Friday, November 19, 2010

Opportunity, motivation, rationalization, the University of Central Florida, and the young

Jake Kuramoto linked to an Inside Higher Ed piece entitled Cheating and the Generational Divide. To summarize, students in Richard Quinn's senior-level strategic management course employed an interesting strategy before their mid-term exam.

What is clear is that some students gained access to a bank of tests that was maintained by the publisher of the textbook that Quinn used. They distributed the test to hundreds of their fellow students, some of whom say they thought they were receiving a study guide like any other -- not a copy of the actual test.

Editors of the student newspaper argued that the students did not cheat.

"These students studied pertinent material and earned high grades,” the editors wrote, marking the paper's more muted stance on the issue after initially condemning the students. “This same information could have most likely been found in their textbook or course material. At this point, we're not sure whether this constitutes cheating.”

Another tactic is to blame the professor.

Some students have blamed Quinn, accusing him of misleading them and being lazy. They posted clips from the first class's lecture, in which Quinn can be seen telling his students that he is responsible for creating the test. The students have tried to use this statement to justify their acts; since Quinn told them he would be writing the exam, they did not think the prefab version they were using to study would be used.

However, even if one can believe that the students had no idea that material circulated by fellow classmates to selected people was NOT legitimate study material, there's that tiny little issue of what happened once the test started.

[S]tudents say that they only became aware that they had more information than they should have when they took the actual test, realized they had seen the questions before, and knew the answers.

And what did the students do at that point?

No one raised his or her hand during the test to acknowledge having had a copy of it, and the incident came to light only after Quinn statically analyzed the scores and saw that they ran a grade-and-a-half higher than in the past. His fears were confirmed when a copy of the test bank test was placed in the bin on his office door.

Again, reviewing the fraud triangle that Jim Ulvog has discussed (see my previous post), we certainly have opportunity, we certainly have motivation, and we have a ton of rationalization.

But there's another level of rationalization that's going on - the idea that this is something new. The title of the Inside Higher Ed piece asserts that there's a generational divide on cheating. On the one side, you have the young, as cited in Knight News:

UCF student Konstantin Ravvin told ABC News he thought UCF’s so-called cheating scandal had been blown out of proportion.

“This is college, everyone cheats. Everyone cheats in life in general,” Ravvin told ABC News. “I just think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this testing lab who hasn’t cheated on an exam. They’re making a witch hunt out of absolutely nothing, as if they want to teach us some sort of moral lesson.”

On the other side, you have the old, as quoted in an unidentified forum referenced by Inside Higher Ed:

"The society you students are creating for yourselves to live in will be run by ignorant, uneducated snots with degrees they didn't earn," one observer, a self-described former professor, noted in an online forum accompanying one news outlet's coverage of the story. "People who whined and cheated their way through school will run your economy, design your cars and homes, handle your medical care. Have fun with that!"

This, in a perverse way, is its own rationalization - namely, an agreement by both old and young that cheating by the young is a new phenomenon, and certainly never happened when the professors were taking classes themselves. Yep, it's these danged young people who are cheating on tests, downloading torrents, and jailbreaking their iPhones.

But anyone who complains about the young whippersnappers modifying Apple products is going to have to realize that this is nothing new. After all, the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) didn't issue the iPhone as their first product. And no, their first product wasn't the Macintosh or the Apple II. Their first product was one that, like the iPhone, used AT&T's network. The only difference was that AT&T didn't authorize the use of the blue box. But that didn't stop the Steves from marketing it:

In 1971 Steve 'Woz' Wozniak designed a device called the 'Blue Box'. It allowed -- of course illegal -- phone calls free of charge by faking the signals used by the phone companies. His friend Steve Jobs instantly realized that there must be a huge market for something that useful. He bought the parts for $40, Woz built the boxes and Jobs sold them to his fellow students at the University of California in Berkeley for $150.

Now the AT&T that exists today wasn't the AT&T that existed in the early 1970s (although it is a logical descendant). The AT&T that existed when blue boxes were the rage is a company that was founded by Alexander Graham Bell, who would presumably be horrified at the young whippersnappers who were getting free long distance calls. Well, except for the fact that there are allegations about Bell:

The ostensible topic of Seth Shulman's new book, The Telephone Gambit, is how Alexander Graham Bell cheated his way into owning the phone patent. Apparently Bell copied research from his chief rival for the lucrative patent, Elisha Gray.

So any attempt to rationalize cheating by saying that it's a new phenomenon is false. Cheating has been going on since day one...or day eight, take your pick.
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