Friday, March 7, 2008

Is Sharing Study Notes on Facebook Cheating?

The power of the Internet and the ability to quickly disseminate information is now sweeping into the education system...but not in a good way. A Toronto Ryerson University student is set to be expelled because of a study group he set up on social networking Website The school is calling the action "academic misconduct" because students were sharing notes, tips, and study question answers on the site.

My first thought is who cares? Not about the student, but about the study group. How is this any different than a group of students getting together in the local coffee shop or at someone's house to do their homework together? Sure, it's on a much larger scale (the group supposedly had upwards of 125 students in it), but once again, who cares? The students are studying together, helping each other out, and engaging in conversation (albeit of the virtual kind) in order to understand the course material. And after all, isn't the whole point of education to learn?

Perhaps in finding out answers to questions within this group, it ends up striking up a conversation that goes something like: "Wow, how did you get that answer? I've been stumped on this all day!" Followed by: "Well, you do X, Y, and Z." And voila. The student has learned something! Maybe it wasn't from the professor. Maybe it wasn't from the text book. But he learned it.

I'm not naive enough to think that there won't be "cheaters" who will just log on, ask questions and copy the answers, then hope for a passing grade. But when it comes down to test time, there's no Facebook to tell you the answers in a classroom. Chances are, if someone is cheating via a Web group, they probably would have found a way to do it without that group anyway. And if someone wants to pay for a non-education, which will most certainly be discovered later in life, well, that's a whole other issue altogether.

Should this 18-year-old student, Chris Avenir, who claims to have had good intentions with the group, be expelled? Absolutely not. And if he is, it'll lead me to believe that the education system is stuck in an archaic state of non-growth, unable to understand how to embrace technology instead of fear it. I'd also suggest that Avenir gather all 100+ group members in a local venue and they all study together live, and in the flesh. What will the school have to say then?


Ben Wright said...

If people want privacy on their social networking sites, they should consider posting legal terms of service to that effect. See The idea is not legal advice for anyone, just something to think about. --Ben

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is what Prof is spending their waking hours policing facebook? And on their salary of 60K you'd think they would invest that in more productive activities like being available to students and help them succeed. This is a PR nightmare and positions Ryerson very badly to the public. You don't see other universities or colleges in Toronto going nuts. What 'cheating' actually happened? He was an admin for gawd sakes, he didn't create the group. In Ryerson vernacular 'study group' equals everyone is a cheater so watch your back and your emails. My prediction is he won't be expelled because that would be too stupid, glorifying the 'policing' aspect and they would help sell more newspapers if they did that. But we shall see......... -Josef