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Down the Mine

Here we are. Flashlights on!

Point them at the front of the room.

There’s the prince of darkness, ruler of this domain. He strides from side to side, declaiming many things in front of six hundred followers.

Point your flashlight at the followers.

Note that instead of six hundred, there are two hundred in attendance. The entire course is taught out of a textbook; the prince merely copies, from the same textbook’s test bank, the test on which class grades are based.

He is after all a prince — not the sort to write his own tests.

Since there is no point in attending lectures, many students do not. This angers the prince.

What angers him even more is that a third of the students cheated on this semester’s midterm. Even though the New York Times recently featured his university’s expensive, pervasive, student surveillance cameras as a model for the nation, his business class still cheated.

Humiliated and enraged, he storms. The video of his storming is – like the test he takes out of the textbook – online for anyone to see.


Here’s what seems to have happened.

[S]tudents [found] a version of the test and the grade key on line. Where is the security system for test banks, and how was it so easily obtained? Locally, they are saying that no security breaches happened and the answer key was simply found on line. Shame on the professor and the university. [Scroll down to comments at the link.]

Oy oy oy. Security systems again! First you gotta buy zillions of cameras and train them on the students while they take their exams so the classroom looks like a Vegas casino. THEN you gotta lock security into the exams your princes pick out of textbooks. It’s incredibly expensive, and you’re a public university in Florida, where expenditures for universities are in the cellar.

What to do?

The vast University of Central Florida is essentially an online university. It should drop its physical campus pretense.

Yes, a large percentage of online students cheat. But no one finds out.

Margaret Soltan, November 10, 2010 6:37AM
Posted in: professors, STUDENTS, technolust

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10 Responses to “Down the Mine”

  1. Michael Tinkler Says:

    And no one seems to care.

    I’ve had two acquaintances here in Geneva separately joke that they should sign up for online classes and have their professor friend take the tests.

  2. ricki Says:

    When they were pushing for “more online classes” at my university, my colleagues and I would always ask: “How do we control for cheating on tests?” (In traditional classes, many of us give at-least-part essay tests, and we make up our own darn tests – no testbanks here). The response has always been “Eighty percent of students in ‘traditional’ classes report having cheated.”

    A. That’s not an answer to our question
    B. Is that eighty percent people who tried it once and got caught, and never did it again?
    C. That’s NOT an answer to our question.

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  4. GTWMA Says:

    The answer to B is easy. No, it’s frequent serial cheating among a significant number of students in your traditional resident instruction classes. Almost none of them get caught, ever. If you really don’t know that, then you simply haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening in many classrooms. It’s been well documented by Don McCabe’s work among others.

    Yes, that’s not an answer. But, before anyone gets all self-righteous about cheating in online classes, they better think about the log in their own eye.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    GTWMA: Self-righteousness is never right; but professors who bother to fashion their own courses and exams, and to vary course and exam material each semester, run less risk of the national scandal Quinn at Central Florida is currently riding.

    No one denies cheating goes on in plenty of face to face classes; but in most of those there are some straightforward ways to reduce it significantly, including giving essay exams (if the course is small enough for a professor to manage this), short answer exams, etc.

    When you think of yourself as a “provider of course content” (these are Quinn’s words, from his now-famous YouTube), you kind of get what you deserve.

    Which is to say, you get students who think of themselves as providers of exam content.

  6. Timothy Burke Says:

    Again, this is why starting from the position that it’s technology that creates bad, cynical instruction is a mistake. Strip away every vestige of technology, and if you’re teaching an extremely large class straight from a textbook and do nothing to customize, adapt or particularize the material, and ask nothing more than some multiple choice exam questions taken straight from the material prepared by someone else, you’re nothing more than a roadbump on the way to some certification that students need to progress in a career. You’re a troll under the bridge collecting fees. You’re not concerned with actual learning.

    Preventing certain kinds of cheating is easy: customize and change your exams. Have essays or substantial identifications as well as problem sets or multiple choice questions. Have smaller classes. Don’t teach entirely or even at all from highly standardized textbooks. Go for distinctive assignments during the semester. In pre-professional education, evaluate students more on problem-based exercises, hands-on or experiential work, than a test administered in a classroom to five hundred students.

    Too much? Ok. Then don’t complain about cheating. At a certain point, the set-up of the education offered is cynical enough that student cynicism in response is a perfectly reasonable road for them to take.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Tim.

  8. GTWMA Says:

    I agree, also, Tim. Having seen some of the videos of people being caught cheating in online course, it’s not true that they never get caught. And, while I wonder whether there are any straightforward or easy ways to prevent cheating anymore in any setting, there are certainly greater challenges to preventing and detecting it online. Essentially, though it comes down to doing the work to engage in actual teaching and learning, as Tim says.

  9. Jonathan Dresner Says:

    You’re a troll under the bridge collecting fees.

    I like that, Tim.

    I’m facing a bit of speed-up, myself, and it’s going to be a whole new challenge: my survey classes are going to be twice as large next semester, so I’ll need to figure out how to scale up my current practice, or find a new way of getting what I want out of them.

    That said, though, there’s no excuse for test banking – have you ever read the questions they put in those things? Ugh. – or for wasting students’ time by repeating in lecture what they’re supposed to get from the textbook.

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