Am I the Unethical One?

Am I the Unethical One?



@neilv 4d
> who recently caught 40 of the 96 students [...] cheating

That 40 is reported suspected, by one individual. The same individual claims that only 2/3 of those were admitted at time of writing.

Also, suspicion was by only a 1:100 coincidence probability standard of evidence, and by some imperfect metric. IMHO, that threshold would be too low to "prove" guilt in such a potentially serious matter (negative mark on student record, reputational damage among college social and professional networking peers, and potentially including suspension or expulsion).

@booleandilemma 4d
A teacher at my university was fired for failing students who were caught cheating in an introductory CS class. The ones in charge didn't like that he was causing a disturbance. They would rather have had the cheaters get away with it. The system is broken.
@Aulig 4d
I guess it depends on how obviously wrong the given answers were. At my university it was allowed and encouraged to practice for exams using old exams. I could see someone having studied that way and assuming the fake answers must be correct.
@red_trumpet 4d
> When he confronted those students about this, most of them admitted they had cheated; the consequences for their grades are still being determined

> I tell all my students what will happen if I catch them cheating

How do those two statements go together?

@neilv 4d
I once wanted to be a university professor. Stories of rampant cheating at some schools, make me think it would've had to have been somewhere with a more honorable culture.

I've heard of some schools where supposedly the students take the honor code very seriously.

@aqme28 4d
Is it cheating to study off of past exams? I really don't understand the professor's perspective here.
@WesolyKubeczek 4d
Kinda reminds me how Genius proved Google was scraping lyrics from them.

Cannot find for the life of me what could be possibly unethical about this. If anything, it’s very, very educational.

@low_tech_love 4d
I work in a small university with local students that are aggressively average, if not a bit below that. Especially when it comes to writing a thesis, our expectations are extremely low, and the success rate is abysmal (something like 30% of the students in a year will actually defend their theses). If a student can reach something like, say, 10 people to do a usability test, we are extremely happy and will pass them with a smile on our faces.

This year one of my students claimed to have done a user experience test with 30+ people, all of which came in person to his house during a period of 4 days. This is extremely unlikely, not to say absurdly unrealistic. If he had done it via Zoom I might maybe believe, but in person? Sorry, but no. I asked him what did his parents think of it, and magically they were both travelling that specific week. Then I asked him to scan and send me the signed consent forms for each participant; he promptly said "ok, coming!" then about 8h later I got a bunch of signed scans. Not sure what to do anymore, I guess he'll have his thesis.

@abeppu 4d
Given that this was an ethics course, I think it's interesting/surprising that the professor doesn't seem to be trying to engage with what I'm guessing was the course material in this discussion. "Am I the unethical one" the right question? How about "Under which formulations of normative ethics is my behavior wrong?"

1. Is it _good_ to catch cheating? If these are students who are just checking some distributional requirement box, does it matter if they actually understood the material? Potentially there is harm (delayed graduation, literal costs, etc) from failing students (or having them be subject to some other discipline). Perhaps under a consequentialist framing, catching cheaters isn't good. But does the professor have a deontological obligation to catch cheating, and to make a good-faith effort to have fair outcomes in which students who studied and understood the material receive better grades than cheaters?

2. Is the method of catching cheaters relevant? If catching cheaters is good for consequentialist reasons, isn't any effective means of catching cheaters (which does not cause other harms) also good? Certainly the objection that the professor was dishonest by uploading the bad test sounds like it's from a deontological / rules-oriented view.

@lcnPylGDnU4H9OF 4d
> I decided to ‘poison the well’ by uploading [to Quizlet] a copy of my final with wrong answers. ... My thinking was that anyone who gave a sufficient number of those same answers would be exposing themselves

I kinda don't get this. Doesn't this also potentially catch students who used Quizlet to study and happened to find this teacher's "poisoned" exam? It seems like there's a pretty decent chance that at least some of the 1/3rd of the students who profess their innocence are telling the truth. Was anything done to account for that, or was it assumed that use of the site is cheating?

> I’m neither a forensic mathematician, nor a cop, so this work took a lot of time that I would have preferred to have spent grading final essays.

If one is willing to admit that they are not a forensic mathematician they can also be willing to admit that they made a mistake with their forensic mathematics. This person seems to have over-assumed a lack of mistakes in their understanding considering the certainty with which they choose to end these academic careers.

@tombert 4d
Today I had to submit my final grades for my Java class, meaning I had to grade all the final exams for it last night.

During the exam (which I had to administer remotely this time) I made it abundantly clear that they cannot use any kind of AI assistance for their work. No ChatGPT, no Copilot, no Bing AI, no Google Bard, and also no Googling, etc. I repeated this several times and also wrote it in bold font on the top of the test. I really didn't have any way to enforce this, but I was hoping people would be honest.

I'm pretty sure that most of the students were honest on this; the answers I got generally fine, but had grammatical mistakes and were "basically correct but had light factual errors that are common with people new to programming but aren't bad enough to count as 'wrong'". One student, however, who has submitted broken sentences and broken code the entire semester, managed to suddenly have decent writing skills, decent explanations of everything, and his code was clean and concise.

I'm about 95% sure he used ChatGPT to generate answers to the questions. I tried getting ChatGPT (and Bard and Bing AI) to give me a word-for-word copy of what he submitted, but I couldn't. It got somewhat close, but never an exact match.

Technically, it's possible that he just studied very very hard and his code and grammar improved. It's also technically possible that he used Grammarly to make sure his writing was ok (which was technically against the rules but I wouldn't really consider cheating in a Java class), and so I just had to swallow my pride and grade the test assuming he was being honest.

It's kind of upset me all day; I have worked pretty hard trying my best to be available to students if they have questions, and I worked pretty hard to try and make sure that the final exam was a reasonable level of difficulty. I think most of my students were fine, but one bad apple is enough to really ruin my day.

@Tangurena2 4d
From my experience working at a university (in the foreign language department), I found a number of students who put a large effort into "getting out of work". I was astonished at the number who put more effort into avoiding work than it would have taken to get an A.

If I were in this professor's case, I'd just mark the answers wrong, and in the future upload more wrong answers. The students who use these sorts of online dumps aren't the ones who study and will beg at the end of the semester for some sort of extra-credit. If it were necessary, perhaps have a second gradebook where the number of "exactly the same wrong answer as the bait" were kept.

@catapart 4d
Are you trying to teach kids to not cheat? Or are you trying to teach them how to conceptualize, illustrate (if not demonstrate), and structure ethics such that they can make critical and thoughtful deductions or contributions to the field?

Because, if it's the former: great job, Ranger Rick. You definitely used a method that will root out cheaters and give them some (small/limited) incentive not to cheat anymore.

But, if it's the latter, you've failed your students in every respect. It's not even a clean example of the ethics of cheating, because you've tipped the scales in ways that affect multiple variables, instead of just one.

Neither of which is ethical or unethical in the vacuums of consideration that any subject remains neutral in. But if the context is that it's a philosophy class, I would expect the teacher teach me philosophical ethics and let the chaff fall where it may, rather than try to "prove" some nebulous idea of what it means to "know" something, and why one method of being able to 'prove' it is inferior to some other method. Put simply: I'm in this class to learn. If you're giving me the information and then I pass the test, that's your entire responsibility. Whatever third parties are doing - so long as it's not infringing on you - is not relevant. Not to your class and my grades. Sorry you're one of THOSE teachers, but learning isn't a test. It's a lifelong pursuit and you can't force people to pursue what they're A) not interested in or B) deft enough to use digital memory for.

@Aunche 4d
I don't think the honeypot is necessarily unethical, but giving a take-home multiple choice final exam for a philosophy course seems like several levels of bad pedagogy.
@SilverBirch 4d
> I ran a binomial analysis and found the likelihood that someone whose answers matched on 19 out of the 45 planted questions had about a 1:100 chance of doing so

This is just bad math. Take a question (A), there are 5 possible answers, using his analysis the probability of a student picking the same answer as the cheating answer is 1 in 5. But let's say the question is hard, and of the 5 possible answers, 2 are highly plausible, so plausible in fact that the students always go for 1 of the 2. Now, if the cheating answer is one of the plausible answers the probability is low, but if it's one of the plausible answers, then it's high. And more specifically, if the cheat answer is correct - what's the probability the student got it right? Well what you should be doing is take the other 55 non-cheating answers, calculate the probaility of correctness and then use that as the probability. The "1/100" threshold is overwhelmingly determine by how he selected the answers on the leaked answer sheet, and you can't say it just average out with such a small sample.

Modelling the whole thing as random choosing is just sloppy maths.

@colinsane 4d
back in my day — which really wasn’t very long ago — profs used to google their exams before administering them. if they found results (like this), they would simply administer a different (new) exam.

it’s work: it might mean maintaining a pool of questions double the size of your exams ready to go at any moment, but it’s a decent way to just not have to worry about this.

the response, hopefully unsurprisingly, is that past students would circulate their exams under the table. every big frat maintained a dropbox (or megaupload, at the time) of scanned exams, with links shared only to the frat members.

i actually did study for exams. i wasn’t in a frat but one day a friend from a frat showed up to our study session with some “practice exams” for us. i learned about these scans and worked some grease to get access to these files for a good 4-5 different frats.

if doing homework is prep for the exam, then working through past exams is even better prep for the exam. having access to realistic exams was a huge leg up for me, even when the questions didn’t overlap. the best profs were aware of this and just published their previous exams on their course webpage to level the field. yeah, it’s extra work to write a new exam every year but that’s just what you do: especially if doing so encourages your students to study!

@throwawayffffas 4d
On the case presented I have to say, the professor is being unethical. Looking up questions and answers to previous exams is practically studying. The point is to know the subject matter not to read it through a specific source or in a specific format.

He should stop being lazy and vary the questions every year. If after a few years there is a body of previous exams covering the entire subject matter, then great the students "cheating" will be studying the entire course in Q/A format.

@taylorius 4d
I was interviewing a candidate a couple of months ago, and as part of the assessment they were required to write a bat and ball game in Javascript, in advance of the interview.We would go through the code during the interview and I would ask them how it might be modified / extended in various ways.

This candidate produced a reasonable, functional bat and ball game in a couple of pages of Javascript code, and I had high hopes for the interview. But as soon as I tried to delve into the code with the candidate, it became clear they had no idea what half of it was doing. I suppose they got chatGPT to write it for them, or something. Was disappointed and vaguely annoyed to have wasted my time.

@contravariant 4d
To me looking up old exams is normal, it's not even remotely cheating, heck it may even be expected. Saying a website that lists old exams is 'ostensibly' a study aid seems disingenuous. Poisoning said site with wrong information is just making things harder for the students which is the opposite from what a teacher is supposed to be doing.

However what I don't understand is why that even mattered.

Were the students just learning the questions and answers by heart to regurgitate them on the final exam? If they had any understanding at all they should have caught on, but even if they didn't they would simply demonstrate their lack of understanding, it is not dishonest.

Or did they get to fill in the answers unsupervised somewhere? Because if they were left unsupervised with access the web then this is likely just the tip of the iceberg, they could more easily cheat by discussing the questions with each other.

Edit: Reading more carefully it was a take-home exam apparently, which seems to have consisted of multiple-choice questions that are largely the same each year. I can vaguely see how looking up old exams would invalidate it as a test, but if your test is invalidated by normal exam preparation is it the exam's fault or the student's?

@tptacek 4d
One thing I want to say here is that "entrapment" isn't a moral principle; it's a legal one, and it isn't universal. We don't get it from English Common Law, where it wasn't widely known before the founding of the US, and was rejected when it did come up. Entrapment is a checks-and-balances balance of power mechanism, not a general rule of conduct.

Furthermore, while we don't reach the question of whether this dummy test constituted entrapment (because it doesn't matter), it's also simply not entrapment under the US legal definition (arguably the most important such definition). In the US, an entrapment defense requires you to (1) admit that you did the bad thing, (2) prove that you were somehow coerced (at least psychologically) into doing that bad thing, and (3) prove that you had no predisposition to doing the bad thing. You're searching for exam questions and memorizing a bogus final exam. You know you're cheating, you know it's wrong, and you do it anyways. You're culpable.

@karaterobot 4d
Why even go through the process of accusing them of cheating? If the fake answers were all wrong, just grade the test honestly and the cheaters will get what's coming to them without any ambiguity or additional overhead on his part.

I would just ignore any problematizers who question the ethics of testing students' honesty. I think those people are silly and should rightly be ignored, except to mock them. But that's probably why I'm not a philosopher.

@aidenn0 4d
It's been two decades since I took an ethics class, but here's my stab:

Kant would call this unethical because he argued against any philanthropic impetus towards lying. Of course he would also call the misrepresentation by the students to be unethical.

Utilitarianism has trouble dealing with cheating because any single act of cheating seems to cause benefits for the cheater greater than the damage a single cheater does. Rule-based utilitarianism attempts to resolve this by considering that if too many people cheat, the negative outcomes to the school then outweigh the sum of the individual advantages of those cheating (particularly since any performative aspects of getting a high grade go away when it becomes well known that many people cheated to get those grades). Many people argue that rule-based utilitarianism just devolves to utilitarianism since no two situations are ever identical.

I never really quite grokked virtue ethics, but it seems to me that if the professor is upright and is acting with the intent of helping the students who didn't cheat (by raising their grade relative to cheaters) then this would probably get a stamp of approval.

Moral relativism would acknowledge that his actions will be deemed immoral by his students (who just want to pass the class, and feel attacked and deceived by this), but moral from the point of view of a teacher who is required by their position to come up with some form of practical assessment for a class of nearly 100 students.

@overgard 3d
To a certain extent, I wonder if the real problem is the focus on tests and memorization. In the real world, "knowing" something means you can apply it to a project. I "know" guitar if I can play multiple songs well, not if I can easily tell you how to form the first inversion of c major 7 in a specific tuning or something. I know programming if I can write good working code, not if I can answer trivia about C++ virtual tables.

My point being in the real world people look things up all the time, IE, cheat. Ability to memorize for an arbitrary test is a bad measure of the ability to apply learning.

@WalterBright 3d
I love the irony that the students were cheating in an Ethics class.

As for entrapment, it's no different from leaving your front door unlocked being entrapment for thieves (it isn't). The cheaters are adults, know what cheating is, know they cheated, and know what the consequences are. No sympathy. Give them all an F for the course.

@polytely 4d
Honestly, it's kinda wild to me that the final(!) is just multiple choice questions, and that it's similar enough to the one last year that you can cheat by looking at previous exams? That's just a badly designed course, feels like the students are the ones getting scammed here...

I have done 2 ethics courses during my education at a Dutch 'Hogeschool' (honestly not sure how this maps to US education wikipedia says 'Vocational university'). I did a specific design ethics course and a broader ethics course as part of a philosophy minor, and in both of them you had to write papers or apply the things you learned to a case study. There were some little tests with multiple choice, but they often had additional questions where you had to explain your reasoning.

Maybe there is a language difference here, but I would expect something more involved from a course given by a professor at a university, or is this a course for people who are in high school or something.

@robochat 3d
Can anyone explain the maths that he did because my calculation give different results. Isn't there only a 1 in 2588 chance of a student 'guessing' 19 'answers' out of 45 where there are 5 options for each answer? Whereas the article states that it is 1 in 100 ? (actually he writes 1:100 which is odds, so it is 1 in 101?) Don't we just use the Binomial distribution, so: Prob = 45!/(19!26!) * (1/5)*19 * (1 - 1/5)*26 It's really bugging me that I can't get the maths to work.
@bawolff 3d
So if they accessed the quizlet during the test it certainly seems like cheating.

However if students were studying by rote memorization of basically any resource they can get their hands on, then i could see this happening without the students realizing that the website had answers from the test (yes rote memorization is a bad way to learn, but that never stopped undergrads). Like to what level is a student expected to investigate the source of study material?

@kaoD 3d
If your exam can be cheated on, you're doing exams wrong.