Students respond to UCF cheating scandal


As a kind of rebuttal to the cheating scandal at the University of Central Florida, some students have posted this video that raises the issue of whether students were misled as to the source of their exam questions:

I think the students have a point here. Prof. Quinn did say that he “writes” the exam questions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he creates the exam questions from scratch; “writing” an exam could refer to the act of assembling a particular mix of questions from the test bank. But it’s unrealistic to expect the average college student to know the difference between creating and assembling an exam when the word “write” is used in this context; and anyway he said he writes the questions not the exams.

This entire video goes back to a point that involution made in the comments to my first post on this story: Did the students know that the exam was going to come from the publisher’s test bank, or was there at least a significant chance that it would be? If not — if the students had no reason to believe that the test bank should be off limits — then what the students did can’t be called “cheating”. How could it? Cheating is when you use an unauthorized resource to substitute for your own knowledge. If the resource isn’t unauthorized, it’s just another resource, not a cheat-sheet. If Prof. Quinn didn’t make it clear that the test bank was off-limits, I’m afraid he doesn’t have much of a case here after all. What exactly was said in the class or the syllabus about and test banks? Does anybody know?

Of course, by telling the students that the test bank is off-limits, you are basically telling students that the exam comes straight from the test bank and therefore making it that much more likely that this sort of cheating will take place. But I consider that a strong reason not to use test banks at all, rather than a reason to keep the test bank under wraps. In fact, the more this situation unfolds, the more unhealthy it makes the whole educational environment surrounding it seem. Class sizes in the multiple hundreds: Check. Courses taught mainly through lecture: Check. Professor at a remove from the students: Check. Exams taken off the rack rather than tuned to the specific student population: Check. And on it goes. I know this is how it works at many large universities and there’s little that one can do to change things; but with all due respect to my colleagues at such places, I just can’t see what students find appealing about these places, and I wonder if students at UCF are thinking the same thing nowadays.

As to the students making the video, I think they can bring something fruitful out of all of this if they stay on point and act professionally. But I have to say this video doesn’t help. First of all, calling yourself “UCFScam” on YouTube; it’s not a “scam” and business majors should know that. In fact, calling Prof. Quinn’s actions a “scam” implies fraud, and that can be interpreted as slander on the students’ part, landing them in the same place they want to land Prof. Quinn by suggesting he violated copyright. Second, speaking of which, accusing the prof of copyright violations and calling him lazy are off-point and counterproductive. Pejorative words don’t win you an audience. And the last subtitle:

…is absurd. Right now the students, rather than sounding like mature young men and women who have been legitimately put on the wrong side of an issue in an unfair way, sound like whiny undergraduates asking for class to be cancelled and wanting more points. If you have a point, make it — respectfully and logically. You might also try not making spelling errors such as “frustated”. I’m assuming the students want to succeed in the business world, and this is how it works as far as I understand it.

What a sad situation. Why don’t they just make up their own tests at UCF?

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15 Comments

Filed under Academic honesty, Education, Higher ed, Life in academia, Teaching

15 responses to “Students respond to UCF cheating scandal

  1. Of course they should have behaved more maturely, but given how immaturely the conflict was started by a person who is supposed to be a role model … well, I can understand it.

    I still can not see how what the students (supposedly) did can be called cheating. Even if they had known the questions would come from that test bank, as long as they do not commit a crime in obtaining them, what is your point? How can finding material and cramming it into your head _before_ the exam be cheating? Sure, it might be dumb since unproductive in the long run, but cheating is imho strongly connected with using unauthorized material _during_ the exam.

    For the record, in my department (Germany, <150 students per lecture) the students' council maintains a catalogue of old exams, obtained with full staff cooperation. It is _expected_ that people try to solve questions similar to the exam questions. But then, we seem to have a whole different set of premises with respect to education than people in the US and/or business "sciences". Thankfully, I think reading your posts, and hopefully also in the future.

    • At issue is whether students are being honest in the work they do on an exam. If they have access to the exam prior to its being given, and memorize the key and then repeat the answers onto the exam without doing their own thinking, this is not being academically honest. On the other hand, if the exam is merely being taken as a subset of problems from a test bank, or is just similar to such problems, then I agree — the act of getting the test bank on its own doesn’t amount to dishonesty.

      PROVING that students had access to the key and memorized it is another matter; I think that would be very hard for the professor to do.

  2. Addendum: I think that in Germany forcing an exam to be rewritten for reasons as Mr Quinn states them would not stand a minute in court. If for nothing else then clearly because he also voided results of non-“cheaters”. Obviously, he can _not_ prove who “cheated” at all.

  3. gregzoyle

    Cheating by using test-banks? Who is authorized, nonauthorized, has any kind of legal access to these? If one expects something to be secret, then it must not be shared; it must be made unavailable to those who need to be excluded from it.

  4. Cory Poole

    Those test banks are not available to students. The publisher only allows teachers access to them. The students that used it knew that the questions were from that test bank, otherwise there wouldn’t have been that many people using them.

    • Re: Your first two sentences – Not exactly. When a person requests a test bank from the publisher, the publisher usually will ask for some kind of verification of identity. Once the test bank has been sent out to the person requesting it, however, it’s out of the publisher’s hands. A test bank could find its way into the hands of students in any of a number of ways after the professor gets a copy, and the publisher wouldn’t have any idea of it. Also, not all publishers are equally rigorous in making sure only bona fide instructors get copies of test banks in the first place; it’s relatively simple to lie about one’s identity and get a copy of one.

      • Just go to Amazon.com and search for “test bank” in quotes to find about 4,000 hits, and many of them are the “holy” test banks. I wouldn’t use a test straight out of a test bank. When I do use them, I select problems here and there from a variety of test banks and textbooks.

      • Cory Poole

        I agree that students can get them. I’m just pointing out that they are not supposed to and nearly all students realize this. Therefore, it can be classified as cheating.

      • Who says that students aren’t supposed to use test banks? The instructor could say so, but as I pointed out in the article, it’s not clear that happened at UCF. The publisher could say so, but I have never seen a disclaimer on a publisher’s web site to that effect. The test bank itself could say so, but again I have never seen anything printed in a test bank that says “This material not intended for student use”. There may be an unwritten rule in the academic community that says so, but we can’t expect students to know all of our rules, and at any rate from a legal standpoint, if the material is not explicitly unauthorized, it’s as good as authorized. For all the students know, the test bank could be something the instructor uses to give out practice tests, and in fact I know a good number of instructors who use test banks for exactly those purposes. So IMO it’s not at all clear — and it must be doubly unclear from the student perspective — that test banks are supposed to be for instructor use only.

      • Cory Poole

        On a side note (though quite related), you should check out this article in the NY times. Babylonian word problems with solutions! http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/27/arts/design/27tablets.html

        Distribution of these would be significantly harder! 🙂

      • Cory Poole

        The only test bank I have actually says for instructor use only in bold on the front cover. I thought this was a more common practice.

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  7. Jen

    Even middle school textbook test banks make it clear that they are for teacher use only. Using a test bank that hasn’t been explicitly given to you as study practice is different than using old tests that are on file in the library, as well. Is it smarter not to use them? Surely, but that doesn’t make cheating ethical.

    Of course, in this case it’s difficult to know all that we don’t know — for instance if they were able to look at emails that were distributing the test bank questions it could be pretty easy to tell if they knew they were cheating or not. If they said, “hey, here’s a teacher only copy of the test bank for our textbook and we think it’s where the test questions will come from, don’t tell the professor!” — well, then it’s pretty clear that they knew what was up.

    Did you see the article written by the guy who writes student’s college papers for a fee? He had that same sort of whiny, oh, it’s someone else’s fault that these students aren’t being caught for hiring me. Well, sure, again, you’d hope that a professor would notice that written essays are far better than any other work the student does — but how would they go about proving that, if they even had the time to do so?

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