Wednesday, November 23, 2005

memoirs of a TA

So I caught four of my students cheating on homework today....

It was actually 2 pairs, but it sucked either way.

I grade the homeworks, so I was going through grading, and I noticed that there were two papers which had remarkable similarities between them. One belonged to student X, the other belonged to student Y. Student X is a senior engineer. [S]he's very smart, on top of things, and always come asks questions about the homework during office hours. Student Y is a freshman Astronomy major, soon to be lib-arts major. [S]he could be smart if [s]he actually tried to apply his/herself, but find the math inherrent in Astronomy an affront to his/her sensibilities. Both papers scored a perfect 50. Extraneous characters showed up in exactly the same places on each homeworks. Both used exactly the same method, wrote exactly the same equations (down to sig. figs), and got exactly the same numbers. It was too obvious. I remember helping Student X with this homework, so I know that Student X did the work, which does not leave much to the imagination as to how Student Y got the same answers.

So, I email the prof asking for the procedure/policy for cheating, not revealing that I actually have a case. He immediately emails back with a Zero Tolerance policy and demands to know who it is. I'm a little hesitant because I know both student X and Y fairly well from office hours, and I feel like I'd be betraying them, but then realize that I'm getting paid to TA not to be their friends. I email him back revealing X and Y, make copies of their homeworks for record keeping purposes. I stress what I think to be the case, that Student X did the work, and Student Y probably did the copying.

He immediately emails X and Y informing them that they will receive 0s for this hw, and anything further will result in reporting to the Dean. He emails me and asks me to compare the homeworks of students A and B, because he suspects they are cheating/copying as well. Lo and behold, it's another set of carbon copies. Student A did the work, while B copied. B, however, cannot copy very well, because where A's read "No, you cannot see it two months later", B's read "No, you cannot see it two mores later." I shit you not, beligerent reader. If you're going to cheat, at least try to do it right. I guess it doesn't really matter b/c B dropped the class right after class ended.

After class, student Y emails the prof and confesses to copying from X and more or less exonerates X. prof emails me instructing me to give X back the points for the homework, which I do. I then get an email from X, who I guess had not gotten the news that [s]he had been exonerated. [S]he claims not to know that Y copied. I really want to believe this, I really do. I like student X, and it was really hard to turn him/her in. I guess I'm glad that Y confessed. It's hard to condemn someone who did all the work, even if they let someone else copy.

I have no sympathy for students Y and B. If you're stupid enough to copy a bullshit 50 point hw assignment, you deserve to get a 0 for it. And besides, in order to pass the class, you've got to have a passing test average, which to the best of my knowledge, neither Y nor B were anywhere close. I'm actually angry at them for putting me in this position. In undergrad, there were plenty of times when I could have just copied from a classmate. I can't actually remember ever doing this in college. I'd prefer to take the crappy homework grade and try to muddle through it for the test.

I remember in high school when all the teachers threw a coniption fit when they found out that we were freely passing information about quizzes in multi-period tests. For example, if you had English 4th period and you knew you had a quiz that day, you'd find someone who had it 1st or 2nd period and find out what was on the test and consequently what to cram. It worked both ways, if you had a quiz before someone else, you'd return the favor. Honestly, back then, there really didn't seem to be anything wrong with it, just another way to beat the system. Only when the teachers freaked out and made a big deal about it did it really dawn on me that there was something wrong in what was the "norm".

Next time I TA, I will ask the prof for some time at the first class to explain the difference between copying and collaborating. Collaborating on astronomy homework is a good thing, as long as you both write up your own version of events. Hell, I usually don't understand my homework until I've discussed it with someone else. Downright blatant copying is unacceptable.

damn kids these days...

geez, I feel old.

1 comment:

Twentysomething said...

yeah...the cheating issue is a bitch. My kiddos cheat on verb stem quizzes even though they know the stuff. I guess I'm pretty liberal...if I know that student A is letting student B see their quiz, I simply say " you know, youre only cheating yourself by not knowing/learning this stuff...come exam time there will be no way you can cheat"

Happy Thanksgiving, Casers. :)