Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ryerson-Facebook-Study-Group-Student Won't Be Expelled

CBC News

A Toronto university student will not be expelled for running a Facebook study group that his school had argued constituted cheating. Ryerson University's Faculty Appeals Committee announced the decision to spare Chris Avenir on Tuesday afternoon, a week after his expulsion hearing.

The 18-year-old will be required to take a course on academic misconduct and will have a note on his transcript saying he was disciplined, said Nora Loreto, president of the Ryerson Students Union. Avenir will also get a zero on one of his assignments, worth 10 per cent of his course grade, Loreto said. "

Chris in our view is still innocent, so it is still too bad that he got zero for that 10 per cent," Loreto said. "But considering we were facing expulsion, I think this is a victory, certainly a broader victory for the students at Ryerson."

Avenir's lawyer said Tuesday that Avenir has not yet decided if he will appeal the decision. "It's a finding he's not at all comfortable with. He doesn't believe that it's fair or appropriate," lawyer John Adair said. [snip]

The first-year computer engineering student faced one count of academic misconduct for acting as the administrator of the online group and 146 counts for each classmate who was a member of it.

[snip]

Professor asked for independent work

His case ignited debate over whether the study group amounted to online cheating or, as Avenir argued, an exchange of academic ideas in line with such practices as tutoring and mentoring. When the online study group Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions was discovered, Avenir's chemistry professor gave him an F in the course and charged him with academic misconduct. The professor had asked that students perform their work independently. Loreto said Avenir's failing grade has been revoked and he will now be allowed to pass the course.

Avenir has said he joined the online study group Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions last fall, then later took charge of the page. He argued that the group was a place online where students could share notes on assignments that contributed 10 per cent to the overall course mark and was no different than any library study group or peer tutoring.

[http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008/03/18/facebook-avenir.html?ref=rss#postc]

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[http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008/03/18/facebook-avenir.html]

2 comments:

Matthew said...

Two things:

When Avenir attends the course on academic misconduct, I hope that every student and faculty member in the school is there because this kind of thing happens ALL the time. We have all worked together on assignments that were meant to be individually done. That is unless you have no friends... Which, in computer engineering might actually be the case for many students!!! lol

Secondly, he was guilty, even though everyone going through the education system in this part of the world is just as guilty. But then the universities and even academic society as a whole is guilty of academic misconduct. These kids are very young when entering university and college and they know NOTHING about proper academic conduct because where do they learn about it? Nowhere. Very few institutions implement any kind of formal training in the behaviour appropriate to university students and graduates. No one tells them who to do research and move in academic circles ethically and efficiently. They are left on their own to figure it out and many never do completely. You can't expect something of people if you don't tell them about it first no matter what it is.

Anonymous said...

This issue probably boils down to the expectations that were or were not set by the professor for the class. If the assignment was clearly designed to be "completed individually," does this mean the student can't ask questions of the professor or of their peers? Did the page in question provide students with specific information that would allow them to complete the assignment without doing some necessary work? Did the professor provide students with independent assignments so that students wouldn't be able to directly assist one another to begin with.

Since there are student privacy issues involved, those of us on the outside will probably never know for sure whether this is a case of a student(s) stepping over clear lines the professor drew, or a professor who assumed they'd made those lines clear but hadn't really thought things through.

Student cooperation and collaboration are common best practices in education these days, so it shouldn't be assumed that independent work is automatically going to be the lone student, sitting isolated from peers in a room or study hall, diligently chugging away at the assignment. That expectation needs to be clear, if it is intended.

The ruling seems to be an attempt to split things down the middle, which on the face of it suggests that the expectations weren't clearly stated but that the student also took liberties. There's no way to know for sure though.

My suggestion would be to ask the student in question to submit a different assignment as a substitute and make sure that they followed the expected procedures and policy of the professor.

There is also the question of whether other students were investigated and punished, given that collaboration requires... well collaborators.