Monday, October 19, 2009

The Lesson For Today? Ethics and a Cheater...

I'm taking an Ethics class this semester. Internet Ethics. Yes, I willingly chose this class, then when I read the syllabus, worried about what I was getting myself into. There was a lot of reading, and SIXTY percent of my grade would be based on group assignments. I don't know about you, but when the majority of my grade depends on other people, it is disconcerting.

Fortunately, there's one other person in my group who has been fantastic. M has the same work ethic and we're keeping each other sane with the workload. Another student, E, has moved here from Cuba recently and he and I talk each Friday night before turning in our book assignments because some words have dual meanings in English and they conflict with the one in Spanish.

As I said, the majority of the work is submitted as a group. There are ethical dilemmas that are presented and each member is expected to submit their interpretation to a private group discussion board. One of the two main projects involve each group submitting a Power Point presentation, and the remaining nine groups offer a collective critique from their members. Students submit one or two individual assignments AND one or two collaborative works with our group. We rotate who within the group compiles and submits group assignments, because it is a little time consuming.

The first week, I volunteered to do it. I'd read most of my fellow teammate's works when lightning took out power in my neighborhood. It came back after a half hour, but the cable and Internet didn't come back. As soon as Ed came home, I trucked over to the local McD's and spent a few bucks on bandwidth, getting our assignment submitted with a half hour to spare.

When I was reviewing the stuff, one guy's work seemed familiar, like I'd read it before. I was under a deadline though, so I chalked it up to reading it prior to the power outage. The assignment was turned in, we got a check plus and I didn't think about it again.

However, the next week, no one had signed up to do the critique of the power point presentation, so I stepped up and worked on compiling it. Again, one member's work seemed really familiar. Too familiar. Like I'd written it.

Because I had.

He took my critique form, with the myriad formatting changes I'd made, removed my name and slapped his on the form and submitted it. I was pissed. I mean, seriously pissed. This was an ETHICS class.

Curiosity piqued, I went back to the previous week, the one where things seemed familiar and found that he'd copied M's assignment. I sent her an email as my group leader and debated emailing the professor, too. Part of me wanted to give Mr. Cheater McCheaterson some rope to hang himself, the other part wanted to call out his cheating butt to the group.

Ultimately, I decided to email the professor and cited the two examples, stating that I wanted to see if he did it again. I asked that if she wanted us to handle it differently, let me and M know. I got no response (unusual for this professor), but figured that meant that our plan was acceptable.

The next week, I was neck deep in the family stuff, so I just concerned myself with turning in the two group assignments by Thursday night to allow the team member responsible plenty of time to do the work and didn't even give anyone else's assignment a look.

This week, there were two group submissions, and I was responsible for compiling one of them. I don't know why I was surprised, but once again, my words were staring back from the computer screen. I had written:
2. In my opinion, Revlon breached the agreement. If you purchase a car and stop making payments, the repo man will come to your door and take what the car away. It doesn’t matter if you paid one payment or 55 of sixty payments, they’ll still take it away.
Why shouldn’t Logisticon have the same rights? They had access to Revlon’s computer system to work on the program, it’s not like they broke in illegally to take down the system. It’s simple-don’t use what you didn’t pay for. Any 5 year old can tell you that it is stealing.

And Cheater McCheaterson's submission:
2. in my opinion they should not break a contract and then continue using the software. Its like buying a car and then stop making payments on it , there will be consequences. It doesn’t matter if you paid one payment 10 payments, they’ll still take it away.
Why shouldn’t Logisticon have the same rights? They had access to Revlon’s computer system to work on the program, it’s not like they broke in illegally to take down the system. It’s simple-don’t use what you didn’t pay for. Any 5 year old can tell you that it is stealing.

I looked at the other assignments due and found that he'd copied my critique verbatim, slapped his name on it and submitted it. Then, I'd found he copied M's critique last week. If you're keeping tabs, 4 weeks, five assignments blatantly copied by one student.

Blame it on the pain from the EMG or disgust that someone in an Ethics class was blatantly cheating, I sent an email to him and emailed M and the professor. I went on a tear, even posting on the group discussion board without using any names. The email went like this:

If you are going to take somebody else's work and use it as your own, don't you think the person might notice their own words on your paper?

I noticed M's words repeated in the first assignment I turned in for the group. Then my own in the second one.

Tonight, my words are AGAIN used by you.

THIS IS AN ETHICS CLASS!!!! If you have no concept of the irony, then perhaps you have a bigger issue.

It has been brought to the Professor's attention.

His replies were rather interesting. I'm leaving them intact, spelling errors and all. The first:

Well dont u think i look over other peoples work it is agroup. The first one i really didnt know the format that shrwanted nor who or how it was going to be combined and submitted it wasnt intentional. However it is group work and there are things i agreed with .

And soon after, this one:

Next time instead of including it. I will say i i agree with so and so that ...... Sorry again that u feel that way im not used to group assignments.

After I responded that the remaining seven people weren't familiar with group projects, either, but they seemed to be capable of submitting their own work. Further, to preserve academic integrity, I don't even look at anyone else's submissions until I've completed mine. Then, this reply:

If no one looks at anyone elses assignment than wht is the point of group work

Then I explained that the purpose of the group is to compare and contrast, possibly to learn from opposing points of view. At some point in all of this, I directed him to the specific pages of the syllabus that spelled out exactly that what he was doing would earn him an FF in the class, failure due to academic dishonesty. Which would suck for him, because he needs this class to graduate his major.

The professor weighed in at this point (early the next morning), demanding that he redo the assignments and stating that he should review the slides in the syllabus I'd pointed out in the previous email. It was then that I realized that she probably hadn't seen my first email, because five incidents would not get such a tame punishment. That email was resent, with links to the original posting from M or myself and Cheater's post which was time stamped later the same day each time.

I got a response from the professor that no, she hadn't seen the earlier email, or she would have handled it differently.

So, how would YOU have handled this?

While I was dealing with the pain and unable to sleep, I googled his name and the third item was an entry on He was a TA at our university last year and a student rated him poorly.

Why, you ask?

He kicked the student out of the class for cheating.

Irony. Pure irony.

1 People talked back:

songbird's crazy world said... an ETHICS class?

watch you back, though, Suzanne. I took a class in college -- it was theater arts, a pass/fail eelctive -- where my partner and I had to prepare and perform a scene and also keep a director's notebook. my partner showed up for rehearsals but ... I wound up doing the lion's share of the work. I didn't say anything to the TA who taught the class, but she asked me....because he'd done the same thing to a previous partner earlier in the semester. when he failed the class he started harassing me over the didn't go further than that....but watch your back.