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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 andrep74 on 3/23/2008 6:09:37 PM , Rating: 2
Don't kid yourself by thinking there's necessarily a correlation between good grades and hard work. There are many ways to be in a situation that requires less work to achieve a good grade, including study groups that allow lazy or "dumber" people to have concepts discovered and/or explained to them by others.

It's all about motivations, really. One could argue that "dumb" people with good grades aren't motivated to discover new, novel concepts as Einstein was, or that lazy geniuses aren't motivated to learn irrelevant concepts. Some college students are motivated by their parents, even as young adults. Each of these motivations could be a negative. Yet, all of these same people could be self-motivated if given the right stimulus.

And any of these people could be tempted by an easy out like an online study group that discusses problems the professor meant for individual discovery. I think that instructors at colleges should embrace learning via the Internet, and expect it, and should provide guidance rather than criticism. Had there been a sanctioned online study group, or clear-cut rules against non-sanctioned groups, then this dilemma would never have ocurred.


"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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