What do you do when the student is more correct than you are? | If everyone else is cheating, is it wrong?

There is a famous video on the internet of a professor accusing most of his class of cheating on an exam. I’ve watched the video and thought “If those students weren’t such “#%^&%$$%^&%$$ jerks” this would have never happened!

Then it happened to me, today. The following email was what I sent to the student who helped me figure it out.

<<Student’s Name>>

Thanks for emailing. Although I haven’t calculated grades, since not all of the assignments are due yet, I have graded all of your assignments (except the extra credit) and I can tell you that you will get <<students grade>> in the class.

Your emails did prompt me to re-evaluate the syllabus, and the grading policies on all of the quizzes though. The syllabus clearly states that, the only reason that you are to use a second attempt on any assignment is if you inadvertently submitted the assignment when you meant to save it. In my experience this happens to at least two students on every assignment. The reason for the second attempt is so that those people don’t have to wait for someone to notice they asked for an new attempt and then reset the quiz for them.

Since I believed that everyone understood this rule, ( I’ve discussed it several times in lecture, and the first homework asked you if you had read the syllabus (everyone answered yes,)) I thought it was amazing that you would admit to cheating when asking for special consideration of your grade

So I did a statistical analysis of the entire class.

I found that 75% of the class used a 2nd attempt at least once, and that the average student used a 2nd attempt on over 50% of the quizzes!

When most of the class does something wrong I have to believeĀ it is my fault , not theirs.

This evening, I’ve had in depth conversations with some of my colleagues and mentors, and come to the conclusion that the initial policy was flawed in several ways:

  • It is almost impossible to enforce.
  • It is possible to start a 2nd attempt when you thought you were just going back to look at the 1st (I have watched a student do it when they were asking me a question…)
  • It assumes that quizzes and tests are not learning experiences.
  • It does not allow people who want to improve to learn from their mistakes immediatly.
  • And finally, it is almost impossible to enforce. (To enforce the rule, I have to assume that I know what you were thinking at the moment you clicked a button on your mouse… If I could do that I would be an internet billionaire!)

I am amending the syllabus for this class, so that no one can be penalized for using a 2nd attempt, and will update the quizzes to retain the highest grade from the two. For future classes I plan to allow more than two attempts and to use large question banks so that no two attempts are exactly the same…

Thank you very much for your feedback (even if it was inadvertent,) and I hope that I will see you in another class some day.


professor Torbjorn Bergstrom — torbjorn@wpi.edu
Operations Manager–WPI Manufacturing Laboratories
Phone: 508 208 3024
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