Friday, November 12, 2010

University of Central Florida Cheating Scandal Prompts Professor to Issue Ultimatum
Professor Richard Quinn Felt 'Disgusted' After 200 Students Cheated by Obtaining Advance Copy of Exam
Nov. 10, 2010

Hundreds of students caught in a cheating scandal at the University of Central Florida in Orlando have been given a choice: Come clean or face the consequences.

Regardless of their decision, all the students must retake their midterm exam this week.

Professor Richard Quinn addressed his students in a videotaped lecture, explaining that the test scores "were a grade and a half higher than [they had] ever had run before."

Those elevated test results sent up a "red flag," so Quinn ran more complicated statistics on the exam results. He said he then received confirmation of his suspicions when a student, "either through a guilty conscience or as a head's up," anonymously tipped him off.

Allegedly, a group of UCF students created this video in response:


  1. If you trust some dumbass publisher to write hundreds of multiple-choice questions for you, you're a lazy fuck. If the students have access, through the publisher, to banked test questions, and they look at them, whose fault is that if your questions are identical?

    I give my students back their exams. If some sorority then banks tests for the members to study from, is that cheating?

    No, it's not cheating. None of that is copying work that is not a student's own, stealing ideas, etc.

    Now, the student video suggesting that the prof "stole" the questions and is somehow legally liable shows that they don't know how things work. But students visiting a text's website and accessing questions does not constitute cheating, not even if some of those students cut and pasted those questions and passed them around.

    Write your own questions, lazy bastard, and you won't have these problems.

  2. I side with the kids on this one. I mean the semantics about him writing the 'test' or writing the 'questions' is stupid. He can use a test bank and still write the test. I have used them before and I don't fault him for that. But they get out and it's not cheating. Who didn't ask to see old tests at some point when they were in college?

    They are able to google things we never would have thought of. I noticed that all of one reagent was left over after a lab one day and it was brought to my attention that the group assigned to that reagent had found the solution manual online. You have to keep your eyes open and adapt accordingly.

    I started changing the procedures. Sometimes with warning, sometimes without. I announced that we were doing a procedure with colbalt and HCl instead of nickel and ammonia. I didn't announce that the concentration of HCl for a titration was half what I wrote on the label and that if you came up with the volumes suggested in the manual, I'd know you were a cheater.

    I caught some people, busted them on the ones where there numbers had to be wrong, and chalked up the original unprosecutable offenses to a learning experience.

    This jackass can't go dropping threats about legal action over this. There are hundreds of them and one of him. He'll never win, he's going to get a lot of attention, and it's going to set precedents for worse behaviors.

  3. I'm with Wombat on this one. A test bank isn't an exam, and an old test isn't an exam, or shouldn't be. Maybe I have less sympathy because I am in a "blue book" field, and sometimes I wish I could use a multiple choice exam, but that's not my field and I knew it when I went to grad school.

    Additionally, while I don't think he did anything wrong in using the test bank, outright telling his students that he wrote the tests was stupid of him. There was no reason for it, except maybe to make himself look good.

    I'm all for punishing and catching cheaters. This isn't it.

  4. I'm confused as to why, instead of just clarifying what the issue was and the steps he's taking to address it, this fellow is sounding so self-righteous and morally wronged.

    Yes, cheating is immoral. I have failed many plagiarists since I became a professor of feminist snarkology. But I haven't *harangued* them about it.

    Let's face it: Acting like you're a parent who's disowning 200 of your children is dumbtastic. They're your students; teach them a lesson. Make it a teachable moment. But don't tell them they should never talk with you ever again, or that if they're birthing a baby, they have to do it during your make-up exam.


  5. Seriously: where were the test banks?

    If the students had to hack to get them, then that's where the ethics violation lies, and the guy is guilty of nothing but annoying laziness. I'm in a bluebook field too, and while I don;t think that verbally delivering content and then allowing a publishing company to assess learning is actually "teaching," I don't think it's unethical. What's unethical is that the system pays this guy more than it pays the humanities proffies or lab instructors who actually engage student work closely (that is, teach them).

    But if this test bank was wide open on the internet, he got exactly what he deserved, the students were studying from an open resource, and he should be mocked mercilessly for having been a colossal dumbass who, furthermore, did not make the boundaries of his expectations clear.

  6. So, according to the students who made that video, the questions were made available online by the publishers as practice material or something. The prof didn't say anything about this one way or the other, so when I was watching his video I couldn't tell if he'd made his own "test bank" (so he wouldn't have to do it entirely from scratch every year), which some jerk had stolen; or if it was an external test bank that he was just using. So this makes me think that the students "bragging about how they cheated" were just expressing their amusement to their friends that the questions they had used to practise had actually been on the test they took. Likewise, the questions left on his door might have been a way of saying "er…you know that this exists, riiight?" Maybe he *wasn't* aware that it was openly available, in which case he totally misinterpreted everything. It reminds me of a professor I once had who often misconstrued students' questions to be much stupider than they actually were, and would always take the opportunity to go off on a tirade about what terrible students we all were. Except this is worse because all that was damaged in our case was his opinion of us, whereas this is a matter of academic integrity.

    I'm also slightly amused by his comment about "having to explain to your parents why you won't be graduating this year" – I'm surprised that a multiple-choice test like this (because clearly if there were any kind of short answers or problems to solve, a test bank alone would not help you do better) is being given to anyone who's not a freshman. (Heck, one of the 101 classes I took as a freshman had 4 exams, none of which had any multiple choice!) I get that it's a huge class, but somehow huge classes at my school (certain bio and chem classes, for example) manage to have non-multiple-choice tests…I guess they just have that many more TA's to grade them?

    Also, the thing about there sometimes being questions on his exams that even he can't answer? To me, that constitutes proof that he's a lazy bum (and would apparently just blindly put something from a test bank on his exam with no thought as to whether it's a good or relevant question). Because if he, a professor in the field, can't answer the question, then either the question is terrible (e.g. it has no right answer) or it's about something trivial and unimportant (if you can become an expert in the field without ever needing to know it). Either one of those should be a reason not to put that question on the test, if he's composing the test in an intelligent way.

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  8. Well, Der Wiener Snittle...

    He has 400 students and he gives them all the SAME multiple choice exam? I assume he's heard of the scantron in his 20 yr lustrous career. I use test bank questions, but also write my own questions and alter test bank questions. Then I give Test A AND Test B; this in a class or 30 or less. Gosh, and where do you get Lab slaves to write your own "self-written" questions?

    He sure does cite some nice stats...wish there were a pie graph, though. I'd like to see a dual modality in pie graph form. He might be able to catch that other 5%.

  9. Getting my exam questions in advance wouldn't help most of my students, except the ones who have the balls to pre-write essays and smuggle them in, which is a different kind of cheating, so I don't have a lot of sympathy for this guy if he really didn't write his own test.

    Watching the video, my main reaction was "Man, are his evaluations going to SUUUUUUCK."

  10. Hold on a second. I access these test banks and instructor guides for the promo texts I get. I use them for in class exercises and occasionally assignments.

    They are NOT openly available. To get them, you have to sign up with your university email address, your department, title, and so on. On all of them, you must check something pledging you are an instructor and won't sell the info to students before getting access. Someone checks these out and then gives you access a few days later.

    So if the students accessed the exams, they did so by lying. To me, that's cheating. That doesn't excuse the prof for paying so little attention to the writing of the test that he puts on questions that he can't answer. But this is in no way equivalent to looking through an exam given to you by a student from a previous class.

  11. Ach, sheisse! I forgot about the publishers...each company involved will force an executive to commit seppuku on film, which will be shown on UCF's tv station.

    [If you don't make the stakes high enough, nobody gives a cold bucket of farts....]

  12. Fluffy Puff, I agree that the student who acquired the test bank probably did so "illegally" but what about the other students who received it by email? They may not have known the original source of the document.

    Was this the first exam fo the year? If so, the students may not know that the prof uses the test bank questions. They could reasonably assume that he was writing his own exams and they wanted to use the exam bank questions to study.

  13. "Fire the professor, expel the class, send the dean of the business school down to Guantanamo Bay for waterboarding and the "Bell Telephone Hour", and kick the entire administration of UCF out of a helicopter into the Pacific Ocean."

    I choose this option because, in this case, the punishment fits the crime.

  14. I have been told by police officers that ignorance of a law does not get you off the hook for breaking the law. Possession of stolen property is a crime, regardless of a person's knowledge of the fact that it is stolen. I agree that no judge or jury would convict a person who was legitimately ignorant of the provenance of an item, but I think this speaks to our students' unwillingness to question the legitimacy of the materials they consume, especially when it involves an exam. Students think that all sources are equal. (My wife just graded an exam where the wikipedia answer was wrong and the students all complained that, "wiki told them it was such and such." Also, one student complained that, "her friend in Jordan" agreed with wiki. That just means that her friend in Jordan doesn't know as much about the subject as the professor, not that wiki is right, but would the student understand that if it was explained?) Also, just because I can get information doesn't mean that it is fair game for studying. If students are unwilling to question whether using some source is, perhaps unwittingly, cheating, then they should probably take an ethics course. I am always wary of study material sent to me by fellow students and would, generally, ask the professor if it is allowable to use for studying. Some douchebag student could, conceivably, steal the actual test before it was given and then e-mail it to the other students. So, if this happened, should we fault the honest students for not cheating? I mean, they didn't use all the possible sources at their disposal, so they deserve the grades they get...

    I think there are failures on both sides of the equation and forcing all students to retake the exam is overkill. A better option might have been to admit his own faults in this and then make the next exams more difficult. I know one professor who gave a multiple choice exam where all the answers were C. I'll bet that some students changed answers just because, "it is impossible that all the correct answers are C." Psych them out with the questions, but be fair about it. Asking them questions that you can't answer as the professor is just mean and it shows that you have no care for the students.

    Just my two cents.

    Mathsquatch out.

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  16. @ Mathsquatch

    Both sides are now looking flaky; was the prof an incompetent boob? Were the students really cheating, or were they using approved materials? I could bring up where the school is located, or what sort of class this is but I would be accused of being a "Yankee bigot" or an "anti-capitalist" point is that probably both sides screwed up, it will take weeks to figure out what happened, so why not just follow my lead and flunk the whole class and discipline the professor (he will have to work two more years when he reaches retirement age.) Is it cruel? Yes, but it drives home the point that the school is serious about academic integrity. Look at the various cheating scandals that happened in the service academies; every time, no matter if it was West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy - the entire class was interrogated by the criminal investigation force of each service and the cheaters were routed out and expelled. Unfortunately they would then not talk about the scandal, so the surviving students would not know that cheating had happened before....I think it's best for a college to admit that it does have warts, and not hide them from students or prospective students.

  17. I watched the whole video and it seems like this a hybrid course so the exams are taken online since some students aren't in residence. That makes the use a the publisher's test bank (on the publisher's software, probably) reasonable. This guy has 600 students. It is very difficult to make exam questions of equal difficulty for distribution to students.

    I've got an acquaintance who works for one of the big textbook software companies. He says that they spend hours programming and quality testing the different versions of a single problem. It's not a trivial task.

    Those test banks aren't publicly available. The publishers don't distribute them to people other than verified faculty. However, there are dihonest faculty who sell those gifted resources to book buyers who lurk in the halls. I've found test banks being sold on Amazon by third party sellers.

    It would be interesting to find out what is going to happen to the kid who sold the test bank to his/her classmates. Copyright infringement is serious stuff.

    As far as the other students, you don't accidently end up with the exam solutions. If are found in possession of the test bank there's not much of a case for innocence they can make. This is a public embarrassment for UCF. A huge cheating scandal looks very bad for the uni. I'd be very surprised if the school wouldn't extra tough of the involved students. There will likely be suspensions and expulsions. Especially this this was a capstone course.

  18. @Crazy Math Professor
    I told UCFscam about College Misery and the dialogue going on here and my "flunk `em and punish the prof" idea; haven't heard a damn thing from them. They may think I'm trolling (but then, people here think I'm trolling.)

    Now here comes the groin-kicking; UCF is a party school in a state filled to the gills with party schools. The 600 student class Professor Quinn was teaching? Normal for UCF. Half of those students are online in that class...and this is a capstone course! My point is, this is no Georgia Tech or MIT; this is the ASU of the South. I think everybody was on autopilot in that course and now both sides are "shocked, shocked that [cheating] is going on here!"* Gimme a break...


    *Apologies to everyone involved in the making of "Casablanca."

  19. Strelnikov has a is this 600 person class a capstone?!? Big Southern State U., one of the more highly-regarded public schools, recently suffered a scam in which something like 70 students cheated on a [Hard Sciences] test. They didn't hack a test bank, but they did cheat their little asses off.

    It's not just ASU/UCF.

    I also read a bit more about this...apparently some students don't see "what the big deal is" since "everybody cheats." Obviously the clients of The Shadow Scholar are cheating, and so is Mizz Mary Kate...who else?


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