A Toronto university student was accused of cheating after he created an online study group on Facebook.
The first-year engineering student at Ryerson University escaped being expelled but received a zero on the assignments that he discussed on Facebook, or 10 percent of his final grade in the chemistry course. He was charged with 146 counts of academic misconduct for each classmate who used the Facebook forum. The student also received a “DN”, or disciplinary notice, on his student transcript and was required to be tutored on academic integrity.
At question was whether or not the student’s use of the online forum to compare notes and share homework tips and questions was cheating. The student thought it was legitimate. The student’s professor disagreed, saying that the online homework assignments were to be completed independently. The university agreed with the professor but ruled against expelling the student.
The student argued that if this was cheating, then so were all the university-sponsored tutoring and mentoring programs. One of the student’s supporters said the Facebook group was not any different than a group of students getting together in a library to work together in person, but rather than meeting face-to-face, it was all online.
This incident raises interesting questions. For example, it is pleasing to see Facebook used in an academic application, rather than just a repository for hedonistic photos and mindless applications.
The conflict lies in the professor’s instructions. It was reported that the professor stipulated the online homework questions were to be completed independently. If the professor made that clear to all students, then the student was wrong to open a discussion online.
However, using Facebook to generate discussion and find solutions to academic problems is a good thing in my opinion. It seems to me that this incident is a catalyst to begin exploring Facebook for educational purposes.