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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 mindless1 on 3/23/2008 8:07:02 PM , Rating: 2
Not intellect or achievement, rather a rating of competency. People who can't handle the material as well as others should receive a lower grade that reflects this. Otherwise we'd have only a Pass/Fail system.

RE: Cheating?
By drebo on 3/24/2008 12:25:18 AM , Rating: 2
That is completely not true.

One who has no concept of the course material can get an A through being a work horse, just the same as a genius in the field can fail because he doesn't do his homework.

Grades are a false indicator. They mean nothing about the person, just the same as a college degree or certification: they mean that you can read a book and memorize answers, not that you understand the material.

RE: Cheating?
By bety on 3/24/2008 1:06:45 AM , Rating: 2
No. If one is able to do the test problems then "competancy' has been achieved. If the test problems do not reflect understanding then that is a failure of the test.

You are correct in that a person may memorize answers....that is part of the issue/problem with this study group. Some students can use it to simply memorize answers that have been solved by others.

RE: Cheating?
By blaster5k on 3/24/2008 10:56:31 AM , Rating: 3
... and if the test problems are different, those memorized answers are no good, so they're better off learning how to actually solve the problems.

If they're not different, there's the problem right there. That's the teacher's fault.

Whenever a homework assignment is given, a teacher should expect that there will be collaboration. Homework is usually only there as a learning tool that forces you to do some problems. It usually counts for a small percentage of the course grade -- just enough so you won't blow it off completely.

The tests are the real gauge of whether you know your stuff. If you don't test well, you probably don't know the material as well as you think you do -- or are the recipient of some poorly designed tests.

RE: Cheating?
By bety on 3/25/2008 7:03:48 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, I agree with what you've said except that when an assignment is given, IF the prof does not condone collaboration, then you are cheating if you work together. And it does disadvantage the student who tackles it on his own. Now, I realize that the prof should expect some students will do this anyways regardless of whether it is permitted or not, HOWEVER, if you do it and then FLAUNT it, you must accept the penalty should you get caught....

Personally I hate the trend of assignments being more heavily weighted...simply to take pressure off those who "can't" do tests. I think assignments should be optional and tests worth everything....and those questions should test understanding. You should be able to get a marginal pass by just memorizing, but you shouldn't be able to get a B without understanding. A's should be rare. Instead we have a system where the grades are de-valued.

RE: Cheating?
By jackedupandgoodtogo on 3/24/2008 2:15:28 AM , Rating: 2
Grades have their purpose: to indicate your position between Pass and Fail for you alone. But you're suggesting we should use that to compare one person against others, which is wrong.

Don't judge a person's competency (which is also an indicator of intellect or achievement) based on a grade because it's too easy to fool people with a grade. How smart are you if you got an A and the teacher is a fool, and gave elementary tests? There's no context attached to a grade, therefore it reflects only one measurement. It doesn't demonstrate any real intellectual capability because if a genius and a hard worker can both get an A, you couldn't tell who the genius was and who the hard worker (or a cheater) was.

I've met and know many people who excelled in their coursework, only to fail in their jobs because they only know how to memorize and recall, but not innovate or extrapolate what they're learned outside of the box. Those who think out-of-the-box typically don't care about a grade. It's the over-achievers who are hung-up on their grades, trying to impress others with a visual record of their intellect, rather than present some demonstrable act of intelligence. It sickens me when people flash their credentials and yet have no real understanding of what they profess as their competency, simply because they can't think beyond their textbook intellect.

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