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Ryerson University cracks down on students studying online

Chris Avenir, a first-year chemical engineering student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, is facing academic expulsion after being called out as the administrator for a Facebook-based Chemistry study group. Titled “Dunegons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions,” after a campus engineering study room dubbed “The Dungeon,” Avernir’s group had 146 other students who used it to swap tips on homework and test questions in the school’s chemistry program.

The study group was discovered by school administrators over the winter break, resulting in a professor changing his class grade from a B to an F. He was also charged with 147 counts of academic misconduct and recommended for expulsion: one count for running the group, and a 146 more for each student involved.

“What we did wasn’t any different than tutoring, than tri-mentoring, than having a library study group,” said Avenir in an interview with the Ryerson campus newspaper, The Eyeopener. “I’m being charged with something I didn’t commit.”

Students expressed outrage at the university’s decisions, accusing administrators of overstepping their bounds. “The university is interfering in students’ personal lives,” said third-year student and student government member Salman Omer. “This is an infringement of our rights.”

University administrators defended their decision to recommend Avenir for expulsion, emphasizing the need for a “tough approach to online cheating.” James Norrie, Director of the school’s Information Technology program, feels students are trying to paint the issue as a generational one when it’s not.

“We are not a bunch of old farts who are afraid of technology,” said Norrie. “The issue is that it doesn’t matter where [cheating] happens, we will pursue it … the code is clear that someone who enables others to cheat will receive a severe penalty.”

Ryerson’s policy on academic integrity – currently in the process of being updated – defines cheating as “any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment.”

Avenir denies accusations of cheating, noting that the group did not contain complete or satisfactory solutions to homework and test questions, only the same things “we would say to each other if we were sitting in the Dungeon.”

“If this kind of help is cheating, then so is tutoring and all the mentoring programs the university runs and the discussions we do in tutorials.”

Chatter on Avenir’s group included things like, “Remember what to do when you have positive cations (a type of positively charged ion)?” says student advocate Kim Neale, who will represent Avenir at his upcoming expulsion hearings.

“All these students are scared s***less now about using Facebook to talk about schoolwork, when actually it's no different than any study group working together on homework in a library,” said Neale. “It's creating this culture of fear, where if I post a question about physics homework on my friend's [profile] and ask if anyone has any ideas how to approach this – and my [professor] sees this, am I cheating?”

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RE: Studying must be BANNED
By xti on 3/7/2008 8:35:06 PM , Rating: 2
i hate to break it to the school...but like every frat on campus most likely has copies of tests for the last decade or so easily. how is this any better/worse?

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By spluurfg on 3/7/2008 9:28:20 PM , Rating: 5
I'm surprised at the difference in attitude in the US versus the UK... In the UK, examples of the previous years examinations are generally provided.

It seems that in the US, they feel that if you have a good idea of what the questions are on the test, then that's an unfair advantage since you can then study for it beforehand.

In the UK, they don't want the questions to be a complete surprise to you, since they feel that if you can answer the questions on the exam, then they've done their job.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By KeypoX on 3/7/08, Rating: -1
RE: Studying must be BANNED
By See Spot Run on 3/7/2008 9:47:20 PM , Rating: 2
I'm currently in a Canadian University, and the professors always hand out last years exam. Some of them even tell my class what the question will be in a not so subtle way, as in "this VERY important topic that we have been discussing for the past week, you'll really want to make sure you know it" wink wink.

Could just be the school itself.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By derwin on 3/7/2008 11:23:00 PM , Rating: 2
Here is the delema. If the professor uses the same test for two different lecture sections in the same semister, it would be cheating to convey the questions on THIS YEAR'S test. The article does not specify what test questions are being swapped.

Secondly, if partial answers or hints for current test questions are provided, that is even more so an act of cheating.

As far as geographical tendencies of professors' test preparations, its the same everywhere. Some prof's tell you the questions, some reuse tests, some leave you in the dark, no matter what country you are in.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By danrien on 3/9/2008 2:59:07 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I was gonna say.... I'm definitely a computer engineering major in a US university and almost all of my profs hand out old tests.... not so much to help us all but just to even the playing field with people who have friends that give them old tests. its one form of cheating that doesn't really seem like cheating since most profs except the laziest of lazy will change test questions from semester to semester. personally, i just use old tests as a way to gauge what kind of questions the professor likes to ask.

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