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When Did Using a Calculator Stop Being Considered Cheating?

Submitted by on April 12, 2009 – 3:08 pm2 Comments

My last post talked about the shifting nature of learning in the age of network communications.   It didn’t delve into any of the conflicts that this shift is creating.  Here is an old but still instructive example:
Chris Avenir was a freshman at Ryerson College and did what any number of freshman do – he organized a study group.  What’s different is that Chris was a freshman in 2008.   So he organized his study group on Facebook.  Next thing he knew he was facing 147 charges of academic misconduct; one for starting the group – the other 146 for each student that joined his group.  After much brouhaha (including online organizing on Chris’ behalf – you can still buy your “Chris Didn’t Cheat” T-shirt), Ryerson dropped the charges.
The larger point in this story lies with the fact that our institutional policies are coming into direct conflict with the ability that new technologies give us to direct our own flow of communications.   Communication is the bedrock of any institution – how does information flow? Who speaks to whom (in the language of the institution, who “reports” to whom)?  Who gets to say what – and about what?    Facebook is just one of a dozen social technologies that explode that notion – and Big corporations and academic institutions are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to harness the benefits of increased participation, while mitigating the risks.

In many cases legal departments are acting reflexively without any deeper consideration of the intent underlying the policy – the instinctive reaction is about enforcement.    Chris’ story led me to wonder when using a calculator stopped being considered cheating.


  • Along those lines of learning and digital inquiry/policy debate…here’s one you’ll appreciate too: http://ow.ly/1Tad (keying a student assessment date via iPhone calendar and busted for texting…but then…um…he really was surfing FB, so there’s the ethical conundrum of ‘to bust or not to bust’ (and do ‘fast-thinking-excuse-makers’ get a hallpass? 😉 –Amy


  • Joshua-Michéle says:

    Thanks for the build – and for your blog – I really love your post that I linked to as it gets to the heart of how quickly online movements can build by leveraging off the shelf tools from Facebook (organizing) to CafePress (merchandise).
    The emergence of handheld computers (iPhone et al ) with open platforms to host applications present all kinds of issues since, as a student I may be using it during class as a calculator or calendar (permitted) or playing Tetris (not permitted). — Within a corporate environment it is easier to deal with since you can set performance measures and disregard individual activity as long as those are met (in other words, I don’t care if you are on FB during work as long as you meet your targets). At school there are a whole series of life skills being taught beyond just graded curriculum – listening, comprehension, focus etc. There are valid reasons why I can see setting stricter guidelines.
    Since I deal mainly in the corporate environment I would love to hear your thoughts (or links to appropriate posts in your blog) on how academic policy should be adjusting accordingly.

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