As a kind of rebuttal to the cheating scandal at the University of Central Florida, some students have posted this video that raises the issue of whether students were misled as to the source of their exam questions:

I think the students have a point here. Prof. Quinn did say that he “writes” the exam questions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he creates the exam questions from scratch; “writing” an exam could refer to the act of assembling a particular mix of questions from the test bank. But it’s unrealistic to expect the average college student to know the difference between creating and assembling an exam when the word “write” is used in this context; and anyway he said he writes the questions not the exams.

This entire video goes back to a point that involution made in the comments to my first post on this story: Did the students know that the exam was going to come…

Is this going too far to punish and deter academic dishonesty?

Texas A&M International University in Laredo fired a professor for publishing the names of students accused of plagiarism.

In his syllabus, professor Loye Young wrote that he would “promptly and publicly fail and humiliate anyone caught lying, cheating or stealing.” After he discovered six students had plagiarized on an essay, Young posted their names on his blog, resulting in his firing last week.

“It’s really the only way to teach the students that it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Young, a former adjunct professor of management information systems, said he believes he made the right move. He said trials are public for a reason, and plagiarism should be treated the same way. He added that exposing cheaters is an effective deterrent.

“They were told the consequences in the syllabus,” he said. “They…

I was just listening to the introductory lecture for an Introduction to Algorithms course at MIT, thanks to MIT Open Courseware. The professor was reading from the syllabus on the collaboration policy for students doing homework. Here’s a piece of it:

You must write up each problem solution by yourself without assistance, however, even if you collaborate with others to solve the problem. You are asked on problem sets to identify your collaborators. If you did not work with anyone, you should write “Collaborators: none.” If you obtain a solution through research (e.g., on the Web), acknowledge your source, but write up the solution in your own words. It is a violation of this policy to submit a problem solution that you cannot orally explain to a member of the course staff. [Emphasis in the original]

So in other words, you can collaborate within reasonable boundaries as long as you cite…

True story from a faculty meeting today: A biology prof gave an assignment in a class at the beginning of last semester on the subject of proper academic conduct in a college class. The assignment was to research the definition of “plagiarism” and write about how it applies to the biology class.

When the prof got the assignments back, guess what he discovered? That’s right: One of the students had plagiarized his plagiarism assignment.

As some great mind once said, there’s a fine line between stupid and clever.

In my upper-level courses — especially the two senior-level math majors courses I teach, Modern Algebra and Topics in Geometry — traditionally I’ve seen timed tests and so forth as being ineffective in assessing the kinds of advanced problem-solving that students in those classes have to do. Mainly the problems are ones in which they have to prove a theorem. It’s hard to do that under a time pressure because it’s a creative endeavor.

So typically I’ve given such problems out as homework, with the instructions that students may work together on understanding the problem and drafting up a sketch of the solution (Polya’s stages 1 and 2) but the main solution itself, as well as any reality-checking, has to be done individually.

This article from the Harvard Crimson from a year ago captures exactly what I wish this process would look like on the students’ level. The article is about Math …

Another thing about group work and assessment. In some courses, particularly upper-division courses with small enrollments, the same kind of individual accountability I’m looking for can be found through oral presentations, not just timed assessments.

I found this out in the textbook-free quasi-Moore Method abstract algebra course I did this past semester. Students were free to work with each other and consult outside sources on any course task they wished to, but at the end of the day their grade depended on their ability to get up in front of the class (and me) and present their work — answering questions on the particulars, being able to explain the overall strategy of a proof, and defending their work against potential holes. Students who could do this on a regular basis scored highly. Students who couldn’t scored poorly. It worked out.

One of the things I have learned this semester (which is now officially over, having turned in my last batch of grades this morning) is the following lesson which I am convinced I must implement immediately: Group work has been playing far too great of a role in my student’s grades. From this point forward, assignments which could conceivably be done in groups — not just those that are designated for group work — will count for no more than 10-15% of the grade in my courses.

I like collaborative learning. I think, in fact, that working with other people on math can be not only a highly effective way of doing so but also carries with it a powerful pro-math socialization effect. The best personal friendships that I had during my college + grad school years were those that I formed with my classmates in my various math classes, as we struggled through material that, to us at the time,…

OK, commenters, you win. My proposal for extending the punishment for academic dishonesty is probably too draconianfascistmuch like walking the plank strict. Even if I fixed the “five-game suspension” problem for athletes, I admit most students caught in academic dishonesty aren’t cold-blooded cheaters but basically good people who are naive to the ways of college and have gotten themselves talked into thinking that cheating is acceptable if one can sort of morally justify it. And as such, they don’t need the full force of the sanctions that I proposed to get the lesson across.

But at least at my college, the professor reserves the right to suggest withholding parts of the standard penalty for academic dishonesty. While I always report academic dishonesty to the Dean, and while I have done so at least once a semester ever since I started working here, in fact I have almost never…

I am a mathematician and educator with interests in cryptology, computer science, and STEM education. I am affiliated with the Mathematics Department at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. The views here are my own and are not necessarily shared by GVSU.

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