Eric Kunnen\’s GRCC Blog

Studying Online with Classmates is Cheating?
March 15, 2008, 11:37 am
Filed under: Articles

I recently came across a blog post by Gerry Mckiernan from Iowa State. Gerry referred to an article in the Toronto Star entitled “Student Faces Facebook Consequences“. This article highlights a student that is being accused for cheating because he was studying with classmates – online. The student is even facing expulsion. Ryerson University appears to be charging the student for 147 (1 for setting up the site, and 1 for each student that participated) counts of cheating for using Facebook to study online with other students.


Ryerson student Chris Avenir is facing expulsion for taking part in a Facebook study group for one of his engineering courses.

In the Facebook group, the students exchanged tips for studying and completing their homework assignments. What I don’t understand is how is this different than a group of students gathering together to study in a face-to-face format. Either in the hallway, in the library, before class, after class, in study hall, or even exchanging instant messaging or emails with each other.

I think Kim Neale, who is a Ryerson student union’s advocacy coordinator, says it well:

“All these students are scared … now about using Facebook to talk about schoolwork, when actually it’s no different than any study group working together on homework in a library,” said Neale.

A significant amount of learning happens OUTSIDE of the classroom. Students, coming together in informal settings is an extremely powerful way of learning. Learning is social. Education is participatory. Taken further, we, as a society need to help each other grow, learn, and succeed. As educators and educational institutions, we need to expand the online exchange of information, not create fear or oppress the use of technology for learning. Using online tools to communicate and exchange learning is a prime example of leveraging technology to meet educational outcomes.

Chris Avenir himself also makes a great point:

“But if this kind of help is cheating, then so is tutoring and all the mentoring programs the university runs and the discussions we do in tutorials,” he said.

Part of the issue seems to be the assessment techniques that are applied by the professor as they relate to student performance and learning outcomes. If, in the end, the student is truly personalizing and learning the outcomes of the course, how they get there needs to be supported by the educational institution and the professor in my opinion. In the end, it’s about learning. We need to support our students learning using as many tools as necessary to ensure everyone can learn. We need to leverage technology to provide students with the ability to learn through communication, collaboration, and sharing.

There are several tools that Grand Rapids Community College has available that can create a more effective learning environment for students.  I think educators should encourage students to use:

  • online discussion boards (via Blackboard) for communication,
  • instant messaging (via Wimba Pronto) for collaboration,
  • social networking (Facebook via CourseFeed) for awareness of announcements and new content posts,
  • social bookmarking (via Blackboard Scholar) for sharing web-based resources,
  • wikis and blogs (via Learning Objects Campus Pack) for collaboration,
  • and creatively apply other emerging technologies to the teaching and learning interchange.

What are your thoughts on this topic?


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanks for putting this discussion on the table. Without knowing all the details that prompted the charge against the student, I am puzzled that anyone would consider online collaboration a form of cheating. If students exchange the answers to upcoming exams, or write each other’s assignments then you obviously have an integrity issue.
However, if students are engaged in dialog, debate, mentoring, tutoring, peer review, etc., what instructor in their right mind would object to that? I know of no educator who would not applaud collaborative, active student engagement with course content outside the classroom.

Like GRCC, at Spring Arbor University we continuously leverage the tools in Blackboard to facilitate student interaction outside the classroom. Once student move to Web 2.0 applications, relational web applications, or even instant messaging applications, some academics are not only out of their comfort zone, they may view the emerging technologies with deep suspicion.

On another note, I would love to hear how Wimba’s Pronto product is impacting teaching and learning at GRCC.

Randy Meredith
Dir. Academic Technology
Spring Arbor University

Comment by Randy Meredith

Thanks for your comment Randy. Yes, clearly there must be more to the story about this case involving this student that has been accused of cheating for using Facebook.

I checked out your websites and you are doing some innovative things there at Spring Arbor! It’s great to have a local Michigan connection… how about that weather lately, huh?


Say, one of the easiest ways to check out how Wimba is working at GRCC is to view this video:

Comment by ekunnen

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