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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 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.

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