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Ryerson University cracks down on students studying online

Chris Avenir, a first-year chemical engineering student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, is facing academic expulsion after being called out as the administrator for a Facebook-based Chemistry study group. Titled “Dunegons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions,” after a campus engineering study room dubbed “The Dungeon,” Avernir’s group had 146 other students who used it to swap tips on homework and test questions in the school’s chemistry program.

The study group was discovered by school administrators over the winter break, resulting in a professor changing his class grade from a B to an F. He was also charged with 147 counts of academic misconduct and recommended for expulsion: one count for running the group, and a 146 more for each student involved.

“What we did wasn’t any different than tutoring, than tri-mentoring, than having a library study group,” said Avenir in an interview with the Ryerson campus newspaper, The Eyeopener. “I’m being charged with something I didn’t commit.”

Students expressed outrage at the university’s decisions, accusing administrators of overstepping their bounds. “The university is interfering in students’ personal lives,” said third-year student and student government member Salman Omer. “This is an infringement of our rights.”

University administrators defended their decision to recommend Avenir for expulsion, emphasizing the need for a “tough approach to online cheating.” James Norrie, Director of the school’s Information Technology program, feels students are trying to paint the issue as a generational one when it’s not.

“We are not a bunch of old farts who are afraid of technology,” said Norrie. “The issue is that it doesn’t matter where [cheating] happens, we will pursue it … the code is clear that someone who enables others to cheat will receive a severe penalty.”

Ryerson’s policy on academic integrity – currently in the process of being updated – defines cheating as “any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment.”

Avenir denies accusations of cheating, noting that the group did not contain complete or satisfactory solutions to homework and test questions, only the same things “we would say to each other if we were sitting in the Dungeon.”

“If this kind of help is cheating, then so is tutoring and all the mentoring programs the university runs and the discussions we do in tutorials.”

Chatter on Avenir’s group included things like, “Remember what to do when you have positive cations (a type of positively charged ion)?” says student advocate Kim Neale, who will represent Avenir at his upcoming expulsion hearings.

“All these students are scared s***less now about using Facebook to talk about schoolwork, when actually it's no different than any study group working together on homework in a library,” said Neale. “It's creating this culture of fear, where if I post a question about physics homework on my friend's [profile] and ask if anyone has any ideas how to approach this – and my [professor] sees this, am I cheating?”

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Studying must be BANNED
By Sunbird on 3/7/2008 6:20:19 PM , Rating: 5
Ryerson’s policy on academic integrity – currently in the process of being updated – defines cheating as "any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment."

With such a broadranging definition, going to class, taking notes and studying textbooks could all be deemed as "deliberate activity to gain academic advantage"...

*roll eyes*

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By othercents on 3/7/2008 7:08:06 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget about those brain steroids.


RE: Studying must be BANNED
By Fnoob on 3/7/2008 7:42:36 PM , Rating: 2
Don't give them any ideas; surely there will need to be random drug tests and congressional hearings.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By walk2k on 3/7/2008 8:01:56 PM , Rating: 2
" who used it to swap tips on homework and test questions "

swapping test questions... hm.. yep that would be called "cheating".

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By xti on 3/7/2008 8:35:06 PM , Rating: 2
i hate to break it to the school...but like every frat on campus most likely has copies of tests for the last decade or so easily. how is this any better/worse?

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By spluurfg on 3/7/2008 9:28:20 PM , Rating: 5
I'm surprised at the difference in attitude in the US versus the UK... In the UK, examples of the previous years examinations are generally provided.

It seems that in the US, they feel that if you have a good idea of what the questions are on the test, then that's an unfair advantage since you can then study for it beforehand.

In the UK, they don't want the questions to be a complete surprise to you, since they feel that if you can answer the questions on the exam, then they've done their job.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By KeypoX on 3/7/08, Rating: -1
RE: Studying must be BANNED
By See Spot Run on 3/7/2008 9:47:20 PM , Rating: 2
I'm currently in a Canadian University, and the professors always hand out last years exam. Some of them even tell my class what the question will be in a not so subtle way, as in "this VERY important topic that we have been discussing for the past week, you'll really want to make sure you know it" wink wink.

Could just be the school itself.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By derwin on 3/7/2008 11:23:00 PM , Rating: 2
Here is the delema. If the professor uses the same test for two different lecture sections in the same semister, it would be cheating to convey the questions on THIS YEAR'S test. The article does not specify what test questions are being swapped.

Secondly, if partial answers or hints for current test questions are provided, that is even more so an act of cheating.

As far as geographical tendencies of professors' test preparations, its the same everywhere. Some prof's tell you the questions, some reuse tests, some leave you in the dark, no matter what country you are in.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By danrien on 3/9/2008 2:59:07 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I was gonna say.... I'm definitely a computer engineering major in a US university and almost all of my profs hand out old tests.... not so much to help us all but just to even the playing field with people who have friends that give them old tests. its one form of cheating that doesn't really seem like cheating since most profs except the laziest of lazy will change test questions from semester to semester. personally, i just use old tests as a way to gauge what kind of questions the professor likes to ask.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By RonLugge on 3/7/2008 9:54:06 PM , Rating: 3
who used it to swap tips on homework and test questions

You might want to try that boldfacing, it works a lot better... and isn't cheating.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By archdale on 3/8/2008 1:04:02 AM , Rating: 1
If they had any sense, they wouldn't leave a trail leading back to them. But I guess if your swapping test questions, you would lack sense.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By Polynikes on 3/8/2008 11:18:12 AM , Rating: 2
" who used it to swap tips on homework and test questions "

You highlighted the wrong words. Tips != full answers.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By VashHT on 3/10/2008 12:03:32 PM , Rating: 2
Actually a lot of professors I had in school would give you old tests to practice with, and some even gave us the solutions to the old tests as well.

Also, I feel that professors should be changing their tests every year anyway, so that practicing off of old tests is just that, practice.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By Spivonious on 3/7/2008 8:02:09 PM , Rating: 2
Totally agreee. Unless students were accessing this site during a test, how is it even approaching cheating? It was simply a very large study group meeting online rather than in person.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By Wolfpup on 3/7/2008 8:07:23 PM , Rating: 2
Yep, that's my first thought too. Heck, by that definition, just showing up for class is cheating. I don't understand how the administrators can be so wrong-headed about this. I'd think if anything they'd be encouraging it, and promoting using technology to learn.

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By CollegeTechGuy on 3/7/2008 8:42:16 PM , Rating: 5
I'm a Programmer, and so is my g/f. Obviously we work on programming assignments together. Now i'm not one to just copy off her, or let her copy off me. I'm paying to learn, and neither of us learns from copying code. However we do help each other with ideas and processes to complete a task...I have been called out by my professor because our code "Looks Similar". Of course its going to look similar...everyone who turns in the assignment is going to have similar looking code...cause we are all writing the same program.

Whats wrong with sharing ideas? Are we not learning from others ideas?

RE: Studying must be BANNED
By pxavierperez on 3/8/2008 11:20:06 AM , Rating: 2
Hahaha, Yes, I had that experience too although it concerned the entire class. Although no one cheated, given the problems we were meant to solve only allowed us so little derivation in presenting the solution so obviously the paper we handed will look similar.

By TheRaven476 on 3/7/2008 6:20:01 PM , Rating: 2
We don't know everything that happened. If it was just a study group, that's fine, the school is being anal about this. But if the group was sharing test answers and posting things like "Hey I just had Mr.Smith's chem test and these are the questions on it. I also included the answers", then yes it is ABSOLUTELY cheating. Botom line is that we don't know everything so we're not in a position to defend one party or the other.

On a side note I did not like the school's definition. "Anything that gives a student an academic advantage"? Come on! Studying gives you an academic advantage over your peers. Very poor wording in my opinion.

RE: Cheating
By onereddog on 3/7/2008 6:32:25 PM , Rating: 5
Technically, by the wording wouldn't it be ok for everyone to cheat on the same level, as no one has an advantage then (at least relatively speaking.

RE: Cheating
By SlyNine on 3/7/2008 7:43:43 PM , Rating: 2
The only thing I can really say on this though is, Shouldn't they have to prove that students were cheating. I didn't see nothing in that where their was any sort of proof. I hope to hear more on this, but I believe the school should have to PROVE his guilt, instead it looks like he's already been proven guilty ( with the F) and that he has to instead prove his innocence.

RE: Cheating
By borowki on 3/7/2008 8:13:12 PM , Rating: 2
Whether it's similar to a study group is irrelevant. If you ask someone, in effect, to do your homework for you, that's cheating. Just because it's impossible to police private meetings doesn't mean the impunity should be extended to a medium that resembles them.

RE: Cheating
By Canizorro on 3/7/2008 9:35:06 PM , Rating: 2
The relevancy is there. In study groups, you are not asking someone else to do your homework for you. Your asking for help in solving the problem. If a study group was "policed" and the same information given is fine in those settings, then it should be fine on this medium.

RE: Cheating
By borowki on 3/8/08, Rating: -1
RE: Cheating
By Synastar on 3/8/2008 10:11:03 AM , Rating: 3
That really depends on your definition of "help". Homework is a tool to help you learn. If you don't understand the material and one of your peers can help you understand the material, there is nothing wrong with that. If by "help", you mean being given the answer outright, yes, that's cheating.

The bottom line is that none of us actually know what was being shared on Facebook beyond the vague description we were given. Thus, everything we're discussing is mere speculation.

RE: Cheating
By borowki on 3/9/08, Rating: -1
RE: Cheating
By HrilL on 3/9/2008 7:15:50 PM , Rating: 4
You are so wrong. Take math for example. At my college they have the place called the math lab where the school is paying for free tutors to help you learn how to do you homework. Yes sometimes you do more then just your homework but mostly everyone just gets help to do just there homework. You don't know what your talking about so just stop already.

RE: Cheating
By borowki on 3/10/2008 8:39:57 PM , Rating: 2
I worked as a tutor in physics when I was in college--at UC Berkeley, no less--so let me assure you, I know what I'm talking about. A tutor's job is to help students understand concepts. Direct assistance on homework assignments crosses the line. That's why you need training to be a tutor. The temptation is to just do the work for the person you're trying to help. When it comes to problem sets in the hard sciences, the approach to the problem, the insights required to solve it, is precisely what the instructors look for--anyone can do the math. If you ask others for the approach to the problem, you're asking for the answer, and therefore, cheating.

Of course, I can't say I have any experiene with 3rd or 4th tier schools. There, they probably just want to pump out as many graduates as they can. At a top tier school, academic standard matters. Gateway courses like first-year chemistry typically have fail quota. It's absolutely vital that those seeking an unfair advantage are punished, since it comes at the expense of someone else.

RE: Cheating
By HrilL on 3/12/2008 8:45:28 AM , Rating: 2
Well just to let you know my city college is ranked in the top 10 in the US so I wouldn't be calling it a 3rd or 4th tier school...

RE: Cheating
By teohhanhui on 3/10/2008 1:23:50 PM , Rating: 1
Getting help on homework is nothing wrong.

Homework is used to assess a student's academic potential. Any form of assistance enabling one to obtain a grade higher than that which he'd otherwise receive given his capability is cheating. It's that simple.

Leave that to tests and examinations. Homework is for practice.

Student achievement rises significantly when teachers regularly assign homework and students conscientiously do it, and the academic benefits increase as children move into the upper grades. Homework can help children develop good habits and attitudes. It can teach children self-discipline and responsibility. More importantly, it can encourage a love of learning.

RE: Cheating
By VashHT on 3/10/2008 12:10:57 PM , Rating: 2
I have to agree with you, they don't really give enough details. I knew people at my college who would try to get tests from the early classes to memorize answers for the same test they had in the afternoon. If they posted stuff like this, whole tests with all the answers (current tests i mean), then I consider it cheating for sure. Same thing with homework, I knew kids who would copy all their assignments out of solutions manuals and then pass it around to their friends, I consider this cheating as well.

The article doesn't really give much info on what they were putting up though. If they were using old tests as practice and working them out together, or working on the homework together then I can't see any problem with it.

By Locutus465 on 3/7/2008 8:08:05 PM , Rating: 2
A case of some old administrators being unable to adapt to new times and new technologies. They're mistaking a study group for cheating, it's absolutly retarded and while they don't realize it, they're giving their school a bad name. I know if I was still of age to be going to college this kind of action would make me think twice about considering that school.

RE: Obiouvly
By walk2k on 3/7/08, Rating: 0
RE: Obiouvly
By Reikon on 3/8/2008 1:17:10 AM , Rating: 4
How is trading old tests or tips for old tests cheating?

At my school, the libraries have archives of the old tests and they're also hosted online. Many professors post their old exams online or give them to the students. Every professor I know encourages students to look at old exams.

RE: Obiouvly
By danrien on 3/9/2008 3:40:16 PM , Rating: 2
exactly. if a professor can't write a new test that is different from the old one then he should be fired for incompetence.

An awesome Opportunity!
By Ammohunt on 3/7/08, Rating: 0
By ComatoseDelirium on 3/7/2008 6:03:46 PM , Rating: 2
Err. Ya cause the Canadian military does so much.

Side note I have friends at Ryerson, its a great school, cause of the students, not the faculty.

RE: An awesome Opportunity!
By onereddog on 3/7/2008 6:27:27 PM , Rating: 2
I have recently read that Chemical Engineering graduates are some of the most well paid and prized in the market today... second only to college drop outs who have served int he military, right?

By isorfir on 3/7/2008 8:03:30 PM , Rating: 4
The issue is that it doesn’t matter where [cheating] happens, we will pursue it

This is all just a big misunderstanding. Obviously he wasn't cheating, or else he would have been getting an A instead of a B.

Get a life...lll...
By electriple9 on 3/7/2008 8:16:01 PM , Rating: 1
I am sick of this facebook crap everywhere. People no longer know how to socialize the old fashion away. Get together at the library and study. People always ask do you got facebook.

RE: Get a life...lll...
By Garreye on 3/7/2008 9:29:44 PM , Rating: 2
The advantage of using facebook as a study group is that you have more people who might know the answer to something you are unsure of. If you have 10 or 20 people in a facebook group you're more likely to get a good response to a question than if you're studying in the library with 3 or 4 people.

I'm not saying that you library studying is completely replaceable, there's definitely some things can be explained much better in person, but facebook can definitely be a very useful tool for learning.

By conrad13a on 3/7/2008 6:11:42 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just glad to be done with this "school," they speak of.

The unknown facts
By DaynaRose on 3/8/2008 11:31:25 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think the blame should be placed on the school or the faculty itself. Obviously, as another writer said, we do not know the whole story.

As a student of Ryerson, I have never once had a professor who isn't reasonable and willing to give a chance. Like all universities, there is no leeway on plagiarism whatsoever, copying answers from another student is plagiarism and perhaps this is what the admin is really upset about. Ryerson is a very technologically forward university, most of our Profs have facebook and our classes have online portions.

All the facts aren't being given, don't resort to blame in a situation where you're relying solely on the media to give you the facts. That's just silly.

Expel 'em
By mindless1 on 3/8/2008 9:30:23 PM , Rating: 2
If you can't get the grade without special help - on your own, you should not have it. This only causes those who weren't apt at the material to gain credit or grade status they don't deserve for things they can't do by themselves.

It's not a group grade, it's an individual assessment of how one person does when given equal access and information compared to another. It is cheating to try and find an advantage over others as they did. Not so much cheating in the more traditional sense but in the spirit of what grades signify it is still cheating.

By rgooding77 on 3/9/2008 5:22:34 AM , Rating: 2
Holy s**t!
the student got busted for creating an online study group? - perhaps if the lazy prof. didn't recycle his exams this wouldn't be such a problem and in turn the study group would actually be a greater benefit instead of a "do you know the answer for this question" option which equals not learning - and i'm sure i'm simplifying it but it is an online study group, and where it would be cheating if they were to share the answers for the test they were about to take from other students whom had just taken it - instead of info. from prior tests - if it were prior tests that were shared, blame the professor for being lazy and not the student for having initiative. (and perhaps the students who did have access to the older exams for sharing it) if this were the root of the problem.
if they're really concerned about this - retest the students using a new test and see if those who did great still do - that's the only way to be sure.
my 2 cents.

Laziness of the TEACHERS
By 7Enigma on 3/10/2008 8:47:41 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is the laziness of the teachers. When I was in college there were some difficult science courses that many people struggled with. Identical courses with different prof's filled up at incredibly different rates. Often not due to the teacher's ability at teaching but rather because some professors earned reputations for using the same exams year after year.

They become complacent once they reach tenure, or care more about their research/grants than actually doing the job they (should) have been hired for. You want to cut out cheating? Change the questions. The only way someone is then cheating is if they physically steal your exam prior to the test.

Forgive me if I don't feel sympathy for the prof pulling in fat wages for lecturing 8-9 months a year with a nice winter and summer break. Heck most of my classes only had 2-4 exams and a final. Take an extra 10 minutes and create 2-3 different exams. Then guess what? Make new exams for the next semester. Eureka!

Disclaimer: My dad's a college prof and shares a similar distaste for lazy prof's.

By phxfreddy on 3/8/2008 8:59:52 AM , Rating: 1
These professors must be lazy and not want to adapt lesson plans to the era of the internet. NOTHING....repeat NOTHING is as effective as collaboration as a learning tool. Now we have the tools to collaborate so much more effectively these liberal jackarses do not want to adapt. Just goes to further prove to me LIBERALS = people who want the status quo.....CONSERVATIVES= people who are progressive. Thus the term progressive liberal is an oxymoron. ( most college professors are to the left of Marx ).....

Someone snipe those moron teachers.
By Joz on 3/7/08, Rating: -1
RE: Someone snipe those moron teachers.
By walk2k on 3/7/2008 6:11:47 PM , Rating: 2
your tax dollars at work gentlemen.

By MrDiSante on 3/7/2008 7:03:38 PM , Rating: 2
Actually... *our* tax dollars at work - this is in Canada :P.

RE: Someone snipe those moron teachers.
By Joz on 3/7/08, Rating: -1
By ChronoReverse on 3/7/2008 7:24:08 PM , Rating: 1
I think profanity entails an automatic 0 rating.

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