Student Faces Facebook Consequences
Freshman hit with 147 academic charges for online study network at Ryerson University
Mar 06, 2008 04:30 AM
Louise Brown / Toronto Star /Education Reporter
Ryerson student Chris Avenir is facing expulsion for taking part in a Facebook study group for one of his engineering courses.
Study groups may be a virtual trademark of the Ivory Tower - but a virtual study group has been slammed as cheating by Ryerson University.
First-year student Chris Avenir is fighting charges of academic misconduct for helping run an online chemistry study group via Facebook last term, where 146 classmates swapped tips on homework questions that counted for 10 per cent of their mark.
The computer engineering student has been charged with one count of academic misconduct for helping run the group - called Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions after the popular Ryerson basement study room engineering students dub The Dungeon - and another 146 counts, one for each classmate who used the site.
The incident has sent shock waves through student ranks, says Kim Neale, 26, the student union's advocacy co-ordinator, who will represent Avenir at the hearing.
"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.
"That's the worst part; it's creating this culture of fear, where if I post a question about physics homework on my friend's wall (a Facebook bulletin board) and ask if anyone has any ideas how to approach this - and my prof sees this, am I cheating?" said Neale, who has used Facebook study groups herself.
Ryerson's academic misconduct policy, which is being updated, defines it as "any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment."
Yet students argue Facebook groups are simply the new study hall for the wired generation.
Avenir said he joined the Facebook group last fall to get help with some of the questions the professor would give student s to do online. As the network grew, he took over as its administrator, which is why he believes he alone has been charged.
"So we each would be given chemistry questions and if we were having trouble, we'd post the question and say: `Does anyone get how to do this one? I didn't get it right and I don't know what I'm doing wrong.' Exactly what we would say to each other if we were sitting in the Dungeon," said Avenir yesterday.
"But 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," he said.
While Neale admits the professor stipulated the online homework questions were to be done independently, she said it has long been a tradition for students to brainstorm homework in groups, particularly in heavy programs such as law, engineering and medicine.
Each student in the course received slightly different questions to prevent cheating, she said, and she did not see evidence of students doing complete solutions for each other. Instead, she said, they would brainstorm about techniques.
But Neale admitted the invitation to the Facebook group may have been what landed them in trouble. It read: "If you request to join, please use the forms to discuss/post solutions to the chemistry assignments. Please input your solutions if they are not already posted."
Still, said Neale, "no one did post a full final solution. It was more the back and forth that you get in any study group."