Cheating at UCF: What Lesson Was Learned?

Story and video of the entire lecture here.

Professor Richard Quinn discovered that about a third of his six hundred person class had cheated on a midterm. Although (he said) statistically he could identify the guilty parties, he allowed them to voluntarily confess, retake the exam, and attend a four hour ethics course in return for anonymity (as far as their fellow classmates were concerned) and not being kicked out of school degreeless. This is being hailed as an inspirational “youtube” moment.

The lecture is heartfelt and hard-hitting. I particularly like the way he lets the guilty parties squirm before offering his deal.

Still, am I the only one dissatisfied with the ending? What’s the lesson here? Cheat in a huge way at a college level and. . .you will once again get a pass? While your fellow non-cheaters have to suffer through another exam?

I think it’s a lousy lesson. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s responsible to release those people into the business world with degrees.

I just watched the video. Very interesting, but I call bullshit on one part of it.

The cheating in question was that the test leaked beforehand, and was distributed to about a third of the students. Not the test answers; just the test questions. They initially discovered the cheating when they noticed a two-peaked curve in the grade distribution, a classic sign of shenanigans. They analyzed the data and figured out that a third of students had probably cheated. All of that makes sense. But the professor went on to say that further data analysis would reveal with 100% certainty who the cheaters were, “within the next few days.”

Okay, statistics and data analysis are powerful tools. Sometimes amazingly powerful. But they have their limits. They can reveal trends in a data set (like the fact that cheating was going on), but once you get down to the individual datum, they become more limited. There is absolutely no way that the administration or that professor could tell with any degree of certainty that a particular person cheated or not. Even if the student had gotten a ‘C’ on every prior test, and an ‘A’ on this one, that’s not enough evidence to level such a serious accusation against him. (And I’ll also note that this was the course’s midterm. Probably, this was the first and only test of the semester so far. So there’s no recent grades for comparison on the individual level.) Because of the nature of the cheating – that is, the questions were leaked, but not the answers – a cheater’s exam will be statistically identical to someone who just got lucky, or who was unusually well prepared. There is no rule against getting lucky.

Armed with that knowledge, the professor’s speech rings hollow. “I know which one of you kids took the cookie from the cookie jar. And if the guilty party comes forward now, I’ll be lenient. Otherwise, the punishment will be severe!” The authority actually has absolutely no idea who is guilty, but needs to fake it just to sweat out the perpetrator.

The lesson learned? Two hundred business students at that school do not understand the limitations of statistics.

I only read the article, I didn’t watch the video, so maybe he says differently, but this part:

“or you can identify yourself to your lab instructor and you can complete the rest of the course and the grade you get in the course is the grade you earned in the course.”

makes me think he’s just dropping the test, not making them retake it.

Either way, if you feel you did poorly on the test, even if you didn’t cheat, you should turn yourself in.

That was my exact thought. The shitstorm that would ensue is the school kicked out 200 students without any hard evidence would be immense.

The article must have gotten it wrong (I don’t know, I just watched the video).

All the students have to retake the midterm. He said it was mandatory for everyone, and that “only a signed letter from God” would get them out of it.

On the matter of finding out who it was, I wonder if they’ve been talking to the person who gave the professor a heads up. He/she might be giving up names. But surely that wouldn’t be enough to level such a serious charge against someone.

In regards to the question about finding out who cheated or not, I would think that the school admins are reviewing email accounts to see who was sent a copy of the “test bank” test and/or matching (if possible) logins/IP addresses of people who went to the test bank site. So if they review the emails received by “” and there’s an email that made it to my inbox with the subject “Here’s the biz test” with an attachment that is the test in question, that is enough to put my ass in hot water:

“Unauthorized assistance: Using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information or study aids in any academic exercise unless specifically authorized by the instructor of record. The unauthorized possession of examination or course related material also constitutes cheating.” (italics mine)

Doesn’t matter if you use it, if you can be proven to be in possession of it, you’re busted.

Can schools legally review student email accounts like that?

IANAL, but YES!!! For university accounts, anyway. Your work email belongs to your employer, not to you. Your student email belongs to the school, not you. Your gmail account belongs to Google - see the trend here?

Email sits on someone’s server. If the server isn’t yours, the information on that server is theirs.

If UCF wanted to review a student’s hotmail account, that’s between UCF and Microsoft, and their lawyers. But any student with a copy of the exam questions in their email could face penalties.

There is at least one other possibility.

When I was at uni, we had a couple of subjects that were so broad that study for the whole subject would have been almost impossible. Instead we were given a list of, say, 50 topics, and told that 20 of them would be on the exam in some form, as either essays, multi-guess, short answer etc.

Us clever students divided the list amongst trusted friends, so everybody did 7 or 10 top quality exam length essays. Then we memorised the essays. This was much easier than trying to study the questions though separate textbooks chapters, or even separate books and lecture notes.

So it’s possible that this class did the same thing. If the questions were available only shortly before the exam, it might make sense that they divided up the answers. If that happened then there would be a way of telling who cheated by comparing answers.

Totally agree with the OP. They got off too easy. WAY too easy.

No, the instructor got off way too easy.

He teaches the same class over and over and over again without actually writing his own tests. Of course, there are students who will figure out where he’s (legally and lazily) copying his exam from and study that instead of the “approved materials.” If he’d written his own exam in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened.

The students who intentionally cheated shouldn’t have done so, they should be subject to academic discipline. But he created an environment that made cheating inevitable. If he’d put forth some effort in the first place (which he’s still not doing, he’s still having someone else, his TAs and LAs, write the test for him) he wouldn’t be in this position.

As far as searching students’ email - say Susan is in a lab section of 10 people. Robin gets a copy of the test somehow (either she broke into the test bank or someone emailed it to her). If she emails it to her entire section, then all of them will have the test whether or not they used it - there’s no way to distinguish between those students who gave it a quick glance, decided not to use it, and took the test honestly and those who looked at it, printed it, and studied off the hard copy. Unless UCF has the kind of honor code that requires a student turn in other students that they suspect might be cheating, the administration doesn’t have much.

What makes me bonkers about this situation is that 400 innocent students now have to retake the test.

To me, this is absolutely piss-poor classroom management, very much like the time when I was in 6th grade and I was a good little boy, and a few kids acted out, and the teacher punished the entire class by giving us punishment homework: we had to write “I will not talk out loud in class” 150 times.

I came home, protested to my parents that I had not acted out in class and therefore should not be punished. They told me I was free to choose not to do the punishment homework, but that they wouldn’t back me on it.

I ended up writing the stupid line 150 times, but I’ve regretted that I didn’t preface it with a short essay on how punishing everyone for the actions of a few does little to encourage the good students from continuing to behave in the future.

Some will argue that the good will just have to suck it up. I wonder if the professor in question would “suck it up” if the university punished the entire faculty for the actions of a few.

Presumably the 2/3rds non cheating will have done their course work and should have no problem with another test.

In the same vein, one expects that a significant number of the cheaters will not be as well prepared, and took a short cut to cover this lack of work.

The result is that they will have to work hard to keep up.

I would also expect that if there are admissions, then previous work can also be scrutinised, investigations about the mechanisms of cheating and remedies developed.

As a byline, for those who did not cheat, but had done poorly, at least they get a second chance.

The university can call an exam void should there be any significant concerns, it may seem unfair, but its common enough to punish the whole for the sins of the few and its used as a way to drive a wedge between certain groups, and its a good lesson in self regulation, after all a business course must deal at some point with self regulation and this is as good an example as can be thought of.

Look at the current turmoil in world finance, and remember that there was a lot of deregulation leading up to it, and a reliance more and more on self regulation.

The lesson here is not to use “question banks” for setting exams or homework. Something similar happened in a class I took as an undergraduate, where half the class found the questions set for a homework, complete with model answers, from a PDF on the Internet from a completely different university. It’s damned laziness on the lecturer’s part. Further, don’t give me any bullshit about there not being “time” for a busy professor to write an exam. Many professors do write their own exams, or at least pay for a TA to do it for them. It’s part of their job, so if they can’t find time to do it, then they need to make time.

I don’t see how it is cheating, except by this definition: Unauthorized assistance: Using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information or study aids in any academic exercise unless specifically authorized by the instructor of record, because the instructor explicitly said that he wrote all of the exams: U-Tube Link. I think it is overly restrictive to say that the students can only use textbooks, etc, that the instructor has explicitly approved. The point of University is to draw from a variety of sources to synthesize new ideas.

I don’t think that the students could have reasonably known that the test bank would have been the exam. When preparing for my exams, I’ve always solved the odds (if we were assigned the evens). A few times the prof would get lazy and the exam would consist solely of the odd questions (I had a prof, who, a couple of times assigned the lab questions to prove a point); in the former case I don’t see how I was “cheating” - the prof selected from a public (or semi-public if you want to include the solutions) list when s/he made his/her exam.

Academic honesty encompasses more than technically following the rules. Ethical behavior is not a “bare minimum” thing. It’s an active commitment that you need to live out to it’s fullest.

This means that if for whatever reason, the questions on the test look familiar to you, you pull the instructor aside and explain the situation. That is the only ethical response. Any other response is an attempt to use an advantage that may or may not be unfair. It is your responsibility, and your responsibility alone, to ensure that you actions do not violate the school’s ethical guidelines. If there is any question of what is appropriate, it is up to you to make sure everything is perfectly clear. And I think in this particular situation, everyone involved knew what they were doing was shady.

I’m a grad student, and we recently had a pretty brutal midterm. Our class spent a solid half-hour with the professor clarifying exactly to what level group preparation was appropriate. Her response was that it was okay for us to brainstorm together before preparing responses, and it was appropriate for us to prepare responses and then compare notes. But a “divide and conquer” approach, with individuals working alone on certain sections and then putting it all together, was not. We respected that and took great care to make sure we followed her guidelines- not for fear of getting caught, but out of respect for the aims of the class, our professor, the value of our degree and each other.

Learning is not a no holds barred battle of wits between teachers and students. It is a cooperative activity, with the instructor preparing materials intended to guide the student towards a better understanding. The teacher presumably prepares their exam material with certain goals in mind, and it’s not up to the student to make the unilateral decision that a shortcut is more appropriate. Exams on a college level are often more about the study process than the exam itself. Profs usually are not too concerned if you can spit the stuff out on paper. What they really want you to do is to take the time to review the material and commit it to long term memory. It’s about the process.

If you trust a school enough to pay for on of their diplomas, you need to trust them enough to do the work for their classes. There is more to college than getting a few numbers on paper and a diploma. The point is supposed to actually be to learn stuff.

I concur. The other lesson that should be learned, on the school’s part, is not to have massive lecture courses with 600 students enrolled. (A bit of Googling suggests that this was a senior-level course for majors, in which case it’s even more inappropriate from a pedagogical point of view – but I can’t think of any circumstances where the 600-person lecture is a good idea.) The best defenses against cheating are a) instructors who know their students and will spot test scores or written assignments that are inconsistent with students’ performance in the classroom; and b) tests and assignments that require students to do some serious writing and thinking on their own, rather than multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank. Neither is practical in a course with an enrollment of 600.

I disagree.

100% of the onus not to cheat is on the student. I don’t care if the professor hands you an envelope with the answers and asks you politely to wait until after the midterm to open it. You still don’t cheat. By taking that school’s courses, you created a moral contract to abide by that’s school’s ethical guidelines, no matter how stupid or pointless you happen to think they are. If you violate that- even once- I am all for kicking your ass to the curb.

If a teacher cannot assume the majority of their students will take an active approach to ethics, their ability to teach effectively is going to be severely hampered. I know that I, for one, am glad I can attend a university where ethics are taken very seriously by all parties, so that my instructors can expend the majority of their energy teaching rather than playing grade-school police. We are all to old and have too much to do to still be playing the “let’s take everything we can get” game.

If you do not like a school’s teaching style, there are literally thousands of American universities to choose from. Every school has some course evaluation mechanism. Cheating is not an appropriate way to show your discontent. These students were not commenting on the effectiveness of lecture classes or trying to improve the quality of instruction. They took the class. They wanted the grade. They wanted the diploma. If they hadn’t got caught, they would have been perfectly happy. They were fine with the benefit, they just didn’t want to do the work.

Going to university is a choice. Everyone involved is an adult. People put a lot of time and money into their degrees. Cheaters diminish the value of that degree for everyone. Screw 'em.

Completely agree with Even Sven. These people aren’t in elementary school anymore.

Just out of curiosity, is the video actually the speech that he gave in class? Because if there were six hundred students there there’s a curious lack of evidence of them being there.