Archive for: March, 2018

Is this cheating or is it networking?

Mar 19 2018 Published by under academia, cheating, conflict, education

I’m a TA for a large undergraduate course that’s required for premed and bio majors. As I was grading the first exam of the course, I was scoring an open-ended question that was vaguely worded. So I was surprised when many of the students put together the exact cookie-cutter answer the professor was looking for.

“How on earth did they know what she was asking here?” I said to another TA. “Did you guys cover this explicitly in review sessions?”

The other TA answered, “No we really didn’t talk about that too much. But I think a similar question was on last semester’s exam? She refused to let them have a copy of that to study from, though. So I don’t know how they could have seen that.” She frowned at her pile of exams, “I’m having the same concerns with another question.”

A few minutes and a brief internet search later, we figured out that the exam from last semester was still posted online and although it was not available to current students, the exam and answer key were still accessible to last semester’s students. So, basically, any student who knew a former student would have had an answer key prior to the exam since the professor re-used the same exam from the preceding semester.

Upon review, it became clear from the lack of variety in responses to the open-ended questions that most of the students who had scored well on the exam had seen a copy of the answer key. For instance, one question asked students to draw and label the structures of the pituitary gland. The professor, on the answer key, drew the organ from an unusual angle. Many of the students did the same, although this was not how the pituitary gland was drawn in the text, in lectures, or in most online resources.

We, of course, immediately alerted the professor to the situation. She promised to make the next exam ‘harder’. In my mind, this was not a sufficient response to the inequities of the present exam, because the students clearly did not have access to the same study resources so I don’t think it was a very fair test.

Students who were able to get old exams and answer keys were simply using all resources at their disposal to study—although from a pedagogical perspective, if students simply reiterate answers they may not understand well, they’re clearly not getting much information out of the course. On the other hand, I sympathized with students who did not have access to the old exam through their social connections, studied hard, and did not score as well. I worry that they might be discouraged from putting in honest work in the future because of this experience.

What would you do in this situation? As a TA, I feel really frustrated and can imagine what the students who didn’t have the answer key feel. Of course, I think the professor should not have re-used last semester’s exam. I personally thought the professor should have done a mea culpa and not factored this exam into the final grade but she said that was not an option. I really hope she will create new exams in the future and I’ve even offered with the other TAs to write the next exam. But I just don’t have a lot of power in this situation.

Although I personally don’t think the students cheated in this case, since the answer key was so easily available, there’s a fine line between them and these guys, who, in my opinion, clearly cheated—although they seem to think their behavior was justified as ‘networking’.

Briefly, the link goes to a case where a professor re-used old exam questions although he took pains not to allow copies of his exams to fall into students’ hands. Some students managed to photograph their exams behind his back and passed them on to friends in the course. The thread was started by a student who did not have a copy of this exam, found out others did, and wasn’t sure what to do about it. Many responses posted on the thread were along the lines of this one: “Life isn’t fair, bruh, time to make some friends.”

Reading what those students wrote makes me wonder– what are the differences between cheating, slightly unethical behavior, and networking (especially in 2018 where such lines are completely blurred, even in the highest office in America)? Is cheating just networking to a greater extent?

The pre-med students who have been rewarded with high grades for ‘networking’ don’t seem motivated to outgrow this behavior either—CNN revealed radiology residents cheated on their board exams by basically the same means—which, frankly, could put our healthcare at risk.

I’m feeling naïve in my belief that students come to college to learn (as I did), or that they’re here for anything more than a grade on a transcript and a fat salary down the road. But, especially for pre-med and medical students, academia is set up to reward grades over knowledge, students learn to game this system by ‘networking’, and it’s difficult to know what, if anything, to do to change that.

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Attending a conference with a toddler

I just got back from my favorite conference. It’s always a great mixture of science, inspiration and networking. Oh and great food, the food is awesome. This was my first conference since I had my baby and my husband and I decided that we would all go since it was semi-local, I’m still nursing and the hotel looked fabulous. I was pretty nervous about bringing the family.  Since we were local we brought LOTS of baby gear, toys and finger food.  Overall, it was a good, but tough, experience.

The conference program was great. The schedule was planned such that if I had needed to pump there would have actually been time to do so. I was staying at the same hotel as the conference so, to nurse, I just went up to our room but I’m sure a place would have been provided.  Speaking of food, the wonderful/kind organizers were so understanding they even told me that they were sure no one would notice if my husband popped over for some of the meals.

Hubby had a few meetings each day that he needed to call in for and we actually did pretty well with the handoffs. He and Baby had a lot of fun and Baby even got to see snow for the first time!  I felt a little sad that I’d missed out on these adventures, but it’s just something I’m going to have to get used to.

The main issue for us was, as sweetscience mentioned in her post, SLEEP!  Our baby is not a good sleeper, he hasn’t been since about 4-months old. We called ahead and the hotel had a crib placed in our room and we tried to keep to as many of our sleep routines as possible, but the baby basically did not sleep at night. Since we were in a hotel room there was no place to go (I did consider the bathtub) so I basically didn’t sleep. This general lack of sleep led to some fuzziness on day 1, crankiness on day 2, by day 3 I was a bordering on becoming a zombie, and on day 4 my body just gave up and I got sick. Thanks to coffee (maybe a contributor to the nausea and dizziness) and great talks I didn’t fall asleep in any of the lectures, learned a lot, and was inspired with the cool new ideas and techniques, but I do know I didn’t get as much out of the week, scientifically, as I could have.  My brain felt slippery, like I knew I should be able to latch on to some of the concepts but they were just sliding by.

While not sleeping in the middle of the night I did recall my coworker telling me I was crazy to bring the family, that I should just take the hotel room and get a few nights of real sleep.  I’ll be honest, at that point I totally agreed with her. But in the morning I looked over and got to see my son and my husband snuggling while I read the abstracts for the day, and I realized that I kind of got to have the best of both worlds.  Minus the vomiting.

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