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  1. #1
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    'Cheating' Scandal at Harvard

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/01/ed...-accepted.html

    It would be helpful to see more of the instructions that were given to the students, or to have some idea of how similar the exam papers in question were. But if it's an open book take home exam, and students are studying in groups in the course, I would be surprised if there wasn't some overlap...
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    Sharing notes also seems pretty harmless to me. Plagiarism of course should be prohibited, but sharing notes off the same lecture?

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    The article I read says the answers on large sections of each exam were extremely similar in wording. That sounded to me like they divided up the exam and each person took a question and then they share their answers with each one changing a word here and there.

    This article seems to be mostly from the student's POV and paints a different picture than the one I read.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anita18 View Post
    Sharing notes also seems pretty harmless to me. Plagiarism of course should be prohibited, but sharing notes off the same lecture?
    From what I have read, sharing notes wasn't the issue. And even from this article:

    He said that he also discussed test questions with other students, which he acknowledged was prohibited, but he maintained that the practice was widespread and accepted.

    The exam instructions said it was “completely open book, open note, open Internet, etc.” Some students asked whether there was a fundamental contradiction between telling students to use online resources, but not to discuss the test with each other.

    Maybe it's just me, but I see a big difference there.

    From another article, the instructions on the exam were:

    “The exam is completely open book, open note, open internet, etc. However, in all other regards, this should fall under similar guidelines that apply to in-class exams. More specifically, students may not discuss the exam with others….”

    The students are basically arguing that "everybody does it." And everybody does if the situation allows for it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't violate the honor code.
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    When we had take home exams, the professor always said to the class that they were open books, open notes, etc, BUT we could not discuss the exam questions with our fellow classmates. I'm pretty sure these Harvard students, who were among the brightest of high school students, knew that. For any of them to claim otherwise is not believable.

    It's also never a good argument to say, "Well everyone does it...", because someone will shoot back, "Well if someone jumps out of the window then you're going to jump out too? "

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    One of my roommates actually took this class a couple years ago and said, "It's not a hard exam, it would probably take more effort to cheat than to actually find all the info yourself..." and I also talked to a few friends who took the course this past semester and were not implicated and they said the same thing. I mean, I've had ridiculously difficult take-home exams for which I would have 72 hours and spent about 65 of them on the exam, but it seems really stupid that such a widespread case of cheating happened in an intro class. But then again, one of the aforementioned friends quoted a certain guy in the class who WAS implicated as something along the lines of "If you're not cheating, you're not trying", oy...

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    20 years ago, when my son was a freshman at a lovely college in NC, before cell contraptions, I used to phone him once a week on Sundays, he sort of knew to be there, helped his 6 year old sister to talk with him. I remember asking him during his first exam period, which was a take home block of two weeks when one could take whatever exam in whatever order, how was XYZ exam? He responded that he was not allowed to tell me because, for instance, if he said it was easy and someone heard him, he would have broken the honor code and they would have known not to study hard. Great kid. Great school. Perfect match. Oh, and he did not get into Harvard Business School because his school did not give all As and theirs did. Went to another great choice for him. Still sees his college and BSchool buddies several times per year, all over the country, including family get togethers. Harvard Schmarvard.

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    Although it is hard to know exactly what happened and why from the outside, it does seem that the students are taking an "everyone does it" defense, as well as the "it is the professor's fault" defense.

    Harvard students suspected in a major cheating scandal said on Friday that many of the accusations are based on innocent — or at least tolerated — collaboration among students, and with help from graduate-student teachers who sometimes gave them answers to test questions.

    Students said they were tripped up by a course whose tests were confusing, whose grading was inconsistent, and for which the professor and teaching assistants gave contradictory signals about what was expected. They face the possibility of a one-year suspension from Harvard or revocation of their diplomas if they have already graduated, and some said that they will sue the university if any serious punishment is meted out.

    ...

    He said that he also discussed test questions with other students, which he acknowledged was prohibited, but he maintained that the practice was widespread and accepted.
    And then there is the "this course was supposed to be easy, but it turned out to be hard!" complaint.
    Creating drama!

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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffisjeff View Post
    Although it is hard to know exactly what happened and why from the outside, it does seem that the students are taking an "everyone does it" defense, as well as the "it is the professor's fault" defense.

    And then there is the "this course was supposed to be easy, but it turned out to be hard!" complaint.
    This whole fiasco does make Harvard students as no better as the straight-A-seeking-who-cares-if-I-know-this-stuff students at my high school. Most of whom did not get into Harvard.

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    I don't have an opinion one way or another on the incident, but here's a couple clarifying points.

    First, it's common for students to work together to make study guides for particular courses. Each student researches a set amount of course content, and then all the students compile the notes together to have a comprehensive study guide prior to exams. Some of the tutors there assist with these guides and encourage them. All the students using those guides will be writing off the same notes.

    This particular teacher has been the subject of many student complaints in years past for various things, including not showing up for study sessions and office hours prior to exams.

    Some classes develop reputations for allowing students to slide, and this was considered by many to be one of them. So some of the students enrolled may not have been terribly motivated to expend any effort for this class.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post

    The exam instructions said it was “completely open book, open note, open Internet, etc.” Some students asked whether there was a fundamental contradiction between telling students to use online resources, but not to discuss the test with each other.

    Maybe it's just me, but I see a big difference there.
    This was the crux of the cheating scandal at our school . Basically, for one in-class final for a class where it was virtually impossible to get lower than a B, we were given open book, open note, and open internet but we weren't allowed to work with fellow students. But 10 students still got caught using google chat during the final...

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    Quote Originally Posted by agalisgv View Post
    I don't have an opinion one way or another on the incident, but here's a couple clarifying points.

    First, it's common for students to work together to make study guides for particular courses. Each student researches a set amount of course content, and then all the students compile the notes together to have a comprehensive study guide prior to exams. Some of the tutors there assist with these guides and encourage them. All the students using those guides will be writing off the same notes.

    This particular teacher has been the subject of many student complaints in years past for various things, including not showing up for study sessions and office hours prior to exams.

    Some classes develop reputations for allowing students to slide, and this was considered by many to be one of them. So some of the students enrolled may not have been terribly motivated to expend any effort for this class.
    Let me take a poll of the college graduates in this thread--how many of you took classes from professors who were erratic, confusing and unreliable? How many of you took cake courses? How many of you had to take classes for which you were not motivated to expend effort for the class?

    Anybody ever get a nasty surprise doing that?

    How many of you then broke explicitly spelled-out rules because of the above?

    I have a lot of sympathy for students in some situations like this because I think we send terribly mixed messages to students--you must work with others in this course! Peer work is vital. You worked with someone on this???? Cheater!

    But really, if you are smart enough to get into college, much less into Harvard, you should be smart enough to realize that it is utterly stupid to copy your answers off a study guide that was written by and shared with other students (if, in fact, that is what happened). That's not just lazy, it's insultingly lazy.
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    One last thing--the prof suspected about 10 students of cheating based on similarities in their exam responses, and forwarded those names to the Ad board. The Ad board on their own said that 125 exams seemed similar--not just the 10 or so initially referred to them. So if copying was involved, about 90% of the cases weren't obvious enough for the prof to notice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    But really, if you are smart enough to get into college, much less into Harvard, you should be smart enough to realize that it is utterly stupid to copy your answers off a study guide that was written by and shared with other students (if, in fact, that is what happened). That's not just lazy, it's insultingly lazy.
    Yeah, at some point common sense (or a basic sense of integrity) needs to come into play. It seems that we've gone in the opposite direction, away from the idea of students having a basic understanding of "honor" in academics. On the one hand, I do understand the expectation that professors spell out exactly what is and is not allowed, particularly since standards can vary significantly. OTOH, the level of specificity that is now demanded (i.e., the need to provide a laundry list of what is not allowed) is providing students with a convenient excuse for not using independent thinking and for not drawing on a basic understanding of right and wrong (and of what is considered academically lazy or stupid ). Too often, the excuse is that nobody said this was specifically disallowed, so clearly it must be allowed!

    Obviously, we only have limited information. The university is constrained in what it can say, and only a handful of (understandably) anonymous students have spoken out. But it doesn't make sense to me that this was about students all working (copying) from the same collaboratively-developed study guide. The quoted students indicated that the exam questions were confusing and used terms they were unfamiliar with. In which case, it wasn't likely to be easy for each student to identify and then regurgitate the (exactly the same) relevant portion of the study guide. I could definitely see that happening when questions are straight out of the course content, but it seems the quoted students are claiming that the questions were definitely not straightforward, and even not something the students would have thought to prepare for.
    Creating drama!

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    Quote Originally Posted by agalisgv View Post
    One last thing--the prof suspected about 10 students of cheating based on similarities in their exam responses, and forwarded those names to the Ad board. The Ad board on their own said that 125 exams seemed similar--not just the 10 or so initially referred to them. So if copying was involved, about 90% of the cases weren't obvious enough for the prof to notice.
    I was assuming that the TAs graded the exams and brought some of them to the prof's attention. No?

    Quote Originally Posted by jeffisjeff View Post
    On the one hand, I do understand the expectation that professors spell out exactly what is and is not allowed, particularly since standards can vary significantly. OTOH, the level of specificity that is now demanded (i.e., the need to provide a laundry list of what is not allowed) is providing students with a convenient excuse for not using independent thinking and for not drawing on a basic understanding of right and wrong (and of what is considered academically lazy or stupid ). Too often, the excuse is that nobody said this was specifically disallowed, so clearly it must be allowed!
    But in this case, the exam instructions specifically disallowed discussing answers.

    ITA about the specificity, though. It is rather ridiculous. My school now has a syllabus tool that we all have to use; it automatically adds in all the legalese that some of us used to leave out. My shortest syllabus is seven pages long . IMO, I shouldn't have to have a cell phone policy on a syllabus or a complete reprint of the honor code or any number of other things. And there's always a student or two every term who is devoted to finding a loophole.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    I was assuming that the TAs graded the exams and brought some of them to the prof's attention. No?
    That is what I thought based on my own reading on this topic. The teaching fellows (is that just a fancy term for TAs?) did all the exam grading (and, thus, in this case, all the grading for the course). There were quite a few teaching fellows, and it appears that none seemed to have access to all 250 exams (students claimed that they were quite inconsistent in their grading). So, according to what I read, one fellow brought 10-20 papers to the attention of somebody (it isn't clear who that was - the prof or the administration), and eventually things ended up at the appropriate university committee. I actually was quite taken back by the fact that that committee, after reviewing the 10-20 exams, decided that a review of ALL exams was needed. To me, that indicates that a clear pattern existed. But that is still speculation based on limited information.

    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer
    But in this case, the exam instructions specifically disallowed discussing answers.
    Yes, that seems to be the case (so I am not even sure why anyone is debating whether cheating occurred).

    We now have a system that generates our syllabus for us, making sure that every possible topic gets addressed, whether we like it or not. It is quite annoying and creates 12+ page documents.
    Creating drama!

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    As Prancer said--the instructions said "no discussion." Therefore, you don't discuss it. Period. They'll be LUCKY if they just get suspended and diplomas voided. At my university they'd be asked to withdraw. (If they don't, instead of getting to leave anonymously, they'd have to have a public trial by student jury and then they'd be expelled.) That's why we don't HAVE problems like that. And were allowed to take take-home unproctored CLOSED-book finals. You just don't cheat. (And for us it's strictly a student-run disciplinary system so it's a committee of your fellow students kicking you out.)

    And I don't understand the students complaining that things came up that weren't discussed. If it was anywhere in the assigned reading, even if the prof never mentioned it other than on the syllabus, it's fair game on the final. Happened all the time. They're at Harvard, an allegedly tough school--why are they expecting to coast?

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    In undergraduate and law school, sharing notes and outlines was routine. But collaborating on take home exams was not, and I don't recall anyone having to tell me that.
    I think I will have a snack and take a nap before I eat and go to sleep.

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    Quote Originally Posted by danceronice View Post
    As Prancer said--the instructions said "no discussion." Therefore, you don't discuss it. Period. They'll be LUCKY if they just get suspended and diplomas voided. At my university they'd be asked to withdraw. (If they don't, instead of getting to leave anonymously, they'd have to have a public trial by student jury and then they'd be expelled.) That's why we don't HAVE problems like that. And were allowed to take take-home unproctored CLOSED-book finals. You just don't cheat. (And for us it's strictly a student-run disciplinary system so it's a committee of your fellow students kicking you out.)

    And I don't understand the students complaining that things came up that weren't discussed. If it was anywhere in the assigned reading, even if the prof never mentioned it other than on the syllabus, it's fair game on the final. Happened all the time. They're at Harvard, an allegedly tough school--why are they expecting to coast?
    I went to a school where cheating was basically nonexistent too. Even when I was a bio major among the frazzled pre-meds, nobody cheated. (And with what people were willing to discuss around me, I'd be surprised if cheating didn't come up, if it was happening. ) It's very much the culture.

    And for us, the Harvard kids expected to coast...once they got in. We joked that getting in was the hardest thing about Harvard.

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