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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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More details
By MetaDFF on 3/23/2008 2:27:47 PM , Rating: 2
The Dailytech/CNN article doesn't mention is that the 10% assignment was to be done independently without collaboration.

Thestar article provides more details.
http://www.thestar.com/article/309855

The fact that the assignment was being openly discussed on a Facebook group was probably enough to draw the university's attention. If the students wanted to "bend the rules" they should have taken the discussion offline in a more discreet manner. To me it seems justified that any student caught discussing the assignment should receive a zero on the assignment, only because it was suppose to be an independent assignment.

If they found evidence that Avenir was plagiarizing answers from the group, then the university should deal with it on that basis. They shouldn't have threated him with expulsion for simply running a Facebook group. Each student should be held accountable for their individual actions on the group.




RE: More details
By ElrondElvish on 3/23/2008 3:30:15 PM , Rating: 2
The 'independent' study tact is simply false. That facebook group had been up and running for over five months. It wasn't just a study group about one particular assignment the prof has given, it was a study group for students of the *entire* Chemistry course.

Ryerson clearly flubbed this one and are trying their best to stick by their flub to the end. This online group was no different the the 'legitimate' offline groups that Ryerson allows and encourages. If the 'independent study' rules didn't apply to the offline groups, it hardly applies online either.

The *only* difference in this case is access... not method.


RE: More details
By SiliconJon on 3/23/2008 5:29:38 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed, also there is the question of what was "independent"? If offline study groups were acceptable for such an "independent" assignment, then independent sounds to imply nothing more than understanding the concept and turning in an assignment all you own in end product - after all, most students will be obtaining all or most of the information from somewhere else, whether it be a book, study guide, or fellow student. It's the understanding of the information being provided or expected that is the key to learning. If it was to be done absolutely, and positively, without external assistance of any sort, then it should be given under a test environment, or under strict test instructions if "voluntary isolation" is desired for the breadth of the project.


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