07 March 2008

Student faces expulsion for Facebook study group

Student faces expulsion for Facebook study group, from Slashdot. (The original article is from the Toronto Star.)

Basically, it's what it sounds like from the headline -- a student, Chris Avenir, started a group for discussing one of his classes on Facebook, and is now being charged with 147 counts of academic misconduct for doing so. The Slashdot comments are surprisingly insightful; basically we hear people point out that in the end you learn a lot more from talking to other people than from working in isolation anyway.

I'm not sure how I feel about the actual case in question. The "147 counts" sounds like trumped-up charges (and besides, how can they punish him 147 times?), but as some people have pointed out, certainly meaningful collaboration wasn't taking part in that large of a group. This is something I've felt when I've worked with groups on assignments, although in the end I rarely work with groups because either I feel that the other people in the group are bringing less to the table than me (and then I feel bitter that I'm doing their work for them) or are bringing more to the table than me (and then I feel guilty for sponging off of them). But I certainly am okay with the idea of people working in groups, both in classes that I'm taking and in classes that I'm teaching. Note that this is just my attitude towards collaboration in classes. My attitude towards collaboration in actual research is not well-formed yet.

7 comments:

David said...

either I feel that the other people in the group are bringing less to the table than me (and then I feel bitter that I'm doing their work for them)

Are your peers really so less motivated than you? Or are you more talented than them?

or are bringing more to the table than me (and then I feel guilty for sponging off of them)

Are your peers really that much more motivated than you? Or are they simply that much more talented than you?

Isabel Lugo said...

David,

I can't answer your questions. But it is clear to me that there is enough of a disparity in the combination of motivation and talent that there's some sort of issue. Separating motivation from talent is tricky and I don't feel that I'm competent to do it. (Or maybe I just don't care enough. See what I mean?)

Anonymous said...

Well played :)

Ben Wright said...

Isabel: If people want privacy on their social networking sites, they should consider posting legal terms of service to that effect. See http://hack-igations.blogspot.com/2007/11/privacy-advocates-such-as-nyu-professor.html The idea is not legal advice for anyone, just something to think about. --Ben

CarlBrannen said...

The basic problem is that the instructor (a) asked the students to do their homework "independently", when there is no way he can enforce that except by a code of conduct, and (b) he made their homework part of their grade.

When, as a grad student, I taught calculus and college algebra, I found that the best way to handle homework was to require it, but to assign it a grade of 1 if the assignment is turned in, complete or incomplete, and 0 if absolutely nothing is turned in. And I allowed homework to be turned in late for credit, it's just that I wouldn't correct it or comment on it. I counted the sum for the homework as a grade equivalent to a test, but dropped the lowest grade, so a sharp student who didn't need to do homework not only didn't need to turn it in, they didn't even need to come to class.

We all know the "premed" who obsesses over every grade on every homework assignment -- these gave me no trouble at all. My time was spent commenting on the methods the students were using instead of trying to assign grades fairly.

Another detail was arranging for the tests to be fairly, quickly and efficiently graded. And when I went over them in class, I kept notes as to how much was assigned for the more common errors. So I would say, "and a lot of you differentiated cosine and forgot the minus sign, that was an error worth -1". When you say that, your students will all look down at their papers and a few of them will groan. And all of them will know that their grade was assigned on a system and is accurate enough to be discussed in public. They will no longer come to you after hours asking why they got the grade they did on the test. They will already know.

These are the things that make students happy: What they are required to learn is explained to them. Their instructor knows the material inside and out and can correctly do randomly chosen homework assignments accurately and easily. And their grade is fair.

It's very simple to have your students be deliriously happy with your teaching and I'm surprised more instructors don't take the effort to do it. Certainly telling students that they cannot help each other on their graded homework (in a big freshman class) is not going to be productive.

David said...

Izzy,

My comment was rhetorical, but your reply is interesting. I'm surprised, given your peers.

Separating motivation from talent is tricky and I don't feel that I'm competent to do it.

Terry Tao would probably tell you that that task isn't so important. So, ... Or maybe I just don't care enough. is OK.

My apologies if this is familiar. I submitted a similar comment earlier, but it looks like blogger ate it.

Isabel Lugo said...

David,

all I'm saying is that some of my peers are more motivated and/or talented than others. This should not be a surprise!