Patrick Truchon's Web Portal

Academic Honesty

Posted by Patrick on October 1, 2009

When I was in college, there was an ongoing debate amongst the students as to what constituted cheating on assignments.  Our professors would give us weekly assignments from the textbook meant to help us develop concepts and problem solving skills.  They encouraged us to work in groups and discuss the problems with our peers, as long as our solutions reflected our own thinking.  They also encouraged us to research, read other books, find articles online, etc.A group of students realized that it was pretty easy to search for the same course in other universities, and to find complete solutions (worked out by other professors) to the same problems we were working on.  They would then do the assignments aided by these solutions.  Their perspective was that it was simply “good research” and not cheating because they weren’t simply copying the solutions: they were working through them, trying to understand them, and only then, would they write their own “researched” work.

A different group of students disagreed with this view and claimed that this was cheating.

It’s now your turn to have that debate.  What is cheating?  Where do you draw the line?  If copying someone else’s work word for word is cheating, what about using someone else’s work to help you with yours (if you write it in your own words)?  What is legitimate research?  Should you always quote your sources (of help)?

In trying to answer these questions, I would like you to watch this talk by Clay Shirky [1].  (If your connection isn’t so good, remember that you can download Youtube Videos [2]) Most of the talk is about the broader topic of Information Overload and Filtering, but there’s a very good section where he talks about social networking tools (like facebook) and cheating.  What do you think of his views?

Links:

  1. Clay Shirky, It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LabqeJEOQyI>
  2. HIS Wiki, <http://secondary.hisdomain.hdis.hc.edu.tw/wiki/doku.php?id=documentation:students:firefox#download_youtube_as_mp4>
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21 Responses to “Academic Honesty”

  1. ★▂▄▆Auggie∮Tsen▆▄▂☆ said

    Yes, it's cheating because some people just lazy so they use this way to copy someone's ideas. In the other hand, no, it is not exactly cheating because people might be not sure about what to do, so they study others' ideas become their own knowledge. The purpose of doing the assignment is to learn. So, I believe that those student weren't cheating.

    auggie

  2. Gene Shiue said

    To me, cheating on a test is to copy someone’s work when you don’t know how to do a problem because a test is supposed to test how much you learned. But then teachers seem to assume you are cheating while you try to look at someone else’s work because the only one that knows if you know how to do a problem or not is you, and people usually only look at someone else’s work when they don’t know how or what to do, that’s why teachers assume that you are cheating. And to me, cheating on an assignment is copying someone else’s work (even though you cited it), because it’s not your work and you expect to get a full grade like this? But then I think if you work with others or work through the steps of your source and “understand” it, it’s not cheating, but I think quoting your sources is showing that you respect the writers.

    I think the facebook example (the study group) in Clay Chirky’s speech can be both cheating and not cheating. People will never know if there was a person that doesn’t participate in the process of figuring out the answer but only participate in writing down the answer(copying). So it can be cheating sometimes. I think the group should be smaller(they should filter and see if a person is suitable in that study group, but not just let everyone who wants to join join the study group), that way, the other group members can make sure that everyone is participating while they are working.

  3. JAe said

    Indeed, cheating is a very controversial issue. Sometimes it is very hard to draw a fine line between cheating and researching. However, in this case, I would consider it "not cheating." What, then is cheating? The validity of cheating totally depends on the context. Although "intellectual theft" is often considered cheating, I do not see any problem about researching the methods online and use it as a guideline to follow. If the college students were not supposed to access to the posted solutions, it surely justifies as "intellectual theft." However, in this case, it was not something like that. Students had a reasonable right to access to the information they needed and wisely used the information to help themselves. In addition, students did not just try to copy down the solutions. They were working through questions and trying to understand them. It's just like teacher trying to help out students. Teacher are there to help students to understand better. The posted solutions played a role of teacher in this case to help students understand better about the given problems. By the same reasoning, I presume, this is not only "good research" but also "good learning process."

    The facebook example in Clay Chirky's speech makes perfect sense. It can both be an extension of study group and a false media control. In fact, I am more inclined to say that it's a form of cheating. Obviously students have a right to form a study group. However, as Clay claims in his speech, there are people who are free riding without much participation. Inactive participation of students defeats the purpose of professors and the school. The purpose of giving homework to students is to teach them the process of extracting out the solutions. Free ride is quite far from an active participation. Therefore, this is considered "cheating." However, this short example is quite irrelevant to the story posed by Mr, Truchon. In Mr. Truchon's story, students were very active in participating and solving problems. They were not simply COPYING down the answers like free riders, but they were actually UNDERSTANDING the solutions. Students did not defeat the purpose of the professors and school. Therefore, I believe it was a "good research" rather than a "sneaky cheating."

    In summary, I believe that the validity of cheating strongly depends on the context of it. In Mr Truchon's case, the purpose of studying together and researching totally justifies as it did not defeat the purpose of "work." However, in Clay's case it does not justify as research or cooperation as it, in some way, defeated the purpose of the "work."

  4. Kevin said

    I believe that this issue of academic honesty almost entirely lies upon the shoulders of the professor or institution. They must outline what constitutes as cheating.

    Clay Shirky's example of Ryerson College and the Dungeon chemistry group is a very good example of the clash of ideals. The institute has obviously not made it clear for the student as to what is cheating and has not even agreed upon itself as to what the constitutes as cheating in the chemistry.

    "Our academic misconduct code says if work is to be done individually and students collaborate, that's cheating, whether it's by Facebook, fax or mimeograph".

    – Ryerson Dean

    If this were to be the academic message then wouldn't talking to other students be cheating? tutoring? Collaboration of any kind?

    In the case that you have stated, I believe that the students were cheating because the teacher did not know they were using this source. However, as Augustine has said, the objective to teaching is to learn. In this case, the students are learning, arguably more productively than the others, and thus the objective is not compromised. Teachers often disregard grades, feelings etc. in order to educate. However, this education comes at a price and I believe students like Chris Avenir are not cheating or "free-riding" but rather wanting to put together heads and figure things out.

    Both these examples (Patrick's and Chirky's) are very subjective and have details that I do not know, therefore it is extremely hard to judge whether their actions were just or unjust.

    Patrick, I am curious as to why you brought up this topic? Did something stir the intellectual curiosity of the o mighty math teacher?

  5. Vivian said

    Hi Mr. Truchon.
    What I think I will do is first give you my opinion on cheating before I view this video. I'm doing this because I would like you to be aware of my own personal opinions before I come in contact with Clay Chirky's talk and "use someone else's work to help you with yours."

    I believe that the word cheating is an indefinite and an unclear word. Where to draw the line? To me, a very good example of cheating would be cheating on tests. Asking a fellow student how to solve a problem would not be considered cheating. Asking a fellow student and looking up solutions on the web, seem to me, the same thing. Both are there to assist you. Although, I believe that citation is very important. It's solid proof that you can present to others that there was rightly a reference that assisted you.

    In your example, where the students were able to have access to solutions solved by professors from other universities were not cheating. And like they said, 'it was simply "good research". They were working through them, trying to UNDERSTAND them, and only then did they write their "researched" work.' I believe that how can you come up with something that's entirely yours? We are always in need of assistance, therefore research. Isn't this the same as a professor lecturing and a student using parts of that lecture in an assignment? Is that cheating too?

    After watching the very long video, this further supports my opinions on cheating. There's a particular quote that Clay Shirky says, "Now we have a lot of personal technology but we don't have so much of a personal life anymore. And it's not like your voice is being recorded for posterity. And now it is like that." I believe that this means that everything has already been spoken by somebody else, figured out by somebody else. Information is everywhere. Especially in today's society, where technology and the informational web is a finger away.

    One more thing that I would like to articulate more on the video is the two different views of Avenier and Ryerson. Personally I think that Ryerson should not have accused Avenier of cheating. A study group inside of school grounds or a study group on the virtual web is still a study group. And what is a study group? A study group is a group of students who share knowledge, come up with ideas and work together to grasp and to understand. And just like how Clark Shirky said, "We have known the formula for hydrochloric acid for some time now, right? We're not asking the students to figure it out because we need them to know it. We're asking the students (PLURAL) to figure it out because we need them to have experience figuring things out."

  6. Stephanie said

    To me, cheating mean to cheat on test or cheat on homework. Why wold you cheat on test or homework? Most of the answer will be "because I don't know how to do it". Some of the answer might be "i'm too lazy to do it". And so cheating to me is just simply copying others work when you don't know how to solve it, or you don't want to do it. For the example above, these students are not cheating in my point of view. They didn't just simply copying the solutions, they use that solution they found to Help them understand and solve the problem, then they write down the answer in their own words. Therefore, this is not included in "cheating" in my opinion. But what they can do is go over the problem first, if neither of them can solve it, then go on research. Don't research first when they don't even look over the problem. This is what I think they can change.

    The Chris Avenir's facebook study group example Clay Shirky talk about in his speech is a really good example to prove that it is not simple to draw a line for cheating. In this case, it can either be cheating or not cheating, base on how do you look at it. Ryerson Dean James Norrie's point of view is that it is cheating because some of the students in the study group may not participate, and they can get the answers without doing any works. But Chris Avenir consider that isn't cheating, because they really have that study group in the campus. However, I agree with what Clay Shirky said, " small groups defend themselves against the free-riders, big groups don't." So what should Chris Avenir do if he still want to fun this study group on facebook is to narrow down the members, and keep everyone participate in the study group.

  7. eira said

    I agree with many people that have posted on this blog. I believe that it is really hard to draw that fine line for cheating. If one can't even have a clear definition for cheating, how is he or she to draw a fine line between cheating and simply "studying" how others did their work?

    I personally think it would be a more suitable term to use plagiarism if the individual is copying work word for word. I think it really comes down to the one's integrity. I think it's acceptable if you read someone's work simply trying to understand how to approach a problem (if you are completely lost), but I do NOT think it is acceptable is one simply copies word for word because he/she was too lazy to work through them him/herself.

    I agree with many others that the facebook example was really good. I think that if you had a study group with participants that did not participate, it defeats the purpose of having a study group. If one simply went to the study group to copy down the answers, it then, would be counted as cheating. I say this because I believe that they are not trying to understand the information in any way.

  8. Kassy said

    I think cheating depends largely on the context. Firstly, one needs (as stated above by many others) to have a clear definition of what cheating constitutes. Secondly, what constitutes cheating depends largely on the integrity of the students.

    I think copying word for word is plagiarism because it is directly copying someone's ideas AND wording. In this situation, there is a very high potential that the student or whoever copied word for word did not even try to understand the concepts, but rather copied and pasted without thinking about it. (In the cases of potential plagiarism, one should quote and cite the source!)

    So from above, I guess it's pretty clear what my views on what cheating means. I think as long as the student learns something in the process of the research, it is not cheating. The whole idea of cheating is to copy the answers without doing your own work or attempting to understand it. But the students in Mr. Truchon's example were learning. They were working through the solutions, trying to understand them, then would proceed to write out their researched work.

    I also think the Facebook example is not really cheating. However, I still think it depends largely on the context of what constitutes cheating (as stated above)

    Most importantly, I think the what does and does not constitute cheating depends largely on the integrity of the student (as Eira said above). If the student just copied without thinking about it, it would be cheating. However, if the student looked at the answers, used the answers to help them come to an understanding and then realize the steps that must be taken to reach the answers, then it is not cheating.

  9. Lauren said

    To me, cheating is when you use other people's idea, knowledge but without citing and just copy others' work and pretend it's yours. What's the purpose of cheating? To save time or money? It might be an easier way to get a high scores on one of the ongoing assignments (short term), but will it really help in the feature (long term)? You can't always be cheating; you can't learn by cheating.

    In Mr. Truchon's case, I don't think it was cheating. The students worked through the solutions and tried to understand them. They might discussed with each other and added their thought too. We all need help from other people when we meet difficult problems, google it, ask teachers, ask other students…., etc. However, I think that we should try to do it by ourselves first, and find help when we really can't figure out. I believe that this is how we learn, once we understand, no matter how, we will always remember it.

    The facebook study group issue can be both cheating and not cheating. However I don't think it's the starter's fault. It might not be a good way of organizing a study group because you can't control whether there are free riders or not. He wasn't the one who are not participating or the "free rider." Clay Chirky mentioned that a small study group usually is more defend themselves by free riders; but in a large study group, it's hard to tell whether he/she is a free riders. In addition, I think that students who are actually thinking, doing work, but consulting other researches don't consider cheating; but the students who do not do any work but copy others' paper are cheating.

  10. Justin Chang said

    No, I do not think either case is cheating. First of all, answers to math problems are nobody's ideas. Plagiarism means using someone else idea or thought. There's only one answer to a math problem, one definite answer. So, if homework is given to someone, I believe he or she can do anything only is it's not plagiarism. However, like what I said, one can't do that with math problems.
    Nevertheless, I wouldn't just copying the answers since that's not helpful to me. I would like to work through the problems in order to fully comprehend the given problems.
    It's a personal issue, but I do not think there's anything wrong with the 2 examples. They can do what they want since it's their own homework. If they want to just copy them and not learning them, it's their own problem.

  11. Vincent Lovell said

    I agree totally with the students saying that it is "good research" because it is. if u have the forward thinking and the smarts to go find the solutions and work through them then you have accomplished "good research". I also think that its not only in this case that this would apply because the goal of education is to teach students to use resources and to think so that the can contribute to society. So if they use their thinking skills to find the answer to the problems then it is in fact good research due to good education.

  12. Mr. Truchon said

    It's very interesting to read your *varied* comments on this issue. To be honest, I was expecting the "student perspective" to be more unified. That was a little bit of an eye opening for me…

    I'm curious about a couple more things though…

    (1) To those of you who believe that using worked out solutions is not cheating, how would your respond to Clay Shirky's comment (which Vivian pointed out) that:

    "We have known the formula for hydrochloric acid for some time now. We're not asking the students to figure it out because we need them to know it. We're asking the students to figure it out because we need them to have experience figuring things out."

    That is, to what degree do you think that students reading through worked out solutions miss out on the experience of figuring things out (which the was the point of the exercise)? Even if they learn *something*, does it mean that they learn what the teacher intended them to learn?

    (2) To those of you who think that looking up solutions online is "good research", should you then have the responsibility of citing your sources? What about buying essays online? Is this also good research? Where do you draw the line?

    (3) Any comments on Kevin's claim that:

    "[The] issue of academic honesty almost entirely lies upon the shoulders of the professor or institution. They must outline what constitutes as cheating."

    (4) Any comments on Justin's claim that:

    "answers to math problems are nobody's ideas"

    I look forward to your additional insights on this issue…

    Cheers!

  13. THEMAX said

    Ithink it depends. Homework is to let the person doing the homework learn, if the person just copy stuff off someone else's work, then they would learn nothing. But maybe sometimes, the person has no idea where to start. The just need an idea to start, in that case, maybe it's okay.

  14. Terence Liao said

    I think it really depends on the situation. It is very hard to put a definite line between what is cheating and what is okay. Because its so subjective, whats most important is that as long as the student works 100 percent, and is trying to figure out how to do the work and tries their best to complete it is whats most important. In the example where students found answers online, it is up to the teacher to decide whether or not the student is using the answers correctly. If all the student does is copy the answer down, and shows they don't understand or trying to understand what they are doing, it might be considered cheating. While if the student tries their best to work backwards from the answer, i wouldn't see anything wrong with it, unless the teacher specifically states that students are not allowed to do that because everyone is trying to work for the answer.

    However, in the case of tests, if a student is looking at another students work, that would automatically be considered cheating. Again, it depends on the situation.

    For the example of the facebook group, i do not see a problem with using a STUDY group on facebook. If the universities say that we should not help each other study or discuss then it isn't a very good school. And with the comment some people brought up about some people might now work in the group. Unless it was a project i think it makes no difference. Besides if they didn't work in the group on facebook, they wouldn't work in real life. The only way it would be wrong would be that someone posted all the work and answers
    and everyone copies it.

  15. Terence Liao said

    I think it really depends on the situation. It is very hard to put a definite line between what is cheating and what is okay. Because its so subjective, whats most important is that as long as the student works 100 percent, and is trying to figure out how to do the work and tries their best to complete it is whats most important. In the example where students found answers online, it is up to the teacher to decide whether or not the student is using the answers correctly. If all the student does is copy the answer down, and shows they don't understand or trying to understand what they are doing, it might be considered cheating. While if the student tries their best to work backwards from the answer, i wouldn't see anything wrong with it, unless the teacher specifically states that students are not allowed to do that because everyone is trying to work for the answer.

    However, in the case of tests, if a student is looking at another students work, that would automatically be considered cheating. Again, it depends on the situation.

    For the example of the facebook group, i do not see a problem with using a STUDY group on facebook. If the universities say that we should not help each other study or discuss then it isn't a very good school. And with the comment some people brought up about some people might now work in the group. Unless it was a project i think it makes no difference. Besides if they didn't work in the group on facebook, they wouldn't work in real life. The only way it would be wrong would be that someone posted all the work and answers
    and everyone copies it.

  16. jesse said

    Very interesting to read everyone's views! Thank you…

  17. Melody said

    I think copying other people's work is cheating, even if you know how to do it, as long as you copy others works that's cheating. Stealing other people's ideas is also cheating, because you are supposed to use your opinions to get the score or the results. I think it is okay to check your answers with other people, but you can't just change your answers when you see their answers, you have to truly understand the meaning of the questions and then rewrite your own answers.

    When the teachers gave us the assignment to research, doesn't means we can just copy paste from a website, we can look at the research and write down our thoughts or opinions, but we can't copy the whole thing. We should always quote things when we're copy-pasting it from the internet. That's the basic respect to the writers.

  18. hoosic said

    I think to say whether someone is cheating depends on the rule. And as long what you're doing follows the rules of the assignment, it is not cheating. An accurate view for what that student is doing in Mr Truchon's university, I'd ask the professor who gave out the homework, and see if what that student's doing is appropriate. In a general view, the majority would say it is cheating. Because most people see the professor handed out the assignment is to improve the students' information gathering skill, team work skill, critical thinking skill, reading skill and etc. And what that student is doing does not help him on any of these skills (mostly).

  19. Elaine❤ said

    I think that it is possible to differentiate between cheating and researching. First of all, it is not hard to take advantage of the internet but it does not mean that everyone on the internet is cheating. Second of all, it is simply too unfair to give an exact yes or no answer to the question without fully understanding each students perspective when they were doing their "research".

    Clay Shirky's example of the facebook study group shows two sides of the story. Chris Avenir did not start the facebook study group because he wanted to make life easier for people who joined because of the simple answers, in other words he didn't start it so people can cheat. Chris Avenir started the facebook group because he wanted to expand the discussion and provide these kind of discussions for other students who are not in the limited small study group. However it is understandable of the Ryerson Dean to be over reactive to such situations because it is true that not all 146 people who joined the group wants to LEARN from others.

    This problem is controversial because the answer to the problem is subjective. It is a both Yes and No answer. Like Auggustine said, some people are lazy and are there to copy other people's ideas. It is also No because there are people out there who wants to be exposed to new ideas so they can do better on there own. I don't agree with parts of what Justin is saying copying down 1+2=3 because it's the way it is doesn't mean the person fully understands the problem.

    I think cheating means copying down others work and not understanding what you are copying.

  20. Kevin said

    I had a huge conflict with myself when I read this. In my opinion cheating is just a un-cool and boring things to do because there is too much risk to get caught and cannot fightback. I dont know what is the real definition of cheating but my definition for cheating is to break rules that everyone/everything agreed.(for example: hacking someone's computer and steal people data, your wife cheated on you but you dont allow her to do so..etc)
    One of the things makes me confuse about my definition is examples in the article.
    The problem of the examples is that, it did not mention there are rules about the homework. Maybe the professor allow people to copy down the work. I think, although it's a common sense that copying someone's work is cheating, no rule says that is wrong and you learn from it.

    Another things that makes me have a hard time thinking about it. It's that ,even there were rules about it, there still will be holes between the rules. People can always argue with it and go through the rules.

    In conclusion,Due to everyone has different answer about cheating and every rules has it's blind spot. I think there is no clear line about cheating because it's hard to argue cheating is right or wrong.

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