Friday, October 7, 2011

"She's a sweetheart."

I just finished teaching a third year university course where nearly the entire class cheated at least once.  Most offences were for simply copying (or in some extraordinarily stupid instances actually photocopying) individual assignments.  Two people had word for word exact same answers on their midterms (I was not supervising the room they were located in, an administrator for the university was).  Two other people that were in the room I was intensely supervising managed to copy similar answers by the use of ball caps. I admit to being caught out (?!) by that but I was walking up and down the classroom every 5 - 10 minutes and watching from front to back so I was shocked to see the same (wrong) answer on one of their questions. During the midterm, in my class, I actually reprimanded another table of students for trying to share answers by moving papers closer.  The final insult came after the final examination when I was informed by a student that a fellow student who was to write a deferred exam due to missing it for personal reasons had obtained a copy of the final in advance.

I have nearly 20 years of teaching experience with most of it at the post secondary level.  I have never witnessed this type of full scale complete disregard for academic integrity.  Because, you see, when I approached the administration about this, with clear cut proof, I was questioned and given no support.  I had a conversation with the director of the program that made it extremely clear that they wanted nothing to do with my charges and told me that yes, I could file reports, but, um, was I really sure?  This kind of response despite a couple of the students commending me for calling the class out....the cheating issue during all tests had become de rigueur in all their courses through the prior year (this is an intense two year program to obtain a BComm) and they were annoyed that their marks were fairly and honestly earned while a large swatch of the class regularly copied from each other for everything.  These commendations came from students that I had penalized for photocopying assignments.

This, my friends, is the nail on the coffin for me.  The coffin of my 'career' in post secondary education.  The problem is rampant throughout every level of our education system and if you haven't heard about this it is because, like me, everyone who tries to make an issue of it is not given any support.  This happened time and time again at the previous institution I was teaching at.  I was at that institution long enough to implement testing methods that nearly made it impossible for cheating to occur (4 different versions of assessments, adequate spacing allocation to prevent wandering eyes, vigilant walking throughout the testing facilities).  This most recent course was the first I had taught at a satellite campus of a distant institution and the classroom facilities were woefully inadequate.  Not to mention the incompetence of the administrator that allowed final examinations to be released and word-for-word copying on examinations.

I had a bad feeling at the web-cam based 'training' provided by this institution. The person who, in the very near future, was to ask me if I was sure that the word-for-word answers were actually cheating, said to his colleagues around the table that the person who taught the equivalent course at the main campus "She's a sweetheart, isn't she?" before telling me that I could connect with her for any questions etc.

Both this woman and I have master's degrees in engineering and were teaching a challenging third year mathematical modelling course.  But it turns out that being a sweetheart is the 'skill' that is most important to continue the paycheque flow.  And when it comes to academic integrity, and many other issues of import, I am not a sweetheart.

"Well behaved women seldom make history."  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

To that I would add the corollary:  In the 21st century, well behaved women tend to earn regular paycheques.


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