...academic misconduct for helping run an online chemistry study group via Facebook last term, where 146 classmates swapped tips on homework questions that counted for 10 per cent of their mark. The computer engineering student has been charged with one count of academic misconduct for helping run the group – called Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions after the popular Ryerson basement study room engineering students dub The Dungeon – and another 146 counts, one for each classmate who used the site. Avenir, 18, faces an expulsion hearing Tuesday before the engineering faculty appeals committee.This charge is wrong on so many levels, revealing the complete cluelessness of the Ryerson administration. At the most basic level, first-year students in the sciences have always been encouraged to collaborate on difficult problem sets and to learn from each other. In my first university physics class (about 100 years ago or so), Professor Ivey said to us in an off-hand way, "Now I know that you all form consortia to work out the problem sets..." We looked at each other. Consortia? Does that mean study groups? (We were engineers.) And a study group that sustained through our four-year program was born, inspired by the prof who knew darn well that no single individual was capable of working through the homework he assigned by him/herself. And this practice sustains to today. "It has long been a tradition for students to brainstorm homework in groups, particularly in heavy programs such as law, engineering and medicine. Each student in the course received slightly different questions to prevent cheating, she said, and she did not see evidence of students doing complete solutions for each other."
But let's assume, for the moment, that the issue is collaborating on homework is verboten and subject to academic sanction. Have students helping each other in the study hall or library been brought up on charges and threatened with expulsion? Have any other of the 146 participants in the Facebook group been charged?
The answer to both questions is a resounding No! In persecuting Chris Avenir, Ryerson administrators are responding in a juvenile, "child educator" way. They seek to make an example of Avenir, to create a chill among students. It's not so much that the group in which Avenir participated provided complete answers to the questions - the unique-questions-per-student protocol prevents that. It's that other enterprising students could theoretically turn Facebook into a thieves' den of illicit homework answers, and that would never do.
In their minds, Ryerson administrators must maintain their control over students and the mode of learning, true to their 17th century pedagogical heritage. Metaphorically, this is Ryerson U's president, Sheldon Levy, wearing a long, schoolmarm-ish dress, thwacking Avenir over the head with a yardstick in the one-room schoolhouse that is still, lamentably, Ry High.
Update (12 Mar 2008): Here's an interview that I did with Global TV news about this incident, and the potential ramifications for Ryerson.
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