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A number of groups sprung up on Facebook in support of Chris Avenir, unsurprisingly.  (Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech)
School decides not to take away student's freedom to obtain a college education

Early this month news broke of a wild expulsion hearing at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.  While students normally are expelled for indiscreetly copying their friends solutions during an exam, plagiarizing others work, or other such gaffs the Ryerson student, Chris Avenir a first year chemical engineering student, was just trying to engage in what he thought was a beneficial and harmless student practice -- creating a study group.

Avenir created a group on Facebook known as "Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions," named after the study room nicknamed "The Dungeon."  The group allowed students to share advice on homework questions, exchange questions from past tests, and speculate on what might be asked on upcoming tests.  At its maximum, the group helped 147 students.

Soon, however, Avenir's chemistry professor caught onto Avenir's efforts to help his fellow students and they weren't happy.  They not only changed Avenir's grade from a B to an F, but also recommended him for expulsion, putting him up on 147 counts of academic misconduct.

Fortunately, justice prevailed and Ryerson's academic conduct committee ruled last Tuesday not to expel Avenir.  They informed the 18-year-old that while he would not be expelled, he would receive a zero failing grade on the assignment portion of the class, as per the professor's discretion.  The assignment portion was worth ten percent of the total grade, but Avenir still passed the class easily.

Avenir could not be reached for comment, but may decide to appeal the decision as per the school's rules if he feels the failing assignment grade was unfair.  Overnight, Avenir became a celebrity and a poster child for the debate over the legitimacy of online study groups.  Advocates say there is no difference between online groups and school-sponsored tutoring programs, which often have old copies of tests, and will assist students in solving homework problems.  Critics state that helping students access materials not given by the professor or solve problems is cheating, plain and simple.

Avenir's advocates still aren't satisfied with the ruling, but appreciate that it marks a victory for their views.  Says Nora Loreto, president of the Ryerson Students' Union, "Chris in our view is still innocent, so it is still too bad that he got zero for that 10 percent.  But considering we were facing expulsion I think this is a victory, certainly a broader victory for the students at Ryerson."

As per the ruling part of Avenir's punishment includes mandatory attendance in a academic misconduct workshop.

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RE: Cheating?
By drinkmorejava on 3/23/2008 1:09:01 PM , Rating: 5
That's absolutely rediculous. It's nearly impossible to do well in my engineering courses without working in study groups. So far I have yet to meet a prof who didn't advocate forming one. Your logic would make sense for exams when students' real abilities are tested, but when you're learning something you've never seen before through homework, it's unacceptable to think you can do it all on your own hunched over in a corner. In fact, I would say that by shunning group you're going to do just as poorly in the real world because you won't seek support when you're unsure of something. Not to mention, 99% of the time, an engineer will be on a team working together to solve a problem specifically because it is a better design process.

RE: Cheating?
By ImSpartacus on 3/23/2008 3:25:22 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. If a teacher wanted to test someone on their individual abilities, they would test them in a closed environment, not give work to be done outside of class to possibly be helped by nearly anyone.

RE: Cheating?
By eye smite on 3/23/2008 6:39:38 PM , Rating: 5
I don't imagine this was the first time this has been done at any University. In fact I know it isn't. So in reality what we're dealing with is the petty, narrow minded ego of the professor because they didn't get his if they needed it. Teachers and professors in my experience are small minded people with little knowledge of how the real world works. Can anyone here tell me in any job you've worked where team work was not important? Yet it would seem teamwork in college is cheating. Yep, I stick by the narrow minded professors statement.

RE: Cheating?
By bety on 3/24/08, Rating: -1
RE: Cheating?
By Murst on 3/24/2008 10:25:56 AM , Rating: 1
Teachers and professors in my experience are small minded people with little knowledge of how the real world works

I'd say you're probably in a really bad high school. I can't imagine a university that would hire teachers with "little knowledge" of the jobs they're preparing you for.

The university I went to isn't really cosidered among the top in the program I graduated in (CS), but the teachers most certainly did have a very good understanding of how the jobs work. This was even more apparent in classes outside of my major.

RE: Cheating?
By blaster5k on 3/24/2008 10:40:16 AM , Rating: 2
I saw a mix in my college days. Some have actually worked for companies before and understand how things work in the real world. Others have been relegated to academia most of their lives and focus more on abstract concepts and researching things they think are "cool". I found the former were a heck of a lot more useful in preparing me for my career.

RE: Cheating?
By eye smite on 3/24/2008 10:50:59 AM , Rating: 4
Here's a quote from a post further down the thread.....

At my university in Australia (UOW), Team Work is drummed into us! and almost all my subjects require teams to form in some way.

Recently I created a study group for a statistics class and when my professor found out she actually welcomed it and asked if someone she knew was struggling could join in.

and with that post, I rest my case....

RE: Cheating?
By teldar on 3/24/2008 11:00:45 AM , Rating: 1
I'd say you're probably in a really bad high school. I can't imagine a university that would hire teachers with "little knowledge" of the jobs they're preparing you for.


I think you should come out of your hole and see the way things are. I've gone from an engineering program in a top engineering University in the U.S. to nursing at a community college, nursing at a private school, and now am in a Nurse Anesthetist program at one of the top schools in the country.

I have had HORRIBLE teachers everywhere I have been. I don't know that the engineering professors were bad at Michigan, but many of the science professors didn't have any idea how the world worked outside of academia.

Then, if you want to talk about teachers who have not seen the workplace in a few years, find an OLD nursing instructor. Someone who's been in teaching for 20-30 years in the classroom portion of the course. They don't have a clue.

And the regular college of nursing courses in an anesthesia program? All I can say is that some of them probably think we should stand around thinking about nursing theory instead of taking care of the patients.

Maybe YOUR courses were different, but I can tell you there are too many people who have been in academia for too long and don't seem to understand who the world really is.

RE: Cheating?
By rudy on 3/23/2008 6:46:49 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, homework is for practice there is no way to forbid work groups and I doubt it was against the policy. I am sure not all the details were released or perhaps there is just to much bias on the part of DT. Most likely the group included old tests, it may have also had people just doing problems for other students. If the prof was mad it was because something was wrong I can't imagine it was just a harmless study group. Another thing that can happen for which the prof is more at fault is that the test questions may be heavily recycled from year to year so much so that having old tests can allow you to achieve a 4.0 without knowing the material very well. It is also very likely the problems were the same on everyones homework meaning once it was solved and posted once everyone else in the class was just coping.

Much like the RIAA some teachers can't seem to come to grips with technology. But the mistake is thinking that the same exact things were not being done before, you just could not prove it.

RE: Cheating?
By mindless1 on 3/23/2008 8:11:18 PM , Rating: 2
In fact, you are tested in a "closed environment" and the teacher does expect you to do your own work. There are reasonable limits to enforcing this of course, they're not going to put a camera or ankle bracelet on you but expect you to adhere to the honor system.

RE: Cheating?
By copiedright on 3/23/2008 11:36:04 PM , Rating: 4
At my university in Australia (UOW), Team Work is drummed into us! and almost all my subjects require teams to form in some way.

Recently I created a study group for a statistics class and when my professor found out she actually welcomed it and asked if someone she knew was struggling could join in.

At university, students need to be able to learn independently, it is each students responsibility to learn. However if a student finds that they learn better when involved with other students instead of say simply reading a text book, then other students are a valuable learning tool.

With this story I think something is a miss here. I don't think we are getting the full story, but based on what we are told here, the student has done nothing wrong. And in fact should be thanked by his lecturer.

RE: Cheating?
By RussianSensation on 3/24/2008 2:19:36 AM , Rating: 2
It's very difficult in the real world to prevent someone from doing their homework as a group and getting help from external sources. However, you realize that almost every test and every exam you write in high school/university is written by 1 person, not as a group. Therefore, teachers DO want to test someone's individual ability. They also incorporate "group work" by assigning group assignments (which mostly get done by people assigning someone do part 1 of the assignment, someone else do part 2, etc. in the end those parts are put together). Of course that's not real group work. That's simply individuals "stitching" together each other's parts to make it a 1-piece item.

Now, my particular university allowed us to look/buy old exam papers and tests to practive those types of questions. But if Ryerson's policy is that you are not allowed to use old exams (regardless of how one obtained them), then it is cheating. Of course when you start sharing those tests publicly, some people might find out, while if you do in a private group setting, its harder to get caught. So I suppose, if their policy is such then the kid was pretty brave and also stupid for openly (publicly) using such information.

RE: Cheating?
By mindless1 on 3/23/08, Rating: -1
RE: Cheating?
By kyp275 on 3/23/2008 11:06:31 PM , Rating: 1
I'm sorry, but that just sounds retarded. Or maybe you just have no clue how some of these classes are taught, or rather, not-taught. Some classes these days involves almost zero lecture or guidance, where the professor just tosses you the textbook and hand out homeworks and leave you to it to figure it all out.

The point of education is to LEARN, not LEARN BY YOURSELF ONLY. It's not a race to see who can get it right by themselves first. The goal is that at the end of the day you will have acquired the knowledge that you're supposed to from the course. By your logic we should just disband all educational institutions and stuff everyone with books and lock them up in isolation 'til they "get it right".

Learning how to work with others is just as important, if not more so, than the knowledge you're trying to learn. You're implying that everyone who's not a bookworm nerd is cheating through life :rolleyes: BTW, grades means jack**** out in the real life, it's how you actually perform on your job.

Being self-sufficient doesn't mean you have to know everything and be capable of doing everything on your own, it means that you know your own strength and weakness and know how to seek aid when necessary in order to complete your objective. Your employer doesn't care how you studied in school, they care about how you will perform in your job.

oh btw,
it's you versus the next guy, if you can't get it right when the next guy can, guess what? You should FAIL. That's the whole point, you aren't as good and shouldn't receive a degree that implies you are.

that's called a "Test", genius

RE: Cheating?
By Durrr on 3/24/2008 7:51:59 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, you must have no friends. Do you talk to yourself because talking with others in a group is a bad thing?

I was more than competent enough to make it through my nuclear engineering courses, however, there are always concepts, theories or applications that people don't get. I found myself explaining course material in other terms to other students quite regularly. That does not mean that they're inept, it means they needed a little help.

RE: Cheating?
By aeroxander on 3/24/2008 9:17:44 AM , Rating: 2
That is the most inept thing that I've ever heard. I did my B.Eng in Aero at Ryerson and have to say that help provided to me in the first years at Ryerson from my fellow students went a great deal to helping me to achieve my degree. Once I got to 3rd and 4th year I was doing just fine and contributing to the learning process with my fellow students. I went on to complete my Masters at Ryerson.

Not everyone gets it the first time, that does not mean that they're not capable.

RE: Cheating?
By RussianSensation on 3/24/2008 1:12:00 AM , Rating: 2
Although group work does help in some instances, generally speaking there is always a stronger player in a group who needs other people on his level or above from whom he can learn even more advanced topics/methods and material. More likely than not, strong individual players on any team first and foremost excel on their own account without anyone's help. Sure in the real world at most firms people work in teams, but that doesn't necessarily mean those teams are effective.

This isn't sports where you don't necessarily need the best players to have a great team. If you can't be successeful on your own and think you need a team to achieve your goals, then I would wager the team is doing most of the "hard" work for you anyway. And also your views are completely naive as in the real world (i.e. business) there are no teams so to speak. If you want to be successful you prove it on your own account (i.e. to stand out on a team you go above and beyond your responsibility which is still representative of acting individually).

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