 2010


23skidoo, if my students had memorized a million of my exam questions well enough to write coherent answers (I'm not a short-answer fan; multiple choice is difficult to do right, but it can be done), I'd have given them an A on the spot.

Yeah, which is why I think the test bank that the students had access to was multiple choice and had all the answers. Pouring over questions and then figuring out the answers is studying. Having a sheet with all the questions and all the answers is just memorizing.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:21 PM on November 18, 2010


Why are there 600 students in a class.

I know of several universities that have lecture classes (I know you all know of them too). Take a lecture class of 200 people...understand that there are probably 3 or more sessions of the same class. And you get 600 or more students in the same class who are going to take the same final.

Stop being such "the problem is that there are 200 people in the basic class...thats the problem with college these days".

The problem is that people cheat. Let them suffer the consequences.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:22 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


23skidoo: Sure, but if students thought they were just studying from readily available materials that they thought miiiight have originated from the professor, I wouldn't expect 200 of them to admit to cheating. Why would someone admit to cheating if they thought they were just studying?

Realistically, which of the two groups is more likely to admit to it?

A. People who accidentally transgressed without realizing it, and are hoping things will work out ok if they just admit it and apologize?

B. People who knew they were cheating and were hoping to get away with it?

My guess would be A, overwhelmingly.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:23 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Cynical, soulless degree factories for desperate Americans who are riding down the express elevator to poverty.
posted by Neale at 10:23 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Many public accreditations work this way: you have access to all the possible questions in advance, and you can use them as a study aid. If you want to become a ham radio operator or licensed parliamentarian, books of questions are sold by the same organizations that proctor the exams. Likewise you can study for the GREs or SATs by purchasing last year's questions, many of which are identical to this year's. This is a legitimate and useful way to learn the material.

It's like the professor and students are both involved in a tacit game where a benign and productive behavior is prohibited, and then they try to out-shame each other by "exposing" the behavior.

This is how totalitarian societies operate. The professor who set this game up has no place in academia.

<insert joke about how business isn't a real academic discipline here>
posted by clarknova at 10:28 PM on November 18, 2010 [12 favorites]


Realistically, which of the two groups is more likely to admit to it?

I agree that Group A is more likely than Group B to admit to cheating, but I also feel that Group A is more likely to be all "Hey, wtf, I didn't cheat, I just studied" rather than just roll over and admit to something that they didn't do.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:30 PM on November 18, 2010


Why would someone admit to cheating if they thought they were just studying?

Because the professor bullies them with threats about "forensic data analysis" and severe repercussions that couldn't possibly be applied ethically, while promising leniency if people confess? Shit, if I was in this course and scored over 75%, I'm confessing, even if I didn't cheat.

On the bright side, the professor will actually get his TAs to do his job for the first time in years.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:33 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Shit, if I was in this course and scored over 75%, I'm confessing, even if I didn't cheat.

PROTIP: If the pigs are trying to bully a confession out of you, they more they claim they know everything, the more nuthin' they got. Keep yer trap shut.
posted by clarknova at 10:37 PM on November 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


Confession time.

Something similar happened to me when I was doing a course in thermodynamics as part of my engineering degree. I had aced the mid-term exams and several assignments, and I was at the top of my class. The professor (say, Prof. TD) was a great teacher, and I had a fantastic rapport with him.

With 60% of the assessment done, there were only two evaluations left before the final grades: a programming assignment (10%), and the final exam (30%). I wasn't great at programming, but I wasn't too bad. I expected to get 6/10 on the assignment.

Then, something came up in the non-academic part of my life that I had committed to and couldn't possibly excuse myself from. With less than a week to go for the submission deadline, I panicked. I panicked so bad that I asked another student (who had done a similar assignment for the same course in the previous year) for a copy of his code. I made a few cosmetic changes to the code, made sure that it ran with the new parameters, and submitted it. To this day, as god is my witness, I remember cursing myself immediately after sending that e-mail. I just knew that I was going to be caught.

About a week later, Prof. TD sent out an e-mail to the entire class (about 60 students) stating that he was very disappointed that so many of us had cheated in the programming assignment. He said that those of us who came forward and admitted it will get a zero but will otherwise be unaffected. As the deadline for this approached, my shame kept me from stepping forward. On one hand, I knew that he knew. On the other hand, I wished and prayed that I'd somehow escape detection. Having never cheated before, I became a nervous wreck and couldn't sleep properly for several days. Many people went and confessed to copying. I didn't.

Then late one night, another e-mail showed up. Prof. TD repeated his sentiments and gave everyone one last chance. The language he used made me feel that he was writing to me, not to the rest of the class. And so, first thing next morning, I went to his office. Without giving me a chance to speak, he told me that it was I who had disappointed him the most and that his last e-mail had been written only for me as everyone else had already confessed. He also showed me the exact places in the code where I had made changes. I tried to explain, but partly because there wasn't any real explanation except a period of moral weakness and partly because I was on the verge of tears, I couldn't utter anything coherent. I managed to mumble a "sorry" and left.

Rest of the classes passed by in a daze. I still did well at the final exams, but didn't get the 'A' I should have received had the evaluation been purely on the basis of marks. Needless to say, I didn't press the point.

Fast forward to one year later.

I had managed, after a lot of hard work, to complete my undergrad thesis and expected a 7 or 8 grade on it. The experimental apparatus had kept breaking down, and I had to stay an extra summer to complete the experiments and write my thesis to make sure that I met all the requirements before graduation day.

Our university required the thesis presentation to be evaluated by the thesis supervisor and another professor ('examiner') from the same department. As luck would have it, the designated examiner was no longer available. The head of department and my supervisor asked to me find an examiner for myself (they couldn't care less about an undergrad thesis, of course). I went to Prof. TD's office, explained my situation to him and requested him to be the examiner. He agreed without asking "why me". The thesis presentation itself was quite unremarkable, but they gave me a 6/10 grade. For some reason, it didn't bother me at all.

Fast forward to two more years later.

After having made a drastic change of careers, I finally managed to write a proper note of apology and gratitude to Prof. TD. I thanked him for having taught me that honest work is worth more than just the latest evaluation and is a reward in itself.

I am writing this about ten years after the actual incident, and yet, it has set my heartbeat racing. I don't think I am going to forget the lesson in a hurry.
posted by vidur at 10:43 PM on November 18, 2010 [58 favorites]


"Strategic Management"

Naum Jasny would he laugh or would he cry?
posted by clavdivs at 10:48 PM on November 18, 2010


stoneweaver: He's not at fault for using a test bank. The students are at fault for cheating and stealing the exam.

I've had professors who used the textbook and professors who wrote the textbook. There is quite a difference between the two.

This guy is teaching a senior-level capstone course, 600 students at a time, with video-lectures and a canned test bank. He should be ashamed at the lack of effort and attention he gave to his students and school's reputation.
posted by peeedro at 10:53 PM on November 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


On second thought, maybe we should spare some more sympathy for the prof; he can't reasonably be expected to come up with his own exam material, what with the demands of prepping a single, 80-minute lecture per week. All he has to fall back on are 13 TAs and the fact that he's given the course for years, so he can just blow the dust off the old slides.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:57 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


All he has to fall back on are 13 TAs and the fact that he's given the course for years, so he can just blow the dust off the old slides.

At least you'd think he could wear a tie.
posted by peeedro at 11:02 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


My heart sank as soon as he said "but I didn't want to have to explain to your parents why you didn't graduate" (or words to that effect), as I instantly knew that he was going to offer some kind of face saving deal:
- Because all the chat about "forensic examination" and "95% sure" was all bullshit
- Because they didn't want to lose the funding the get for 200 students
posted by djgh at 11:07 PM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I really want one of his students to bring him a signed letter from God.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:11 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seems like a lot of people here haven't been in college lately. (or are fancy tiny private school people)

A course like this is organized into several smaller lectures taught by different professors, with common exams. Sometimes professors take turns writing exams, and collaborate on material, or they all just follow one professor. (It might be the case that one is tenure, and the rest are associate or non-tenure)

There might be three to six 150 person lectures on a fundamental course that every one in that major requires. Each lecture has several TAs. If you need office hours, you shouldn't have a problem. No, it's not cozy or personable, but we're talking about courses that you should probably be able to pass in your sleep anyways.

When it comes time to test these 600 people, your handy gigantic computer bank is scheduled for a block of time, like a day or two. These labs are usually open 24 hours. If you want to take your exam at 2am, you're welcome to. My university bought some space in a strip mall and put 500 iMacs in it. It is a soul crushing, fluorescent light buzzing hell hole. Deliriously working my way through an online administered freshman calc class I often imagined apocalyptic movie plots being set there...

Anyways, 600 person courses isn't the problem, cheating is. The asshole student "reporter" who thinks he's pulling a "gotchya" on this guy should probably have some sense slapped into him. Any student who thinks having an illicit copy of any exam questions is ethical or acceptable, regardless of how impersonal his or her course is or how "lazy" their professor is, is clearly not mature enough for college level course work.

The year after I graduated a professor had just gotten approval to have a lecture in the huge auditorium where big events like my college graduation are normally held. It seats 3000. Granted this professor authored his own text book after the style of a super hero comic book, (with himself as the super hero or course) and includes a dozen cocktail recipes, but I think I'm saving that story for a December FPP entry.
posted by fontophilic at 11:20 PM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ok, wait a second. I didn't realize this was a senior level course. I was talking about Comm 1001 or Business 1001, or a frosh calc course I should have taken in high school. Ya know, crappy courses that professors don't want to teach, and any halfwit can basically teach themselves.

Holy crap, a senior level course? With one third of the people cheating? What a shitty school.
posted by fontophilic at 11:28 PM on November 18, 2010


Man, anyone sitting in a senior-level course with 600 people in it (or, for that matter, 200) pretty much deserves what they get. My understanding was that one gets the bullshit standing-room-only classes out of the way the first year, and then gets on to building personal relationships with profs in the subject matter they want to pursue. This is done by taking concentrated classes with only about 30 students, and repeating this for three years. With 600 students there's no space for mentorship; it's all just a question of grading multiple choice questions with maximal efficiency.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:32 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hahaha. He's teaching business management and he's surprised to see underhanded and dishonest behavior of his students?

LOL.
posted by delmoi at 11:34 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


So where is the ethical line drawn on the famous practice of people reviewing a professor's previous years of tests. It's a sort of "test bank" created by looking at the last 3 years or so of the class tests and lots of famous stories involve frat houses keeping copies of all tests by all profs for years on end to help study.

I ask because a friend once scrapped together a few past versions of an upcoming test from previous students that took the course (he just asked them for the old tests). The prof made his own tests and he was famous for being insanely tricky in his multiple choice questions (half the test was essay). It was possible to know the material really well and still fall flat on his multiple choice questions because they contained strange double negatives, lots of none of the above or all of the above and covered a lot of edge cases.

I ask because this friend in the class showed the previous tests to a small study group we had going and we walked through each version of the old test. The test day came around and about half of the test was stuff we'd seen before and our scores set the curve for the class. A few people in the class heard about the old tests and thought it was unfair, and reported it to the professor, who ended up personally putting 3 years of previous versions of every test in the library after that.

To this day, I'm not sure I did anything wrong, we already knew the material (this was a core class in my major) but we felt we had to do something extra to get over the tricks the prof set up in his tests, and we simply studied old tests to see what stuff might be tested. I never really felt like it was a cut and dry ethical problem.

In this story, they're kind of crossing a line by obtaining the professor-only test booklet, but then again, a friend gathering up past versions of tests isn't much different in terms of what material the students (and I in my own case) got to study to prepare for a test. I'm not sure why the students in Florida are cheaters and why I don't really feel like one (maybe I should?).
posted by mathowie at 11:37 PM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


^A little more Googling shows that UCF is the third largest university in the nation

Earlier this month it became the second largest.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 11:46 PM on November 18, 2010


You know, there's no reason these kids couldn't just buy a textbook, a video lecture subscription and take some online tests for $60. I guess maybe the "High-tech testing center" has some value in keeping out obvious cheaters.

Anyway, education is so overpriced, it's ridiculous. And this university has 53k students! WTF? It seems like it's more of a factory then an educational institution.

Also on the page where they talk about how they're the third largest university, they mention ASU is the largest. That probably explains why I hear so much about it, but almost everything I hear about them casts them in a negative light.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 PM on November 18, 2010


Wow. Just wow, MeFi. You lazy-arsed bunch of cheating motherfuckers. And you don't even have the good manners to take your second chance with some grace. No, sir. That professor was lazy. He practically forced them to cheat. He wouldn't ever have caught them. They were 'just studying'. Or they 'accidentally transgressed without realising it'.

Because 'just studying' always gives your grade curve a big pair of fucking binomial titties a full cup and a half bigger than anybody's ever seen before. And you always boast about how you were 'just studying' to your classmates. And people feel the urge to complain anonymously about 'just studying'. And it's all that damn professor's fault, the big bully. He was totally making it up. I'm sure that the fact he said a third of the class cheated and a third of the class confessed was just a fluke. Just like that second spike in the grade curve. Studying. Accidental. Could've happened anytime in the last 20 years. Didn't, and couldn't, but you know - it's his fault.

Fucking mouthbreathers.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:01 AM on November 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with what you did, mathowie. In my school the student union had a registry with several years worth of exams for every cooperating professor. (Most of them cooperated.) Everybody used the registry, and it helped, but the questions were never exactly the same from year to year.

I guess the difference here is that these students had access to the exact questions and answers that would appear on the test. They were buried in all other questions in the bank, but the advantage was still there.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:12 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am writing this about ten years after the actual incident, and yet, it has set my heartbeat racing. I don't think I am going to forget the lesson in a hurry.

vidur,

with all due respect...I would NEVER expect to hear this kind of heartfelt explanation from MOST b-school students. Seriously, its another dynamic there. Its not about doing your work and letting that stand for your character and knowledge, its about "getting it done". Thats all. Huge difference between b-school and every other department/school of a university.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:17 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went to one of those tiny private schools. The only past exams we had access to were for our comprehensive exams, and even then, we were only given past questions without their accompanying correct answers. We had to find the correct answers for these past questions ourselves, they were never provided to us by our professors. If I had been caught with a text book publisher's test bank like the kids in Florida, I would have been expelled from school. But I went to a tiny Southern liberal arts school with a VERY strict honor code and have never sat in a "high tech testing center" in my life, so...there you go.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 12:18 AM on November 19, 2010


I came in to make a business student joke, but saw eye of newt had already made one. So I'm just gonna copy it, it's easier that way:

This is a business class, right? Shouldn't the cheaters be given extra credit?

Where's my credits/favorites now?
posted by formless at 12:36 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


There are 700 questions in the bank. 50 of those questions appear on the exam. How many questions do I need to memorize to have a reasonable chance of seeing 40 of them on the test?
posted by Marty Marx at 12:37 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeeeah, that felt more like a police interrogation than anything else. Barring some sort of direct evidence, forensic data analysis is going to give them broad statistics and confidence intervals. Oh, there might be one or two idiots who had been doing poorly up until that point who scored 90% or something, and those guys would probably be better off coming forward since there was little downside, but the mass of students would be fine just keeping their traps shut.

The time-limited huge carrot, huge stick thing is designed to exert enough psychological pressure so that the suspect I mean student can't think rationally about the situation. I'm not saying they shouldn't come forward as an ethical matter but, practically speaking, that WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE, WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE stuff was mostly bullshit.
posted by Justinian at 12:39 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. Just wow, MeFi. You lazy-arsed bunch of cheating motherfuckers. And you don't even have the good manners to take your second chance with some grace. No, sir. That professor was lazy. He practically forced them to cheat. He wouldn't ever have caught them. They were 'just studying'. Or they 'accidentally transgressed without realising it'.

You've got a big fucking mouth, you know that?

Now, I didn't go to the sort of "university" where this sort of thing is even possible, but we certainly did study from past paper for the same class. Same thing for standardised exams I took in secondary school (IGCSEs and IB), I'm not sure I see the difference between that and this?
I really do think it is likely that many of these students didn't realise quite how controlled these question banks are supposed to be. Every - literally every - certification exam with which I am familiar has huge numbers of potential questions available from the certifying authority or from third party providers.
These are likely to be familiar with how examinations for CPAs, CFA, etc are run, not to mention bar exams. In all of these cases, extensive study of past questions and potential posed questions are the core of exam preparation. I've seen no evidence that these students were aware that these were the literal questions from which their actual exam would be drawn up. This is the first time I've ever heard of such a thing. Could any current or recent American student clarify whether how this question bank thing works is common knowledge among undergraduates?
posted by atrazine at 12:53 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is why I think it's important that instructors specify acceptable and unacceptable study sources when making tests. The problem here, in my opinion, is not that students memorized the question bank, but that some students were privy to crucial information about the test and that others were not. Previous versions of tests will be out in the world, especially at universities with frats and sororities, and it's not fair to students if you don't give everyone access to them or be explicit that seeking out previous exams is cheating. That said, this is a case where the students totally knew they were doing something inappropriate. Instructors questions banks are so clearly not for dissemination that I doubt that any person could in good faith argue that they weren't crossing some boundary.
posted by Schismatic at 12:55 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Skip to 8:35 in the video. Here's the deal:
1. You say you're a cheater
2. You take a 4-hour ethics class
3. You, like everyone else in the class, retakes the test
4. All record of any alleged cheating is wiped out, and you finish the course as usual

Given that you spend about 35,000 hours of your life getting a 4-year degree, you'd need to have a 99.99% confidence that you wouldn't be mistakenly identified as a cheater for this to be a deal you shouldn't take regardless of whether or not you cheated. The remarkable thing is that only 1/3rd of the class has taken the deal when the possibility of being falsely accused of reading something you weren't supposed to have read is present.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:14 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


On that essay thread the other day where there was a stampede to condemn the guy selling his essay writing services, I suggested that faculties should be exerting more quality control, such as by administering in-class tests or using other methods to see if students really knew the material.

It was explained to me that educators don't have the resources or skills to apply this sort of analysis to students' work and that it's unfair to expect them to do so; and in any case, universities are predicated on the idea that people who are there to learn. It was emphatically not the fault of the faculty, I was told, and while it was somewhat the fault of the students trying to buy their way out of really doing the work, the real blame attached to those who were so lacking in morals as to assist them. Such people were the academic equivalent of dope peddlers, corrupting innocent youth and distracting the hapless, unworldly professors whose life's joy was to share the wisdom of the ages with hungry young intellects.

So I opened up this thread thinking people would be lining up to praise this guy's commitment to pedagogical integrity. What an educational week this is turning out to be.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:29 AM on November 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I'd hardly call this "cheating". Maybe "poor sportsmanship". "Taking advantage of the sloppiness associated with testing a class with a size of 600".
posted by tehloki at 1:31 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"(It should go without saying that acquiring something like a Teacher's Edition of a book in order to gain access to questions ahead of time is cheating.) "

Whoa there, it does need to be said and justified as things aren't always clear-cut. Nowadays it's often ludicrously unrealistic to think in terms of secrets and 'privileged information'; once that PDF of a book, or spreadsheet of test questions, is out onto the 'net then the entire system's broken. Then you start wondering where to draw lines in terms of one book being good but another forbidden, and why the system is so fragile and simplistic.

And that's what's been highlighted here: the professor's testing system has been completely compromised and should be scrapped, whatever the ethical codes in force.

I recently did the UK's driving theory test, and passed easily by spending a day going through all 1000-odd questions in advance. This is perfectly legal, and they couldn't stop it by banning it as 'unethical', they'd need to have a sufficiently large bank of questions to make going through it no more valuable than studying other sources.
posted by malevolent at 1:39 AM on November 19, 2010


its been a pedagogical year . If 1000 questions are given and needed in say engineering. all. if not most.
plagerism is wrong it has always been a commodity.
posted by clavdivs at 1:49 AM on November 19, 2010


Because 'just studying' always gives your grade curve a big pair of fucking binomial titties a full cup and a half bigger than anybody's ever seen before. And you always boast about how you were 'just studying' to your classmates. And people feel the urge to complain anonymously about 'just studying'.

There may be a bimodal distribution, but there's no way to tell which of the two composite distributions each student is actually on.
posted by delmoi at 1:55 AM on November 19, 2010


Presented without comment: the response video referred to in the Knight News piece.
posted by Chichibio at 2:39 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nobody has commented on the MOST AWFUL part of this, which is that everyone has to retake the test. That is absolute bullshit.

Prof: "It is mandatory for everybody."

Student: "Even those who did not participate?"

Prof: "Yep."

That's how the conversation went. And this is how it would end if I were the student:

Student: "Um, no, that's bullshit."

There is no way in hell I'm taking that new test if I didn't cheat on the old one. I'm talking to the professor, the dean, the president of the damn university, I am not taking that test. Besides, they "know" who did it, right?
posted by papayaninja at 2:55 AM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Where's my credits/favorites now?

[!] See Me.
posted by eriko at 3:01 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Whoa there, it does need to be said and justified as things aren't always clear-cut. Nowadays it's often ludicrously unrealistic to think in terms of secrets and 'privileged information'; once that PDF of a book, or spreadsheet of test questions, is out onto the 'net then the entire system's broken.

There are two different issues here. One is whether a professor writes a good test or not. I agree that not acknowledging that certain information is only quasi-secret is probably poor test-making. However, the issue of student academic ethics is totally separate. Just because it's easy to cheat doesn't make it an acceptable thing to do. There is a certain small fraction of undergraduates (I suspect larger in business than in physics, where I TAed) that seem to obey quantum mechanics: unless explicitly, directly, and specifically forbidden from doing something, they will engage in any activity possible with zero self-doubt. That being said, while looking at not-to-be-spread textbook publishers' question banks is unethical (though not, in my opinion, to the same degree that, say, plagiarism is), I wouldn't say the same thing about a fraternity's file of previous years' tests.
posted by Schismatic at 3:09 AM on November 19, 2010


papayaninja: That's one of the reasons (besides math and logic) that you know the profs thing about knowing with absolute confidence who the cheaters are is bullshit. The only reason to make everyone retake the test is if you don't know who cheated.
posted by Justinian at 3:12 AM on November 19, 2010


Nobody has commented on the MOST AWFUL part of this, which is that everyone has to retake the test. That is absolute bullshit.

Prof: "It is mandatory for everybody."


Yeah, that's where he lost me too. "Guess what? EVERYBODY has to re-take the test!"

No apologies for inconveniencing innocent people with his failed test design?
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:16 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Skip to 8:35 in the video. Here's the deal:
1. You say you're a cheater
2. You take a 4-hour ethics class
3. You, like everyone else in the class, retakes the test
4. All record of any alleged cheating is wiped out, and you finish the course as usual


Translation: The professor is blatantly cheating. 4 hours is less than fighting it would take. So the economically sensible thing to do is admit to being a cheater in the full knowledge that the entire record will be wiped out. And the professor gets fame and to blow his own trumpet by claiming he found some cheats. An excellent lesson in strategic management - the value of the nuisance lawsuit.

I wasn't sure from the discussion which side I was on - how seriously the test bank was meant to be secured (and I will bet that even if it was initially stolen, most of the students didn't realise - if it was on the web then they deserve those results).
posted by Francis at 3:41 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


1) The derail about how this is no big deal because these are business students at some giant educational puppy mill is complete bullshit. I've attended both elite, privileged institutions and public ones bursting at the seems. There were cheaters and scumbags among the students AND the staff at both. And no, the discipline didn't matter. Your favorite discipline (or university for that matter) isn't any more noble than any other.

2) This professor is doing these kids a favor and teaching them something that they obviously should have been taught a LONG time ago. Good for him. Complaints about how other students should re-take the test are also complete bullshit. If you were legitimately ready before, you're ready now. If I were one of his students, I'm be jumping for joy that one of my professors both a) took the time to put us all on notice and b) set up an environment (in the form of the re-test) where I can get the score I actually earned.

3) BTW: score I earned as defined by the rest of the class population. I've gotten "A"s with 35/100 where the mean was 30 +/-5. Even I don't think that was a particularly well written exam, or a particularly good professor, but if you're using bell curves, have the balls to actually use them.

4) Re: cheating as training for the business world. Kids need to understand when stealing work or ideas is and is not OK. The overly earnest new hire who's constantly reinventing the wheel is no more use to me than the somewhat productive but completely unoriginal one. Both could use some time in each others kitchens. Also: an exam? In school? Not OK.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:50 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


This example illustrates:
  1. It it ethically wrong for students to cheat on tests, and they should be punished when caught
  2. Teachers with 20+ years experience should know better than to use test questions provided by the textbook publishers
  3. It's 2010, and for a large part our education system still hasn't figured out a better way to assess what students have learned than standardized, rote memorization tests
  4. All of the above
posted by SteveInMaine at 4:01 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


So, you can view Quinn's syllabus at a link (Word file) on his web page for the capstone course. He is the one overall lecture instructor of the entire section, and then he has a mass of TAs who teach the smaller "lab sections."

The syllabus has a large section on cheating, plagiarism, and the penalties, but it never lists specific behaviors that constitute cheating in his course (nor does the UCF "Golden Rule handbook"). It does define and discuss plagiarism at great length. One thing I've found very helpful is to itemize in each course what behaviors are acceptable and which ones will get you auto-flunked with extreme prejudice, and I think Quinn tried to do that but just blithely assumes that "everyone knows" what cheating is when, as this thread demonstrates, some other instructors would have no problem with students using the test bank as a "study aid."

Especially when the course has a bunch of hands-on written assignments and post-lecture quizzes, I'm not sure why Quinn even bothers with these massive pointless multiple-choice midterm and final exams at all. Using such a high-stakes assessment of a type that you know people have been finding ways to game for roughly the past century when you already have several other, more productive and less problematic ones in place isn't really the most strategic management approach.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:09 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a plausible scenario:

Student A buys Teacher's Edition online, at Amazon or eBay, not because they're a big cheatyface, but because it's cheaper. Student A has no idea how Teacher's Edition differs, having never seen one before. The book turns out to be virtually the same, except it has a CDRom with a PDF of the homework answers (which Student A doesn't use except to check work) and a file labeled "test questions."

Student A thinks to him/herself, "wow, what a great resource. These are really good practice," and sends the file along to some friends, who then send it along to others. Cheating ring nothing, it's just friends helping one another out. Besides, Prof. Quinn makes the tests himself (or so he says), so it's just extra study materials.

Oops, Prof. Quinn lied, and the "test questions" were actually exactly that. He goes into a fit of apoplectic rage, and accuses folks of cheating, as though they could have known that his "making the tests himself" was simply cutting and pasting from the security-through-obscurity Teacher's Edition.

To all the folks here who are decrying the "cheaters," do you really think they went up to the professor, asked him if he makes the tests from the textbook's test bank, and then went out there and checked it anyway? That's the only scenario in which a cry of "cheaters!" is remotely accurate. Otherwise it's just a matter of studying from support materials which the teacher didn't expect to be consulted. Students are pretty savvy these days. Legal or not, the internet will provide them with the supplementary materials to their (very expensive) textbooks.

The professor is really the one breaking ethics, by lying to his students about how the tests are made, and subsequently wasting their time because he generated a test from publisher materials rather than taking the time to make his own test.
posted by explosion at 4:25 AM on November 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


I think what a lot of people are saying is that it's a little hard to see why it's "cheating" to study a set of questions and answers that you did not know were going to be on a test ... in fact, in this case, a set of questions and answers you were specifically told were *not* going to be the specific test questions.

It's not exactly the same as buying an essay someone else wrote and passing it off as your own, or writing an answer down on your shirtcuff during a closd-book test. In fact, to a lot of people, it sounds a lot like "studying".
posted by kyrademon at 5:01 AM on November 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


Student A buys Teacher's Edition online, at Amazon or eBay, not because they're a big cheatyface, but because it's cheaper. Student A has no idea how Teacher's Edition differs, having never seen one before. The book turns out to be virtually the same, except it has a CDRom with a PDF of the homework answers (which Student A doesn't use except to check work) and a file labeled "test questions."

Pretty unlikely, since it doesn't really work that way. These instructor-only resources aren't guarded like state secrets, but publishers don't attach them to "instructor editions" of books. Many of these pricy mass-sale textbooks don't even have distinct "teacher editions" anymore because that's commercially inefficient when you can produce just one standard version and give the instructor electronic extras. When a faculty member officially adopts a textbook, (s)he may receive a CD from the publisher rep along with the desk copy, but it's not attached to the book. If anything is actually packaged inside a book's spine or shrinkwrap, it's a disc of student-aimed stuff. More and more,all these resources are online, and the instructor ones are password protected. For me to get my individual password, I have to contact my publisher rep.

The only reason I know this is that I just ordered a new book for an upcoming course, and yesterday the publisher sent me the instructions for accessing online prof material. I never have reason to use those materials, but if I did, or when I base discussion questions or paper topics on ones in a textbook or website or revamp a handout a colleague openly shared with me, I do it with attribution.

Generic passwords may be given to some instructors who are considering adopting a text so they can check out the extras, and I bet those make their way into the hands of TAs or undergrad student workers . . . and there you go. So I'm sure the occasional instructor resources CD or password ends up for sale online, but this would be roughly equivalent to a pirate DVD. The end user may or may not realize it's not a legit item, but somewhere up the food chain, somebody had to knowingly violate a trust or agreement. Whether one considers that first violation an ethical lapse or fair game is in the eye of the beholder.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:06 AM on November 19, 2010


Here's a plausible scenario:

Student A buys Teacher's Edition online, at Amazon or eBay, not because they're a big cheatyface, but because it's cheaper. Student A has no idea how Teacher's Edition differs, having never seen one before. The book turns out to be virtually the same, except it has a CDRom with a PDF of the homework answers (which Student A doesn't use except to check work) and a file labeled "test questions."


Implausible. The teachers materials aren't really buy-able in this way. They wouldn't be on Amazon and it's difficult to imagine a prof putting them on ebay. The textbook publishers give them away for free (like the books) to professors. The textbook publishers have regional reps that promote their books to universities within their geographical area, answer questions about the book and basically serve professors. Basically the way you get these materials is a) Email the publisher and tell them you're teaching course XYZ and ask for the book and materials. b) Email your rep with the publishing company and ask for the book and materials. c) Approach the publisher's booth at a conference, tell them you're teaching XYZ and ask for the book and materials. d) Publishers look up who teaches what and sends out unsolicited books/materials to their university addresses.

For the material to go from the publisher to some other person requires someone approaching the publisher about a course they're teaching. Yeah, a student could lie, but it would be pretty easy to get caught since someone who didn't provide a university mailing address and/or university email address (either of which would identify the student) would probably at least be googled to confirm that they're a prof teaching a course (if only to be added to the publisher's rep's database of contacts).

Yeah, I guess a prof could then make the materials available (though I've generally assumed that somewhere along the line I've agreed not to release the prof's materials in some licensing agreement).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:08 AM on November 19, 2010


A little more Googling shows that UCF is the third largest university in the nation, which maybe explains the DAMN HUGE class sizes.

FWIW, UCF is now the second largest university in the country this fall. Ahead of Ohio State, behind Arizonia State. They are, however, the largest undergraduate university in the country.

Also, this teacher's laziness and inability to due his job will end up tarnishing hundreds of kids records. If you're teaching a 600 person class, the least you can do is make up questions that aren't found in study materials.
posted by rulethirty at 5:24 AM on November 19, 2010


Surprised this thread hasn't linked the national ABC story that covered this issue:

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/widespread-cheating-scandal-prompts-florida-professor-issues-ultimatum/story?id=11737137&page=2

Specifically, the stunningly particular made-me-chew-glass cheating apologist, Konstantin Ravvin:

"This is college. Everyone cheats, everyone cheats in life in general," Ravvin said. "I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in this testing lab who hasn't cheated on an exam."

Ah, hang on, maybe it's due to ABC not actually keeping that video on the page. Hmm... let's see...

Meh. Central Florica ABC Affiliate WFTV has Konstantin's cheating quote rebranded for local media.

When you say to me "Oh, sure, it's okay to cheat, surely, surely everyone has cheated once or twice, so that makes my action moral and justified", you lose credit to me as being a morally and socially grounded human being.

"I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do."
posted by cavalier at 5:26 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Management students cut corners to get the results their superior demands? Sounds like they've learned their lessons well and will probably go far.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:27 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are qualifying exams in most grad schools for mathematics, the main hurdle for being admitted to PhD candidacy. All the old written qualifying exams are archived on the department's website. All graduate students preparing for the written qualifying exams are explicitly told : go solve all the old ones first.

For many math PhDs, their written and oral qualifying exams are perhaps the only times in their lives when they've really "studied" per se. You see, normally merely doing the homework energetically during the semester suffices for acing any math course's final exam, well assuming you're clever.

Of course, no math grad program would ever just recycle an old written qualifying exam!
posted by jeffburdges at 5:30 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, the teacher only materials are often made available by teachers who are pro-open source. When there was a textbook shortage, one of my teachers slit and scanned a copy of his text (he wrote it) and posted it for the class. I can see some helpful prof who wrote his own exams assigning the test bank as extra reading because mine often do.

Plus, about 30% of the time, texts come with a year long code that allows you to access a website with the test bank. In another class, searching to explain concepts comes across a textbook website with lists of questions. That might be cheating in theory, but so is wikipedia, my go to source for concepts that aren't clear, by that extension. Basically there's no way to know if a test bank is sacrosanct, clever study resources or absolutely bloody useless unless the prof tells you. Which of course, (s)he doesn't.
posted by Phalene at 5:31 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For starters, this exam is produced out of a test bank - meaning that not only are you scoring yourself vs. your own class, you are scoring yourself vs. every class that has ever passed through this school. As a senior - that means, no curve - no mercy - at least that's how I'd view it. There are very few college courses where this is a reality.

For engineering, this was my statics class (First year). *Every* engineer took statics. Like the course in question, there was a principal lecture and then several labs taught by TAs. There was no curve, there was no deviation from homework form submission. If you scored a D, you knew that it was a valid D. You also didn't pass, but that's immaterial. The point was that it effectively leveled and normalized the playing field - and that is one hell of a good lesson - that at some point you actually need to not only learn the material, but that you are graded on the final result and not on how relatively well you do to your classmates. That meant that the testbank was off limits - and there were no excuses to be looking at anything like it.

Ok, so here's how I could tell you if you *probably* cheated on an exam. For starters, given that the course was selected from a test bank, this means that if the instructor picks 50 questions from random from the test that he will produce a sufficiently normalized test result: some questions will be hard, some easy, and most at a level that reflects your competency. The bank may have these segmented out, then again, it may also just truly allow these to be random.

He showed two graphs, last semester's class and this years. He did this because showing the students this year's results and this year's expected results (I'll explain how you get this result in just a moment) would have probably confused them. By comparing the expected results and the actual results, one could apparently see that the displaced population was about 1/3 of the class. So, from this he can claim 1/3 of the class is cheating. The reality is though, that just gives him the population of cheaters - not who cheated. To do that, we need to understand the pattern behavior of the students.

Next, you aren't just scoring on the exam, your scoring on the question - meaning that if this question had been asked on 6 prior exams, you were scoring vs. a population of ~3600 students. Now to understand whether or not you should get the question right or wrong one has to basically cross this question with a related question which you *should* get wrong. Basically you build a pooled data set. From this, you can build a map that answers the question of "if the student answered these 3 questions like this, then this other should be answered like this." Effectively, you then have a profile of students who answered this question incorrectly and what other questions they should likely answer incorrectly as well. What that means is that if you were mapping this, you would see some strong outliers if someone one took the test without understanding the material but had a cheat sheet. What this also does is prevent someone from memorizing the sheet and making intentional errors to prevent someone from noticing they cheated - because the errors wouldn't make sense.

So, can you beat the system? Yes. Is it likely? No.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:34 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Everyone knows in a real work environment, you can never google for the answers.
posted by empath at 5:45 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are you a witch? If you say yes, nothing bad will happen to you. You will take an anti-witch ethics course and we'll send you on your way. If you say no, we will run your information through this witch divining algorithm and if it comes up with the statistical probability that you are a witch, we will burn you at the stake. So, what's your answer: yes or no?
posted by Skwirl at 6:01 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


"That being said, while looking at not-to-be-spread textbook publishers' question banks is unethical (though not, in my opinion, to the same degree that, say, plagiarism is), I wouldn't say the same thing about a fraternity's file of previous years' tests."

The thing is, the "not-to-be-spread" bit just doesn't work any more.
So you can carry on with a broken system that relies entirely on students' ethics and often punishes those who don't cheat, or fix the problem properly by creating exams in a different way.
posted by malevolent at 6:04 AM on November 19, 2010


This is too funny.

For years, he's been pretending to teach and his students have been pretending to learn. He gets paid, they get a diploma, everyone's happy. This year, his students got to be so good at pretending to learn they broke the curve, which exposed the whole pretend-along-charade.

Now he's pretending to care, but like every other cheater he only cares because he got caught.
posted by hoople at 6:11 AM on November 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


Still unclear to me: Did the students know exactly which 50 (or whatever) questions would be on the test, or did they only have access to the test-bank pool of 700 (or whatever) questions from which the test questions drawn?
posted by stargell at 6:24 AM on November 19, 2010


Yeah he clearly said in the "rebuttal video" he wrote the questions. So there is a pretty decent chance you could go over all the test bank questions without even thinking they would appear.how many of us here have taken practice tests with questions from previous years.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:26 AM on November 19, 2010


Wait, he caught the students cheating and then made his TAs work overtime to draft a new test? What?

As a former TA, this is the one part of this whole, sad, soggy story that made complete sense to me. The students very rarely get in serious trouble for cheating, because the process is a huge pain in the ass and you end up getting irate calls from their mom. The prof gets excited, but keeps on doing his/her regular thing. And the poor TAs get to work like dogs.

It's a shit-rolls-downhill situation, and the TAs are genuinely at the bottom of the hill.

That said, I agree completely with everyone who has said that having a senior, capstone class with an enrollment of 600 is a total joke. That's a puppy mill, not a school. Or rather, it's a school, but not one at which it appears there is support and opportunities for individualized, intense, and formative undergraduate education. It's an efficient way to move large numbers of students through the system, and obviously they all learn things -- but not in the same way that they would if they spent their time in classrooms with 10 or 20 other students and were forced to articulate and defend their ideas, engage deeply with primary sources, and all the other things that simply don't happen when you have 600 students and a multiple choice exam.

Test banks are a time-honored and totally honest way of studying when the test bank is made openly available to all students. When you have surreptitious access, that's cheating. (However, I can totally understand the impulse, if you were faced with a crappy prof and a crappy class; it would feel like a real relief to have a more efficient path to learning the canned knowledge you would be required to recite for the final. That doesn't excuse it, but I do think it is understandable.)

So I blame the university for setting up a system which forces this kind of learning environment, the prof for being lazy, and a significant proportion of the students for trying to game the system dishonestly.
posted by Forktine at 6:37 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


The student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers maintained a test bank at my school. There were plenty of professors that not only didn't change the questions on the test, they didn't even change the order of the questions. There was one exam where all 30 people got 100% on the exam, except for one guy. He purposely got one wrong so it didn't look like he had been cheating. It was an open notes exam, so there wasn't anything the professor could really do, although the next exam had some new questions on it. Most everyone still got an A, cause that prof was just phoning it in.
posted by electroboy at 6:41 AM on November 19, 2010


If it is a multiple choice test and no mathematical calculations were involved, then it is more likely than not that his test was solely on 'knowledge.'

Knowledge (raw fact) is the lowest tier of understanding. Given enough time, monkeys can spit out facts, they just don't understand them.

Add to this the fact that it is 2010 and knowledge is pervasive and the accumulation of it, speed of access to it and ease of access to it is accelerating, then giving a knowledge test to a university class is an insulting, time and money wasting, pointless, anachronistic endeavor.

I haven't met this guy, I haven't read all of the articles, but - if this was a multiple choice knowledge test, then this man has no business in front of a 600 person class at 500 bucks a head. None. Zero. What a ridiculous waste of effort, time and possibly student careers.
posted by Fuka at 6:47 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hope the prof figures out what his "last 20 years" was for....
posted by mrmarley at 6:48 AM on November 19, 2010


When I went to business school, I did not see as much cheating as in the other disciplines. There was a lot of team projects as well as individual exams. There was a LOT of healthy competition - and knowing just about all your classmates from having worked with them in multiple classes over multiple years there was a strange peer pressure not to cheat, not to leave your peers in the dust. If one person cheated the entire class cheated...
Then again, my lectures were 40 kids a class and the work was team projects. A little less incentive to get away with cheating than when you are in a lecture with 600 competing faces. I wish other people had my experience.
posted by hillabeans at 6:48 AM on November 19, 2010


Omg his good cop/bad cop manipulative BS is so ridiculous! If you don't confess to me, the big bad administration will take over with forensic data analysis OH SPOOKY. I just want to hop down there and be like NO ONE SAY A WORD THEY HAVE NOTHING ON YOU! LAWYERED!

OK, I admit it, law school has changed me.
posted by prefpara at 6:48 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


so, basically, if a certain percentage of people don't get enough questions wrong, then that is evidence that they have cheated

my suspicions that present day americans are being set up and groomed for failure and mediocrity just gained another data point - the system doesn't want excellence - doesn't tolerate it for a minute - it wants people with half-assed achievements who can be conditioned to be supplicant and subservient as they say, "we know we're not worthy, but please give us the things we want anyway"

it starts with the churches, who tell us we are intrinsically evil, then the media, who show us people who have looks, possessions and personalities that few of us will ever manage to get, then the schools, where 35/100 can be defined as "success", then our jobs, where tests and requirements are often sprung on people who have been given nothing to prepare them for it, where job requirements for applicants are artificially inflated past any realistic ability to actually do the job, where wages are suppressed so people borrow to get the lifestyle they've been conditioned to want, and then our politics, where we are informed that many of us are unworthy and should make themselves worthy rather than have any kind of a sustainable life

short version - it's our fault and we should be grateful for whatever we get from the people who are running things - and thou shalt not be, under any circumstances whatsoever, anything like a special snowflake, that specious phrase with which people internalize the chains and blinders that have been put upon them

people cheated in a con game - well, you know what they say in the carnival - there's no such thing as an honest mark

and a fish rots from the head on down
posted by pyramid termite at 6:52 AM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Additionally (this has me a bit miffed) - it is naive to believe that your 'secret' test bank can't be accessed. Seriously - the days of filing cabinets and physical locks are over. Regardless of anything this lecturer needs to grow up.

I get that the students 'wrongly' accessed the the test bank. But it's electronic knowledge. If you can't accept that it is going to get loose, you're living in a dream world.
posted by Fuka at 6:55 AM on November 19, 2010


Omg his good cop/bad cop manipulative BS is so ridiculous! If you don't confess to me, the big bad administration will take over with forensic data analysis OH SPOOKY.

I really want to favorite your comment, I really do. I'm trying to do you a favor here, but if you're not going to cooperate, you're going to make me flag it and then its in jessamyn and cortex's hands and I won't be able to help you.
posted by electroboy at 6:57 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now that I think about it. He probably delegated writing the exam to the TAs and they just took the questions from the test bank. Clusterfuck all around.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:06 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I attend the College of Engineering at UCF. My wife very recently graduated from the College of Business at UCF. Whether or not the professor or his students are at fault for cheating is irrelevant. The relevant result of this "scandal" is a large amount of negative publicity directed specifically at UCF undergraduates. What happened at the school directly affects my wife's job prospects. Let me be completely clear. This incident has hurt my family and makes my wife look like an asshole because of her alma mater and choice of degree.

If there is criticism to be leveled at anyone, I blame the school for not exercising a certain degree of discretion in its handling of this incident. Maybe UCF is a diploma mill. Maybe 200 students are lazy, cheating idiots. Maybe the lazy professor should take the time to create his own exams. None of those arguments are important relative to the real harm that has been done. If there are guilty parties, take some punitive measures and be done with it.

Or we could make a YouTube video of the professor being melodramatic in his outrage. The word disappointed cannot adequately describe what I am feeling. I am physically ill and completely disgusted to even be making this post.
posted by aurelius at 7:18 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've done some college teaching and was amazed by the occasional students who couldn't write coherent sentences to introduce or link together copy-and-pasted paragraphs from books and published articles.

Like most fields, the social sciences are replete with regular-seeming words used as terms of art, conceptually difficult to use with precision in the right contexts if you don't know the theories involved rather well. Using those terms correctly -- with the accuracy it takes years of graduate school to acquire -- is a dead giveaway.

Sometimes I could pull a book off the shelf and turn to the copied passage.

Students don't seem to understand that professors get that way by reading almost all the books on their subject.
posted by lathrop at 7:19 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


What would John Galt do?
posted by sneebler at 7:20 AM on November 19, 2010


Could any current or recent American student clarify whether how this question bank thing works is common knowledge among undergraduates?

I think someone gave a brief explanation above--publishers will either sell or give an instructor/the department access to a database of test questions, presumably making them agree not to distribute the database (which is why I think it's unlikely a professor at another university put it online and the students happened to find it) from which they can then compile the exams. I never took a course where it was apparent such a database was being used. I suspect my current university recycles multiple choice questions on calculus finals from year to year, but I think they wrote the questions at some distant point in the past (if only because having a multiple choice section on a calculus exam is a bit weird). In theory, the students may not know a database is being used and they're definitely not supposed to have access to it.

Contrary to what someone said above, there are only a handful of previous GRE papers that have been released (I think there are four math exams), though I've been told there are others in circulation in some countries and students from those countries have expressed surprise we didn't have them in the US. (This is, I think, common knowledge and the scores aren't assumed to be necessarily comparable between certain countries.) Similarly, in high school, it was known what essay questions were asked on AP exams the previous year because the older students would remember (and teachers probably kept notes), but the multiple choice sections weren't available.

For me, there's clear difference between studying from exam questions that you've either been given (I once had a professor hand us the entire exam the day of the last class--it was a roundabout way of making sure we prepared properly) or can find in some obvious place (say the professor's website or a university database of old exams) and from something like the publisher's database, which is clearly not supposed to be in circulation. I'd construe something like borrowing a friend's exam from the previous semester as unfair to other students, but likely permissible. (Weirdly, I'm not that bothered by the stories people have told me about the GRE, I think because I believe it's such common knowledge that it's compensated for.)
posted by hoyland at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2010


I do not get those making the distinction between "memorizing questions and answers" and "studying." As others have said, if a kid can memorize a big chunk of material, only some of which will be on the test (but they don't know which) how does that essentially differ from pouring over notes and materials to learn the same material? It's probably actually more work.

If the kids actually obtained a copy of the created test and only memorized those answers (presumably as Question 1=A), that would be a clear case of cheating. This is not, anymore than memorizing the dictionary is cheating if it allows you to get a 100 on a spelling test.

Several years ago, I worked for a textbook company; because so many professors were computer-averse then, we actually had a service whereby *we* created the test files for them; they'd say, "give me 10 questions from chapter 2, five from 3, etc." and we'd whip them up and email it out (or in one memorable instance, burn it to 15 5.25" floppies and mail it). Even then, I thought it was kind of iffy.

/anecdote
posted by emjaybee at 7:37 AM on November 19, 2010


I've bought textbooks for classes online and had them arrive and turn out to be teacher's editions. I've bought lots of stuff online and had it come with wacky extras, and I've seen plenty "with answers in the back" versions of textbooks in used bookstores. It never ceases to amaze me what TAs and instructors will decide to part with for $5.

I feel bad for the students in a class with this sort of test, for lots of reasons. I hope they get more value from this experience than "next time, get some questions wrong on purpose" and "this is why you don't ever share resources."
posted by SMPA at 7:52 AM on November 19, 2010


This is a business class, right? Shouldn't the cheaters be given extra credit?

In the "real world," cheating is only an advantage if you don't get caught. So, no, they should be punished.
posted by grouse at 7:55 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding the class having TOO-MANY PEOPLE and calling the University "money-grubbing" because they shoved 600 people into one class...

University X has a renowned business school/college. University X admits 30,000 - 40,000 students a year. All of them have prerequisites to meet. Some students will focus on Journalism, some will focus on Engineers, others on Business. In a lot of cases, University X doesn't know, because you don't officially declare your major until you wrap up your sophomore year. I mean, freshmen can come in and say "I intend to study business" and the University puts you in touch with the school of business and their advisers for academic matters. But some students just don't know, or change their mind.

Back to what I was saying, University X has a renowned business school. Therefore, professors (sometimes) command a larger salary. It has 5,000 students that wind up intending to study business. Do you turn them all away? How do you educate them all in a 4 year program? You shove 600 of 'em into a class! It is cheaper to do this because you already have large classrooms due to the fact that your business college holds seminars for professionals or other conferences which was part of the reason why they designed the classrooms so large in the first place. The other reason why is because more and more students wanted to take business classes. Would it make more sense to pay more professors to teach the one class in the area they focus in (say Microeconomics for example)? Or to still pay the single professor to spread out across campus 6 to 10 times a day 3 days a week? What about all the other classrooms? Where do we then put the journalism students? Or the engineering students who need to take an elective course in cultural change in Latin American countries during the 1980s for their social studies cognate?

The University where I took some business courses had a 600 person course and the way they combated cheating; because I don't doubt for a moment that they used a test bank as I actually had to retake the course three years after I took it the first time and I remembered some of the questions. Anyway, the way they combated cheating was by mixing up the questions and the answers for every four to five people. So, say I had "Exam A," the person next to me had "Exam B" and so on down the line through D or E. All in all, it worked pretty well. The teaching assistants made themselves available before and after classes, as did the professor. They all had office hours. It really wasn't that bad have 600 people in a class.

I'm on the fence though about whether this was "cheating." Unethical? maybe. There's a sort of unspoken understanding that the teacher's editions of books are for the teachers. But if these students studied and memorized ~700 answers!? More power to 'em.
posted by mrzer0 at 8:05 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


PROTIP: If the pigs are trying to bully a confession out of you, they more they claim they know everything, the more nuthin' they got. Keep yer trap shut.

Obligatory
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 8:06 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


And in any event, what the hell was this guy doing using multiple choice questions as the basis for his exam? If you want to evaluate how much someone has learned, that's about the worst way to do it. Multiple choice questions don't allow for nuance - you've either got it 100% right or completely wrong, regardless of how much you know about the actual subject. The multiple choice system is made for the convenience of the grader, not for the accurate evaluation of the student.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 8:17 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Half the people in thread are incapable of understanding the simple idea that passing exams using knowledge in your head isn't cheating, but is in fact a desired academic outcome.

All your arguments have elucidated is that a large number of you have a fetish for guilt and punishment.
posted by clarknova at 8:25 AM on November 19, 2010


I have to say that I might have "cheated" in this case, were I in that class.

In law school, the school itself (well, technically the student bar association) maintained an exam bank for virtually every class. The exam bank included years of old exams. Professors chose what exams (and what parts of exams) they wanted to release, and then they'd be added to the exam bank.

Sometimes the exam banks had professor-specific exam questions. Sometimes they only included essays with a model answer. Rarely, they included some multiple choice. And sometimes all they had were departmental questions, because that particular professor never released exams (e.g. newer adjuncts) or gave tests based on the departmental exam questions.

I found those exams banks to be the most useful studying tool in law school. I tried my own outlines, friends' outlines, canned outlines, flash cards, study groups, you name it. Nothing prepared me for the tests as well as those exam banks.

The GRE, LSAT, MPRE and the bar also have an entire industry built-up around charging students for access to old exam questions, and that's considered above-the-board and widely accepted.

Maybe I'm cynical because law school at large scarcely even pretends to be about teaching you to practice law, but at least in my experience, using exam bank questions to study was officially-condoned. And as an undergraduate, I had no idea that publishers provided exam banks to professors. Unless the first page had in (large bold) font "PROFESSOR-ONLY EXAM QUESTION BANK" or something similar on it, I don't think it would even have occurred to me that I wasn't supposed to be using those questions. Especially knowing it was a 50-question test, and the exam bank had 700 questions.

I have a hard time seeing how the majority of these students did anything wrong - the possible exception being that whoever got his hands on the exam bank, initially, may have done something ethically-questionable to do so.
posted by Vox Nihili at 8:34 AM on November 19, 2010


Despondent_Monkey: You have 600 students. Where are you going to get the person-hours required to wade through short-answer or essay tests?
posted by Jpfed at 8:34 AM on November 19, 2010


good bluff
posted by ReWayne at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2010


Despondent_Monkey: You have 600 students. Where are you going to get the person-hours required to wade through short-answer or essay tests?

The professor mentioned in the video that he has several TAs - if he got off his ass and graded some of the exams himself and worked with his assistants, he could have them back to the students in a couple of weeks. Unless there's some university regulation, there's no absolute need for the exams to come back within a few days - the students can wait a week or two.

Really, this whole exercise seems like a cover for laziness. Lazy professor uses unoriginal, pre-made questions. Lazy students peruse unoriginal, pre-made questions. If your class grade was based entirely on the examinations and you knew about this arrangement, you'd hardly need to even go to the lectures.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 8:50 AM on November 19, 2010


I don't buy this "forensic data analysis" crap for a second. Clearly the bulk of people whose scores clump around the higher mode are cheaters, but he admits in the middle of the video that he can put confidence intervals around a cutoff score likely to signify cheating, but he can not identify every individual cheater with 100% accuracy. Some of the scores in the top are valid high scores, some of the scores in the bottom are not very successful cheaters. His good cop bad cop routine is the only way he can actually pick those apart.

Nanukthedog is right that the pattern of answers on individual questions would probably produce further evidence that could distinguish true high scores from cheaters who picked random questions to intentionally get wrong. However, this assumes alot about the distribution of difficulty of the questions and how similar any one question is to another. Since it's a test bank I assume it has been well validated along those lines, but maybe not. Publishers are as lazy as the students and the prof in this equation.

Statistics only describe what is likely, not what is necessarily true. No amount of math is definitely going to pick out all the cheaters and only the cheaters here, and it pisses me off to see this professor fundamentally misrepresenting the nature of hypothesis testing and data analysis.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any Florida public high school student with something like a B average can go to state schools in Florida for essentially free.

They call it the "Bright Futures scholarship." I called it the "leads to grade grubbing and cheating so that barely-literate students can keep their GPA-of-a-2.5 scholarship."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:53 PM on November 18 [2 favorites] Other [2/2]: «≡·


Except for two things:

- one, Bright Futures isn't means-tested, which means that people who can afford to send their kids to school (ie upper & middle class people with the resources for tutoring and home coaching) get free money. Those kids aren't losing their Bright Futures except to binge drinking.

- two, Florida public schools are notoriously so poor in core curriculum that more than 60% of public high school grads have to take remedial reading, writing and math courses when they get to college. Good luck holding onto your Bright Futures, poor kids, when the first 12 to 24 credits you have to take *don't even count* towards your degree, and when you can't write competently or think critically well enough to succeed in college level work.

I can cite both of these, just not right now at the gym.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2010


The syllabus has a large section on cheating, plagiarism, and the penalties, but it never lists specific behaviors that constitute cheating in his course (nor does the UCF "Golden Rule handbook"). It does define and discuss plagiarism at great length. One thing I've found very helpful is to itemize in each course what behaviors are acceptable and which ones will get you auto-flunked with extreme prejudice, and I think Quinn tried to do that but just blithely assumes that "everyone knows" what cheating is when, as this thread demonstrates, some other instructors would have no problem with students using the test bank as a "study aid."

Google Docs doesn't want to cooperate, but having taught at another big Florida state school, I'd bet you money that this lengthy section on cheating is boilerplate text dictated by University policy. Usually, any syllabi that deviate from boilerplate text won't be accepted by the administration of a department.

I don't think any of this justifies the cheating; however, the state university system in Florida is really, really broken, and for me this just illustrates it. And I speak as someone who went to a state university in another state. Textbook companies have their grip on the administration on many departments--they arrived at my TA orientation and gave out free movie passes to TAs who promised to sign up at least 10 students for their online homework help sites. While I was a TA there, there was legislation on the state level that dictated that professors select their textbooks half a semester in advance, a move that was ostensibly supposed to help students but in effect only ensured that the corporate university bookstore had texts well before the smaller companies. The content of several courses I taught were dictated down to the day--the material, notes, and all were taken right from the publisher's website, and we were actually encouraged to just flip through power point notes we hadn't written, and hand them out to students so they'd "know what to study."

I can see how all of this is really, really tempting for a lazy professor who has been there a million years; it also makes it possible for any robot to teach a course. But most of it goes against just about any basic pedagogical philosophies. I can't help but hear that this guy was using a computer to grade a test he didn't write and then is making his TAs redraft a new test and shake my head. With that many TAs, it should be possible to actually give the students some personalized attention and some sort of incentive to actually learn the work, but it sounds like it doesn't even cross this dude's mind.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2010


- one, Bright Futures isn't means-tested, which means that people who can afford to send their kids to school (ie upper & middle class people with the resources for tutoring and home coaching) get free money. Those kids aren't losing their Bright Futures except to binge drinking.

- two, Florida public schools are notoriously so poor in core curriculum that more than 60% of public high school grads have to take remedial reading, writing and math courses when they get to college. Good luck holding onto your Bright Futures, poor kids, when the first 12 to 24 credits you have to take *don't even count* towards your degree, and when you can't write competently or think critically well enough to succeed in college level work.


Oh, I agree with both of these, though I'd cite them as examples of how the BF program is broken, additionally. But (anecdata, I know), it is a system that leads to grade grubbing, from what I saw. I had many failing students come to me after being absent for entire semesters begging me to give them a B. Is it their fault that they weren't prepared for college-level work? Well, no. But being awarded an academic scholarship when you can't read or write is going to create those sorts of situations.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:59 AM on November 19, 2010


I've studied past exams where the questions have or haven't reappeared. (The accessibility of past/sample exams has never been a secret to the professor, though I did take one joint grad/undergrad course where only grad students had access to past exams, and questions were near-identical. As I was an undergrad, I was irritated by this.) Studying sample questions is great and very useful. Studying sample questions that reappear, unchanged, on the final, is so much more useful that there is no comparison. (By study, I mean "figure out the answers on my own, and then understand where I made mistakes", not memorise.)

Assuming that the students are honest, in the main, that someone started sending out a test bank and they thought it was a sample exam bank, and then they got to the exam and thought "holy shit", I'm not sure what they should have done. The professor isn't there during the exam, the people running the computer centre aren't going to be able to say much.

So the exam is over, you find you've had a test bank and not just sample questions -- do you think this is deliberate? Maybe. Do you tell the professor? Well, how do you prove that you didn't know that you were doing more than just studying? Just shut up and hope nothing ever happens.

It seems an inevitable consequence of using a premade test bank that depends on secrecy.
posted by jeather at 9:06 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any Florida public high school student with something like a B average can go to state schools in Florida for essentially free.

They call it the "Bright Futures scholarship." I called it the "leads to grade grubbing and cheating so that barely-literate students can keep their GPA-of-a-2.5 scholarship."


I had to count to ten several times before responding to this. My son is a senior in high school, currently with a straight-A average. He actually has a 4.5 because of weighting with his AP classes. He is *required* to have at least a 3.5 GPA, a combined score of a 1270 or greater on the SAT, and 75 hours or more of community service and volunteer work to qualify for the Bright Futures Gold Academic Scholarship. He has to maintain those grades to keep it. That's hardly "any student with something like a B average". And Bright Futures no longer covers tuition 100%; there is a cutoff when the award reaches a certain level.

The Medallion level requires a lower SAT score, but still a 3.0 GPA, and pays only a percentage of tuition costs. And the third level takes into account severe financial need as well.

To say that "Any" public high school student with a B average basically goes "for free", and to accuse those students who qualify as "barely literate" grade-grubbers and cheaters is offensive and insulting to those kids who are working hard academically because they want a higher education.
posted by misha at 9:07 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


misha, 94% of University of Florida freshmen as of 2008 had the Bright Futures scholarship (cite). I both tutored students for remedial writing tests required to keep the BF scholarship, and taught 8 classes on the freshmen level while I was there from 2007-2009. I can tell you unequivocally that, while it's it's wonderful that your son is driven and successful academically, the vast majority of incoming freshmen in that state are unprepared for doing college level work and that there is a pervasive air of desperation around maintaining one's GPA at all costs. I do not think this is the students' fault, but rather the result of the exceedingly poor academic climate in Florida public schools, which is then exacerbated by awarding an academic scholarship based on factors like GPA and SAT scores (which, for the lower levels of the BFScholarship is something like a 970), which are less reliable markers of ability in schools where there is institutional pressure to pass students--and there, I'm talking about both colleges and high schools.

Again, it's wonderful that your son is doing well. I commend him for his good work and agree that in many ways the scholarship is a great opportunity for him to graduate with little to no debt. But you should know that he's the (as an instructor, wonderful, surprising, probably always a joy) exception, rather than the rule.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:30 AM on November 19, 2010


I've bought textbooks for classes online and had them arrive and turn out to be teacher's editions. I've bought lots of stuff online and had it come with wacky extras, and I've seen plenty "with answers in the back" versions of textbooks in used bookstores. It never ceases to amaze me what TAs and instructors will decide to part with for $5.

Answers in the back may not be a teachers' edition and lots of student copies of textbooks come with extras, including testbanks of questions (presumably for practice and presumably different from the prof's test bank). When I was in high school all the textbooks we were issued by the school had answers in the back. I was surprised when I eventually learned that some high schools give students textbooks with no answers. How are you supposed to know if you're doing it right if you don't have the answers?

And in any event, what the hell was this guy doing using multiple choice questions as the basis for his exam? If you want to evaluate how much someone has learned, that's about the worst way to do it. Multiple choice questions don't allow for nuance - you've either got it 100% right or completely wrong, regardless of how much you know about the actual subject. The multiple choice system is made for the convenience of the grader, not for the accurate evaluation of the student.

I don't entirely disagree that there are problems with multiple choice tests. However, they do also have benefits. Nothing is all good or all bad.A test is a measure of knowledge and should be evaluated the way we evalute all measures, based on its reliability and validity. One of the benefits of multiple choice tests is that they can be far more reliable than other kinds of testing; meaning that two people who have similar levels of knowledge will get the same score on a well-designed multiple choice test, though they could get different scores on an an essay test. The reliability of a multiple choice test (and of individual questions) can be easily calculated, which means when there's a flaw it can be dealt with after the fact (By throwing out questions, reweighting things, etc.) so that the outcomes of the test as a whole reliable capture how much students have learned.

It's true that there's no nuance in individual questions. However, remember that it's the whole test that's the measure, not individual questions. The test is an index measure, meaning that it's one measure calculated from multiple items. So while it may be the case that you get each question either right or wrong (*THough not always, see below) that's why there are a lot of questions. You have have a more or less 80% grasp of topic X and thus get one question completely wrong because it was in one of your weak areas on a topic, but if there are 5 questions on that topic, you should expect to get four of them right. And sure, you could flukily get fewer than that right, but you're also likely to flukily get one more right than would be expected when answering questions about another topic. The result is that the overall grade on a well-constructed multiple choice test does not create a situation where you either understand absolutely everything and get 100% or you just get it all wrong and get a 0.

On the question of sublety, there are methods of doing this so even on individual questions you can distinguish between a student who had no clue and a student who was torn between two answers and picked wrong. I have not tried this, but I've been thinking about trying it in future.

That said, all this was about well-constructued multiple choice tests. The fact is that it's hard writing good multiple choice questions. That's a question that people who know the material get right and students who don't know the material get wrong (this is the question's ability to discriminate). Wrong answers should be more or less chosen equally (otherwise this suggests a tricky question where one wrong option is just too close and confusing).

And of course there's the content of the question: You don't want to write a question that just requires students to identify a memorized passage of the book. The question should require students to apply a concept or show how it relates to some other concept. So not "What is X" but "Which of the following is an example of X?" "What is the most common reason why someone might use X instead of Y?" "Which of the following would be evidence suggesting that X is occurring?" or "[AN example of X] is an example of: A) X, B) Y, C) W D) Z" etc. Again, these can be hard to write such that they meet the criteria of a good item set out above.

Which brings us to why use a test bank: Because it's a collection of items that are known to be reliable and have already been tested. The alternative is writing your own items that you don't know are reliable and that you can't test the reliability of, except by including them in the test. I use a bank* and I write my own questions (both go on the test together). I try my best and model my questions after the techniques used in writing the bank questions, but when I look at the data, my questions are less reliable. That's the non-lazy reason to use a bank.

But like I said, I assume students could probably find the bank if they try. I sometimes change a word or number in a bank question to make the substance the same but to vary the questions from the bank. I include my own questions. And I also have essays on the same test. And my students write papers as part of the class. The key to good measurement/evaluation is taking a variety of different measures because they all have strengths and weaknesses in how well they're going to measure students' learning.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:44 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are so many things about this story that confuse me. I'm trying my hardest not to sound like a smug prick when I ask, is this really what college is like for most people?

I went to the University of South Dakota. And in my 4 and a half years at USD, I had exactly two classes with more than 25 students. One was a freshman-level Physics class; the other was a lit class with a particularly popular English professor.

I don't think I ever took a multiple choice test in college. Most of my grades were based on writing papers, and my professors made it clear that if we wanted to get good grades, the papers had to be publishable quality. And apparently this video is depicting a "capstone course"? What does that mean? I had a capstone course in my major: the point was debate and discussion with a small group of peers.

Again, this wasn't an expensive private school. It was basically the cheapest option available to me, and I always kind of thought that it was the baseline college experience that everyone gets. Now I'm really confused.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:59 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went to the University of South Dakota. And in my 4 and a half years at USD, I had exactly two classes with more than 25 students.

One of my biggest regrets was not recognizing that the educational opportunities available to me included solid, lesser-known schools like you describe here. They would have taken me in a heartbeat and I likely would have had a great time. Win fucking win.

But nope, I went for the giant California commuter campus diploma mill, where the biggest issue was parking.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was (and am) pissed off that he made all students retake the exam, even though only a third of the class purportedly cheated. Then it occurred to me that he's making everyone retake the exam so that he can compare scores from the first test to scores from the second. The people who do a markedly poorer job on the second test are likely the ones who cheated. The ones whose grades stay the same probably didn't cheat on either test.

So he's all bluff about his bullshit "forensic analysis." But he did figure out a way to determine who cheated and who didn't.

Also, my gut reaction two minutes in to the video was "Of course students cheated in this class. Who could listen to this guy drone on for long enough to actually learn anything?
posted by mudpuppie at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


roll truck roll: " . . . is this really what college is like for most people?"

I think this is the reality at a lot of large, particularly state-run colleges.

I started my undergraduate degree in Michigan and I remember my intro-level classes having 200+ students. Multiple choice tests, more time with TAs than the professor.

I wound up transferring to a less-prestigious, but smaller and cheaper regional university, and maybe it's because I did all upper-level classes there, but my largest classes had 25 people in them, and grades were almost all based on research projects and papers. I don't think most of my professors even had TAs, and those that did weren't using them to teach.

I guess my undergraduate degree isn't as prestigious because of it, but I think the education was definitely better.

On preview, what Cool Papa Bell said. It never even occurred to me that there were smaller universities worth considering until I'd already landed myself at Convenient Oversized State University.
posted by Vox Nihili at 10:31 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


But, did they still get mountain bikes?
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2010


I went to UCF and graduated last year with a BA in English. I also worked a part-time tech support job on campus, helping faculty use the online course software. If this story were from any other college at UCF, I'd be surprised. But practically everything about this story sounds typical for the College of Business.

The largest class I was ever took, an Astronomy course to fulfill one of the university-wide science requirements, had 200 students. All of the classes in my major had fewer than 30 students (including the courses I took online); I never had a class larger than 80 in my computer science (minor) courses. I had the attention and interest of professors when I needed it. I even did a few independent studies and an undergraduate thesis under the supervision of talented, interested faculty. To describe UCF in general as a diploma mill is a bit unfair: there are a lot of earnest, if not necessarily effective, departments at UCF. But the College of Business at UCF is a factory.

To give you an example, I once ended up on a long-running ticket to help a professor in the College of Business fix an issue with his online grade book for a lower division business course. There was a problem merging grades from the various lab sections to the main course grade book. There were 1000 students in his course, though only a few dozen actually attended the class in person; most received it via downloadable video. The professor had the assistance of a single TA. And it wasn't a fluke of scheduling: the previous semester he had 1000 students and he anticipated that the next semester he would be "teaching" about 1200.

Anyway, grades for about 200 of the students were in error (not in their favor). Ultimately, I fixed the problem for him, but, as far as I know, the only person to check that the grades were correct was me: a part-time, student employee. I don't think they had the time to verify it themselves, even if they wanted to (which didn't seem to be the case).

My overall impression of the College of Business was that they took a deeply adversarial view of their students and the rest of the university. They ran a testing lab, with strict rules about what can and can't come in the lab (for example, no unapproved scratch paper). No other college made use of testing labs. Often, Business sent students from the main campus to far-flung regional campuses to take finals. They ran their own tech support and email systems parallel to the rest of the university.

Despite the size of UCF, I think most students there have a fairly typical college experience going to a class where the professor is present, and taking tests and finals in the way you might expect. But my friends in the College of Business dealt with something very different.
posted by ddbeck at 10:53 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


The distributions he shows are important. Quinn had given similar tests in the past, and presumably had never had this issue come up. If I had to guess what happened, it's that some student noticed--completely innocently--after their last exam that all of the test questions came from a testbank they'd used to study. That student then pointed it out to his or her friends, who pointed it out to their friends, and so on, and the info spread to 1/3 of the class. So what you end up with is 1/3 of the class knowing exactly what to prepare for while the rest don't. At the very least, this makes the test a completely useless evaluation tool.

The ethical problem is that all students understood that the test questions were meant to be unknown to them. Otherwise, the professor would have told them where they came from and given them all access to the testbank. The students who memorized testbank questions were almost certainly doing so because they knew that particular material would be on the test. (I don't think anybody sincerely doubts this, but if so, I would love to hear a rational explanation for why 200 students all spontaneously decided to memorize the same material without any reason to believe those questions would be on the test while 400 did not.)

Those arguing "They were just studying from an obvious source" are missing the point. It's not so much what they did, it's why they did it and its effect on their own learning and their peers grades. The students knew they were getting an advantage over the test conditions. In doing so, they were undermining the purpose of the test and hurting their peers who stuck to the understood ground-rules. (As a side note, tests are not just for evaluating students. Professors use them to evaluate their own success in meeting their teaching goals. So these students may also have disrupted the improvement of the course for the remainder of the term and/or for future terms.)

The situation is analogous to trading stocks based on inside information. In this case, they were going for better grades instead of money. It's not reason to wreck a kid's life with expulsion. But it definitely calls for rebuke. Any student who claims to have thought their actions were on the up-and-up is just being willfully obtuse. But even if they honestly didn't know (which they did), that only increases the demand for a chastising response. There's even greater hope that those poor souls will take the lesson to heart.

Claims that the professor was behaving in a morally equivalent way are extremely childish. "Oh yeah? Well, look what HE did!" Really?
posted by dsword at 11:14 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went to the University of South Dakota. And in my 4 and a half years at USD, I had exactly two classes with more than 25 students.

Yeah, I don't think that's normal. I've been associated with three schools in my academic career so far, a smallish private school and two large state schools, and they all had multi-hundred-student intro classes. OTOH, they also all had relatively small senior-level courses.

I did have a professor for one of those intro classes who managed to learn the names and faces of all x00 students in his classes every year, usually by the first day of class. He'd also visit the dorms and have study sessions at his house. Sadly, I just found out "Doc Oc" died a few years ago. So that's a nice little punch in the gut on a Friday afternoon.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:29 AM on November 19, 2010


Rereading this mess...the only conclusion i have come to is that university of central florida is a shitty shitty shitty institute of higher learning.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:32 AM on November 19, 2010


I disagree that the students all knew that the questions came from a secret testbank from which the actual exam questions would be chosen. (I suspect some did, but the minority of those who cheated, and that most of them just thought they'd found another study aid.)

I am really unsure what I would do as a student in that position, and given the weird response that the professor gave -- we can PROVE who cheated, but even those who we know didn't cheat have to redo the exam; never talk to me again -- I assume that I might have been wary about going up to the professor.
posted by jeather at 11:32 AM on November 19, 2010


dsword: I would love to hear a rational explanation for why 200 students all spontaneously decided to memorize the same material without any reason to believe those questions would be on the test while 400 did not.

Likely the same reason the majority of my classmates would wind up using the same canned outlines in law school: they're better than most other study materials.

Textbooks aren't usually a good source of review material. Notes you take yourself can have mistakes, and aren't always the best format for memorizing. Other peoples' notes can have the same problem. But someone hands you a set of 700 questions, with answers (and possibly explanations), and you know it's covering the same material you're going to be tested on? That sounds like one hell of a study guide, and it's probably better than what most of the students had access to, even assuming they had no idea the test questions were actually identical.
posted by Vox Nihili at 11:36 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've taught classes of 500*. Your only real option for testing in such a large course is multiple choice. (Of course, the class also had an associated lab - taught in blocks of 25 students, graded by TAs, using non-multiple guess tests, so that wasn't the ONLY assessment, just the main one used.)

As a result, I used a test bank. My own. Questions I wrote, used for multiple years, added to and modified annually. I was never particularly anxious about students keeping the exams after a test. In fact, I encouraged it. I wanted them to have the questions to study from, to see what they got wrong and understand why. I didn't resort to intentional trickery or multiple negatives or weird phrasing. Just straightforward questions - my only concession to difficulty was to ask a LOT of questions that were based on in-class examples, using similar but not identical examples, to see whether students understood the concepts or were simply memorizing the facts. (Shocking how often people got things wrong, complained "We never studied this system in class!" and were really taken aback when I showed them that the exact same concepts we DID study apply in multiple similar situations - the predictive power of a hypothesis is the whole point of science, otherwise why bother, right?). I also used a very simple technique that a LOT of professors should use, but not many do: Lots of choices. 5 or more per question. Usually my approach was 1 completely off-base (or an obvious joke), 1 wrong for obvious reasons, 2 fairly reasonable but wrong for less obvious reasons, and one right. Simply adding a 5th choice really cuts down on doing well by guessing alone. And there are multiple choice scantron sheets with up to 10 possible answers, if you want to use them and have time to write the questions - some even allow the use of multiple correct answers.

I never liked curves, and instead would do a point adjustment to account for bad questions. Anything that resulted in a valid complaint (that is, a student giving me a reasonable explanation of why answer X was just as valid as answer Y) would result in EVERY student getting points on that question regardless of answer. I would also reserve a set number of points I would add across the board to all students if the test was particularly bad (usually the result of testing new questions, ones for which I had no idea how students would perform because they hadn't been used on previous exams). Makes it really easy to respond to complaints - "Yeah, that question was one of the ones I gave you back points for" would stop most arguments in their tracks during office hours. But not using a strict curve meant it was entirely possible for every student to ace the exam, or for every student to fail it completely. Never happened, but it could have.

My point here (I have one I promise) is the final. I didn't usually re-write questions for the final. I would add a bunch of new questions for the last set of material covered, and then have a cumulative portion to review the prior material. The cumulative part consisted almost entirely of the questions the class had difficulty with on earlier tests. I would re-randomize the answers, but most of the time these questions were word-for-word from prior exams, exams that I encouraged the students to keep and study. Performance on these questions was better than on those students had never seen before, but there's really no reason every student shouldn't have simply blown through that part of the exam and gotten them all right. That didn't happen.

If the students in my one class couldn't memorize the answers to about 150 questions I wrote and gave to them (in test) with an answer key (post-test), coupled with an in-class post-test discussion of the most commonly missed questions (specifically highlighting the ones that would thus ultimately end up on the final), what reason do we have to think that hundreds of students in another class would be able to do the same for a test bank of hundreds of questions when they didn't know which 50 would be on the exam? Something fishy went on here. It wasn't the prof's problem entirely.

[*This was an intro-level class. All the complaints about a 600-student class were pissing me off (how the hell else do you do an intro class?) and I was aiming to drop some REALLY ANGRY comments about how universities actually have to work given the number of students and budget for hiring profs - but then I was shocked to read that this was in a SENIOR level course? WTF. I was never in a class bigger than about 30 students by the time I hit my third year of college. And this was at Big State U with 40,000+ students.]
posted by caution live frogs at 11:42 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


bsword: The ethical problem is that all students understood that the test questions were meant to be unknown to them. Otherwise, the professor would have told them where they came from and given them all access to the testbank. The students who memorized testbank questions were almost certainly doing so because they knew that particular material would be on the test. (I don't think anybody sincerely doubts this, but if so, I would love to hear a rational explanation for why 200 students all spontaneously decided to memorize the same material without any reason to believe those questions would be on the test while 400 did not.)

A very similar situation happened in my wife's small graduate program - they studied from past tests, and the professor handed out a test that was nearly a duplicate of the previous year's test. To make things even crazier, it was an open note test, so they potentially all had the work that they had done to prepare with them, including answers they had already worked out to those problems while consulting with each other - studying together is encouraged, they're a tight knit group and really work together to make sure that everyone understands the material. For context, it's statistics program, so it's nasty hard graduate level math. For most of the class, the test turned out to be mostly an act of transcription.

From the outside, you could make the same argument, "students who came to to the test with the answers in their notes clearly did so because they knew that material would be on the test" - but that would be wrong, and it's a huge leap.

It's the act of knowing what material will be on a test that makes it cheating, you can't just assume that part.
posted by kevin is... at 12:34 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


A lecture with 600 students is not a big deal. A 600 student lecture at the senior level is pretty much tests the limits of credulity. A 600 student lecture that also serves as a capstone course is right out and students in this program are in a puppy mill. I say this even though I went to a land-grant university known more for its athletic department than any academic program...except for maybe ag sciences. I also say this even though an honors degree in my department from this school still limited the scope of possible graduate work opportunities in my field to even crappier programs. Most of these were masters-only where one would try to co-publish in the first two years in hopes of catching a better school's eye and jump ship for the actual PhD.

In short, it was a terminal degree at a crap school and I was okay with that. What I got for my money is infinitely better than what these poor students are getting for theirs.

Despite all of my deprecation, my senior-level capstone course had five other students and was run as a graduate seminar. Our grade was 50% based on writing an undergraduate thesis on a topic of our choice with guidance from the professor to narrow the lit review. The other 50% coming from the subsequent thesis defense in front of a panel of professors and open to graduate students who had an interest in the topic. It was nothing as rigorous as a PhD, but it certainly replicated the entire process in a one semester microcosm.

A senior capstone course that is a 600 student lecture with multiple choice exams? The only explanation for this from an institutional perspective is naked factory farming of federal student aid.

Whether or not students cheated by getting their hands on the test bank is moot. The take-away for me is that students at UCF are getting cheated out of a really useful opportunity to get intimate with an academic question near and dear to their interests. I feel sorrow for those who chose this program out of geographic necessity or economic convenience. I only hope that they never have occasion to miss what they could have had.

Oh, and that bad cop routine was naff. The follow-up "investigative reporting" was pretty much just as naff. The whole thing is sad, really.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Claims that the professor was behaving in a morally equivalent way are extremely childish. "Oh yeah? Well, look what HE did!" Really?

One of the difficulties of the situation is that we pretty clearly know the facts around the objectionable things the professor has done; specifically, instead of writing an exam to test the material as presented, he used standardized test bank questions (after lying on the first day of class, saying he would, in fact, write the exams himself). Further, we know that he is lying to the students with his "forensic analysis" scare stories, because the distributions prove that there were two populations of students writing the exam, there's no way to prove that any given person is in one distribution or the other. If in the summer, 20% of the students scored over 150 and now 50% do, there's no way to unpack who exactly is in the extra 30%. So we have fairly clear evidence that he's been lazy in preparing exams, and he's bullying the students like a bad Sipowicz impersonator.

On the other hand, it's less clear exactly what happened on the student's side. We don't know if the test bank was publicly posted on the publisher's website, or stolen from the prof's desk drawer, Watergate-style. We don't know how it was labelled, and we don't know how it was distributed. We don't know if the students who used it thought they were even cheating -- the prof started the term by saying he wrote the exam questions; students could have just seen this as a helpful additional resource. Yes, somebody went to the prof anonymously, but it could have been the poor bastard with a 60, desperate for a do-over. It may have even been that the biggest reason for the split in grades is that the students who had the test bank had a concrete set of questions and answers to drill with, and they spent more time studying than the 2/3 who were limited to just reading over their notes.

(I don't think anybody sincerely doubts this, but if so, I would love to hear a rational explanation for why 200 students all spontaneously decided to memorize the same material without any reason to believe those questions would be on the test while 400 did not.)

I think the characterization of "memorizing the material" is faulty. It's helpful in an exam to have worked through the course content with a similar question style; everybody works through SAT practice questions even though they know those questions won't be on the SAT they write. If the SAT folks reused a practice exam and everybody's scores went through the roof, it's not because of dirty deeds by every student in America. It's not clear to me whether the test bank was thought of similarly as possible sample questions ("Hey! Here's a big list of multiple choice questions, based on the course text! Of course, Mr. Quinn writes his own, but these are good practice.") As to why some students studied the material, and others don't, well, it was essentially a virtual lecture, including satellite campuses. Something circulating around the main campus might not make it to the sticks. Some students don't mix it up much, and the test bank seemed to pass from student to student. Hell, we used to sell exam packs with the previous year's exams in them (publicly, for cost, above board, with the assistance of faculty), and we only ever managed to sell them to about half the class.

So we know pretty clearly what the prof did, and how bad it was. (IMHO, lazy-prof bad rather than fire-his-ass bad). We don't know whether students were hacking websites and passing clear contraband around scurrilously, or whether the students were blindsided when their study guide turned out to be the exam, too.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:39 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


A senior capstone course that is a 600 student lecture with multiple choice exams? The only explanation for this from an institutional perspective is naked factory farming of federal student aid.

Whether or not students cheated by getting their hands on the test bank is moot. The take-away for me is that students at UCF are getting cheated out of a really useful opportunity to get intimate with an academic question near and dear to their interests


While I agree with you that the UCF system is, from my unfamiliar eye, downright fraudulent, I still think the cheating question in this instance is valid. Yes, the university is lacking, but that doesn't give students the freedom to cheat (if that is actually what happened).
posted by Think_Long at 12:43 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seconding ddbeck: I graduated from UCF in 1994 with a degree in Interpersonal Communications and a double minor in feminist theory and sociology. At that time, UCF had a pretty terrific communications department. Class size ranged from 12 students to about 90 students, but seemed to me (now 15 years later) to be around 30 students for most classes. Parking was a notorious problem. Professor access and real back and forth in-class discussions were not.

As with most colleges that are neither in the top 20 or bottom 20, its about the quality of the departments within the college, which can widely vary.

Still, back then, UCF was kind of a laughable college, even for Florida. I cringed every time I told people wherefrom I graduated...until I got to law school. Attending Boston U with graduates from Harvard and Cornell and Dartmouth et al, I found myself proudly proclaiming that I was a UCF graduate.
(Classic real example of ribbing: "UCF? What were your sports teams called, the UCF Remedial Readers?").

This video, and the surrounding story, doesn't make UCF or Prof Quinn look good in any way.
posted by Jezebella at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Think_Long:
Yes, the university is lacking, but that doesn't give students the freedom to cheat (if that is actually what happened).

To the extent that you argue a crappy educational setting does not justify cheating, I agree with you completely. That isn't what I was arguing however.

We can agree that the test results demonstrate a clear bimodal distribution. We can safely assume this resulted from some (but not all) students having access to the test bank. We have seen that they weren't expressly forbidden by the course syllabus or the school's academic code--both of which are exacting in detailing prohibited behavior.

We can't know the motivation behind each student's use/non-use of the test bank questions, especially given the instructor's claim at the beginning of the semester to writing the test questions personally. Although this hasn't been explicitly stated, based on context I'm assuming that Professor Quinn is not the author of the test bank provided by the publisher. Still, my take on this line of argumentation? It's a total post hoc rationalization in at least the vast majority of cases.

We've certainly expended a good deal of virtual ink hashing this out and there still appears to be some ambiguity. Your parenthetical indicates as much. Hence the use of moot in my comment.

We (mostly not the royal we) are pretty universally condemning UCF at least as a proxy for its B-school. This is the buried lead, thus distinctly not-moot. It was certainly the trigger that prompted me to comment at any rate.

In light of contributions from UCF students past and present, I retract my condemnation to the extent that non B-school departments present more traditional academic experiences. Having worked at a satellite campus with a dominating B-School factory I completely understand the bifurcated quality of education these institutions may provide. Having gone to a mediocre school I also understand that doesn't necessarily diminish the quality of a specific person's education. It's all about what you put in to it. On the other hand, it's a lot harder to engage in what amounts to a degree in independent study when the expectations are so much lower.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:53 PM on November 19, 2010


The only time I've ever felt like I could be cheating was when I took two exams in high school in which the answers for the multiple choice questions were made obvious.

In one instance there were little dots around the correct answer's letter from a whited out pen circle. In the second instance the correct answers were indented. I kid you not.

I was so paranoid about the latter instance being some sort of trap that I spent about 50% extra time on the multiple choice section than I would have otherwise.
posted by ODiV at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2010


Wow ODiV, your comment totally set off a memory of a test I took in 5th or 6th grade with light circles around the correct answers. Halfway through the test, the teacher said something like, "Be careful. Things might not be what they seem." In retrospect, she must have realized her mistake and tried to pass it off as a trick. At the time, it scared the shit out of me.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Homeboy Trouble: So we know pretty clearly what the prof did, and how bad it was.

You're describing fairly standard practice in large course teaching. There really is nothing "bad" or "lazy" about it. Even with a large bank of questions in hand, it really takes a significant amount of work to put together the 200 you want. There are a wide variety of reasons to take this approach. One of these is laziness. The rest I can think of are focused on improving the course as a whole. (Increasing time available for office hours and lecture prep, having a standardized stick by which to compare different classes, etc...) You think it would be "good" for a professor to spend all his time writing questions that are almost certainly just small variations on what's otherwise available? That's not what you are paying for at a large state university.

After more reading, I don't think it matters much what they knew. From the tampabay.com article: "The test bank is supposed to be unavailable to students, but pilfered copies are sold online." Using this kind of study material (which 200 students have admitted to doing) is cheating. Ignorance or benign intent isn't a valid excuse. That apparently so many people don't simply understand that using teachers' manuals is cheating is really too bad.

At the very least students should know not to go studying solution manuals because it's a stupid way to learn (regardless of the extent to which it helps you on a test).
posted by dsword at 3:23 PM on November 19, 2010


Further, we know that he is lying to the students with his "forensic analysis" scare stories, because the distributions prove that there were two populations of students writing the exam, there's no way to prove that any given person is in one distribution or the other.

I agree that he's probably bluffing, but it's possible he isn't. Additionally, just as in poker, a good bluff can get some people to fold unnecessarily, improving your hand.

Solutions manuals are written by fallible people. If you rely on a manual with errors, the better you are at cheating, the easier it is to catch you. From the distribution he shows, it looks like the average "cheater" scored around 90%. Somebody who gets 90% right out of 200 questions misses 20. If there are 3 wrong answers* in the solution manual, the chance that an honest student would miss those 3 by chance alone is about 1/1152. If you use this test on each of the 200 students, there's about a 16% chance you accuse somebody unjustly. (It goes down to 1.5% if there are 4 wrong answers). How can you reduce the chance of accusing somebody unfairly? One thing you can do is to tell the students that you're going to catch them and get enough of the guilty ones to confess!

So his bluff could have been a calculated move to catch some cheaters, rather than laying down an otherwise hopeless hand.

* - You need to make sure the questions aren't significantly more likely than others to be answered incorrectly by an honest student. Presumably you would have past data on this.
posted by dsword at 4:07 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could any current or recent American student clarify whether how this question bank thing works is common knowledge among undergraduates?

I've been in graduate school for five years and an mba program for two, so I'm not precisely an undergraduate any more, but the first thing I do in a quantitative class is ask for the professor to give me the test bank. Sometimes they won't, but frequently they do.

I do it because I end up working the problems in the book so many times I end up memorizing them. I have seen homework problems show up on finals that were virtually identical to what was in the book. Is it cheating to get a 96% on a stats midterm because you've worked all the problems so many times you have the numbers memorized? I doubt it, because the way you memorize those numbers is by doing the problem over and over and over and over again.

If the kids in this class actually had enough of an understanding of the work that they could recognize the questions and the answer, then I'm not sure I understand how it's cheating. It might be cheating if they had the test bank with them and just looked up the answers, but I don't understand how it's cheating if they knew the answers because they'd worked the problems previously.
posted by winna at 4:35 PM on November 19, 2010


I should add that the reason I ask for the test bank is the vastly expanded number of practice problems with the answer. If you're not very good at say, Finance, it doesn't do any good to have extra problems to do if you're not confident you can spot a wrong answer. 800 practice problems is way better than the thirty or forty at the end of each chapter.
posted by winna at 4:38 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


They call it the "Bright Futures scholarship." I called it the "leads to grade grubbing and cheating so that barely-literate students can keep their GPA-of-a-2.5 scholarship."

I wouldn't be surprised if Governor Creepysmile eviscerates it.

people who can afford to send their kids to school...get free money

Oh. Never mind then.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:45 PM on November 19, 2010


I thought the point of a test bank was that it was a very large body of possible questions from which the actual exam questions were selected

It only works if you add and remove questions continuously. You get rid of crap questions and add the best of the new questions. Useless to pool them otherwise. What if they're all crap questions? What kind of test question bank is that?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:36 PM on November 19, 2010


Whoops. Old tab. Should have hit refresh.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:45 PM on November 19, 2010


World changes, big monolithic dinosaur institutions fail to keep pace. Film at 11.
posted by underflow at 8:49 PM on November 19, 2010


If I made all the effort to come to class, I would have been upset that he wasted an entire lecture explaining how he detected the cheaters. Send out a email of your cleverness. The students paid for the course and deserve good lectures.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:37 PM on November 20, 2010


Sorry, but if you know what the publisher's question bank is, then you know that it's something you're not supposed to have.
posted by alphanerd at 1:36 PM on November 20, 2010


I'll believe it wasn't in a bluff when we get an update of him parading a couple of students around saying, "Most of you confessed, but these two bozos are getting expelled, and serve 'em right!"
posted by gorgor_balabala at 6:38 PM on November 21, 2010


Is there any suggestion that the textbook in question was only used at UCF? Can't we expect that students in the course might do additional research? Might google the textbook's name and come across the test bank? Unless the students were specifically told not to use the test bank, the problem is the professor's. There is nothing wrong with students doing research and if that research turns up additional material to help them on tests which has not been specifically forbidden, I don't see a problem. The issue of the copyright of the test bank is something else; I would think that there are fair use issues as well.
posted by tesseract420 at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2010


Can't we expect that students in the course might do additional research?

Ha haha ha ha!

No. Not many of them.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:56 AM on November 23, 2010


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