Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Another problem with don't ask, don't tell

The first exam is in the rear view mirror, the second exam is two weeks away & the final is just around the corner.  It should come as no surprise then that the cheating season is upon us.  It used to be dead relatives, but now it is way too easy to check what with obituaries being on-line.  I know an employer who likes to trip people up with details that were included in the obit that a person actually related would know ("it must be interesting, your grandfather having been rescued in the raid on sorry it was the Achille Lauro, wasn't it"; if you have to study that hard you may as well just show up for work).

So, now it's mostly cheating.  The old stand-bys make an appearance, of course, but crib notes are both better & less well concealed what with cell phones, sophisticated calculators, water bottles, etc.  One of A's favorites is people who write up the formulas & then paste them, writing side in, behind the water bottle label; since he hands out a page with such information to every student, the value is only in the act of writing (which is not without value, just maybe they would have not tried so hard to fit everything on such a cramped piece of paper).   He has also become an avid reader of reddit which helps ferret out a few more techniques every year.

On the flip side, when it comes to cheating, the advantage is definitely with the student these days.  I know another professor-not my husband, let me be clear- who was threatened with an official reprimand when he refused to back down on handing a ZERO to the guy who copied & the guy who let him copy when he busted them during the exam. They did not even deny it, just laughed & said "oh you caught us" type things until he took away their exams & tore them up in front of everyone else.  The university (part of the UTexas system, if you are curious) agreed that cheating probably had taken place & then it was confirmed it HAD taken place, but the administration felt that the prof was over reacting.  They backed down when same prof offered to contact potential employers via a local television station & explain that while only a few graduates had not earned their degree, the whole student body was suspect because the university wanted to keep cashing those tuition checks.  Guess who didn't get tenure; guess who didn't want to stay anyhow.  Because it is a small, small world I later met one of the undergrads who was also taking that exam.  He described the two as "frat-boy assholes" & remembered them being surprised they did not have the sympathy of the room when it all happened.  Mostly he & the other students were aggravated by the distraction of the floor show.  In a not-so-funny sidebar, I know an exam proctor (also in the UTexas system but different campus) who got into similar trouble when he called out cheaters during the exam.  I think he asked them to change seats or something & they went batshit & so he asked them to leave.  Which it was later determined he did not have the authority to do.  The cheaters got to retake the exam; he doesn't know how they did.

It's a long way from when I was an undergrad.  I once took a discussion class on John Milton (riveting stuff, the cataloging of angels & so forth), which unsurprisingly was not a very large class.  I mean there were five of us.  Five.  Imagine my surprise when there were almost twice that many there to take the final.  Then the prof refused to give an exam to any student he did not know.  Just plain wouldn't give it to them.  When one of the MIA-students got snotty, same prof told him to take it up with the dean, who would be very familiar with the issue as apparently prof did this every time he taught a discussion class.  As a result, he maintained a balance of A+ to FAIL roughly on par with any other class.  It's just that in his discussion classes, there was never anything in between.

There have been quite a few truly creative plots to bring in banned material or phone-a-friend equipment, & one outstanding attempt to steal the exam the week before the exam kicking around A's department, but the latest cheating scandal is a bit strange  So strange, in part because it might not actually be a cheating scandal.   Here's the story:  prof gets a phone call in his on-campus office.  Person gives the name of a student in class & says s/he has been doing homework for student but now feels...remorse?  Same person gives own name, but as it is not a name of a student in the prof's class, it is as good as unverifiable.   So.  Now what?  There is no proof just the word of one person against another, even if it is true, which it might not be.  Alas this same prof has been stalker&stalkee-adjacent too many times to take anyone's word for anything anymore & in this case the two parties are a male & a female (not that there isn't such a thing as same-sex stalking).  Right away he gets twitchy. 

If the cheating did happen, it highlights a flaw in the system, but not one he can do anything about.  After all, students have to be able to turn in assignments completed outside of class, right?  Each person can (& often is) given a slightly different set of parameters so direct copying is rarely an option, but if a 3rd party is willing, even temporarily, to do the work what can the prof do about it?  & then there is the reverse:  what if the student did NOT have any third party help & this is just someone making trouble?  Or what if cheating did happen, but the person who reported it had nothing to do with it?  If that last one seems extreme I myself have been witness to an instance where one person claimed a friend's husband made pass at her; he HAD made passes at other friends of his wife & she figured she would not be believed unless she had first hand experience.  As it happens, the couple is still married & the women have completely lost touch.  Or even what if the cheating did happen, the names given are all involved, but the person calling is not actually one of the people, just using the name?  Most of all, whose responsibility is it to investigate the whole thing?

Another funny trend pointed out on reddit re: cheaters.  Many people are appalled at how  unobservant the teachers are, how unwilling they are to pursue the cheaters.  My response to that is actually a question: how many people go into teaching because they want to fight crime?  & when students & their parents & their attorneys get involved, how many of those teachers do you imagine are just THRILLED to spend their time & money defending themselves (if you think parents don't call an attorney, think again.  & who can blame them, since as far as they know their little darlings are being railroaded)?  The answer is not many & for those teachers that are, the cheating scam has to be pretty egregious, obvious & provable.  This almost never happens.  But when it does, yes that can be fun to watch.

//I wrote this in parts, ready to post last month.  The Monday before I had scheduled to post, I happened to get in touch about another matter (yes, quilting) with another friend who teaches in a business program at a prestigious eastern college (all of the above examples came from different parts of the country, but in liberal arts programs, which have the reputation -deserved or not- of taking themselves too seriously)  & this latest cheating incarnation came up.  She told me how last semester she caught a student handing in paper that was verbatim what had been handed in the year before by a different student.  She knew last year & this year that the paper had been wholly copied from a website.  She even knew which website.  She was directed by her department's documented policy, both times, to return the paper, ungraded & ask the student to try again because the school's honor policy does not provide for any other recourse.  She went on to complain that she has to carry on her person, at all times a clunky pager type piece of equipment to activate the copiers in the department, the library etc. because so many people were stealing copies.  There used to be a jar for people to put their change in when they made a copy but people rarely did, also the jars keep getting stolen.  Her argument is if we cannot trust these same people to pay for a ten cent copy, why do we assume they wouldn't cheat to get a better grade (this is peeve of A's too, actually-where is the beloved honor code when it comes to photocopiers?)?  She can also do a many-minute rant on the university that bends over backwards not to ruffle the feathers of anyone who pays them but can make things damn inconvenient over any fee they might have to pay, even just ten cents at a time.  The class she teaches is not ethics although this would be a very funny story if it was.  She currently teaches marketing.  Or branding.  I forget which.  Anyhow, I pulled the post until  had time to add that postscript.

/// & then this post hit another bump.  The night before it was rescheduled, the prof got notification that campus PD had indeed become involved in a harassment complaint.  Since then there was another contact from the person claiming to be the person who did the homework, who may or may not be who they say they are, in any guise.  That person wanted to know what was being done by to punish the cheater & was irritated when told that information was confidential.  It was suggested that person come on down & file a formal complaint so naturally has not been heard from since.  On the other hand, I decided to pull it until enough time had passed that the events were semi-common knowledge on the campus involved.

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