In this remarkable video, a professor at tells his students that he has used a statistical analysis and has determined rampant cheating in his class. I’m pretty sure what he did wasn’t a statistical analysis, but he did offer the offending students a chance to redeem themselves.
Jeff Ely from Northwestern offers some thought-provoking discussion:
So he is offering a deal to his students. They can individually confess to cheating, attend a 4 hour ethics course and receive amnesty, or they can take the risk that they will not be caught. What would you do?
- Professor Quinn’s speech reveals that the only evidence for cheating is an anonymous tip plus a suspicious grade distribution. Based only on this the only signal that you cheated was that your score was high. But it’s not credible to punish people just for having a high score.
- If Professor Quinn expects his gambit to work and for cheaters to turn themselves in, then he should believe that everyone who doesn’t turn himself in is innocent. So you should not turn yourself in.
- The biggest fear is that someone who you collaborated with turns himself in and he is induced to rat you out. Then as long as you are not sure who knows you were in on the scam you should turn yourself in.
- It’s surprising that this possibility was never mentioned in Professor Quinn’s rant because without it, his threat loses much of its force.
- The fact that he didn’t raise this possibility reveals that he is not so interested in rounding up every last cheater but simply to get a large enough number to confess. That way he can say that a lesson was learned. This suggests that you should confess only if you think that your confession will just push the total number of confessions over that threshold. Unlikely (unless everyone is thinking like you.)
What would you do, indeed?
Well, as it turns out, about a third of the class (200 students) threw themselves on the mercy of the court. The sheer magnitude propelled the story into the headlines in the first place, making Professor Quinn something of a YouTube icon.
But the plot thickens.
As it turns out, the “cheating” involved was for students to get access to a test bank and studying from that. The folks over at techdirt (techdirt?) think this sounds kind of fishy.
But watching Quinn’s video, it became clear that in accusing his students of “cheating” he was really admitting that he wasn’t actually writing his own tests, but merely pulling questions from a testbank. That struck me as odd — and I wasn’t really sure that what the students did should count as cheating. Taking “sample tests” is a very good way to learn material, and going through a testbank is a good way to practice “sample” questions. It seemed like the bigger issue wasn’t what the students did… but what the professor did.
The question seems pertinent given that Professor Quinn claimed that he wrote his own questions (video here).
Now, my guess is that the students knew that Professor Quinn used a test bank, and so their faux innocence seems kind of ridiculous. On the other hand, I spend a lot of time writing my own tests. Indeed, even when I taught large sections of intro (150+), I wrote my own multiple choice questions, so I’m not so sure how much sympathy is due for Professor Quinn here. And it’s not clear whether the ground he is on is all that high.
I’m not sure what the moral of the story here is, but it certainly is a remarkable case.