Thursday, March 6, 2008

Does a Study Group on Facebook Mean Cheating?

This is just a short post because I have to finish packing for my annual visit to my parents (who happen to be down in Florida right now so it's no great hardship!). One the feeds on my iGoogle page was the following article:

Ryerson Student Fighting Cheating Charges for Facebook Study Group

Here's the lead paragraph:
A first-year student at Ryerson University in Toronto who has been accused of cheating after helping run a Facebook study group could get expelled from school pending a hearing by a special committee.

Apparently, there were 146 members of the study group for a first year engineering course on chemistry - they were all helping each other with homework.

Here's my thoughts on this. There has been an increased amount of 'sharing' of assignments - that was one of the first things I noticed when my own children attended university. Everyone tried to get notes and assignments from people who took the course the previous year/semester. I really didn't quite understand this behavior. I always just did the work on my own and if I got stuck asked the TA or the prof. Sometimes, if the subject matter was difficult, we'd get together with a small group and work together. But it seems the reverse now. Nobody does work on their own, everything is done via group.
Now this is great for collaboration skills and discussions, etc BUT I am hearing far too many stories of students piggybacking their way to a degree with a minimal amount of individual effort.
But maybe it's the nature of the assignments. If homework can be shared and same assignments submitted, maybe, just maybe university professors need to redefine their assignments so that students can't copy and piggyback. Maybe it's time for universities to stop being money machines and to start educating again. Maybe it's time for universities to re-think how they assess and evaluate.



Esther said...

What interested me in this article was that the student in question was an eighteen-year-old freshman. Being so recently graduated from high school, I wonder if your observation that "Nobody does work on their own, everything is done via group" applies to the learning skills this young man was taught, or assimilated, in his secondary school education. While I agree that it's important for educators at ALL levels to create fresh, meaningful learning experiences and evaluations, I'm not sure that it's possible to create the perfect plagiarism-proof assignment. As a high school teacher-librarian, I've watched the growing trend of collaborative assignments with skepticism. Our kids are already skilled and comfortable in a socially-networked world. Perhaps, we need to find ways to help them practice the seemingly forgotten skills of personal reflection and expression.

P.S. I've been enjoying your blog. Have a great March Break!

Ben Wright said...

Betty: If people want privacy on their social networking sites, they should consider posting legal terms of service to that effect. See The idea is not legal advice for anyone, just something to think about. --Ben

Betty Bunhead said...

Thanks for the comment. I too wonder if we are going too far with the social aspects of learning sometimes. However, I think that if co-operative, group learning is structured to include individual accountibility (many group projects omit this really important component)then we can take advantage of both collaborative learning and individual learning. As well, I believe that the process of inquiry-based learning is more important that the product (try to convince the content area teacher of this though!). This is really where we as TLs in collaboration with the classroom teacher can help students reflect on their individual learning. Requiring students to explain, justify and synthesize their learning as they make their way through a research-based project requires them to think metacognitively about the reasons they ask specific questions, chose resources, and come to the conclusions that they do. We design individual accountibility into the project to make all students accountable.
I also looked at your blog and I am looking forward to reading it in more detail. What a great way to share books!

Betty bunhead said...

What a can of worms that would open! However, I hope that our Canadian laws do not follow your American laws - too much litigating going on in the US!