Ethics Quiz: The Professor, the Plot, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Prisoner's Dilemma

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Professor Peter Frölich teaches “Intermediate Programming,” “Computer Science Fundamentals,” and “Introduction to Programming for Scientists and Engineers” at Johns Hopkins University. He uses a grading system in which the top score in any exam defines an A, and all other scores are graded down from that point (I like that system, by the way).

His students in all three courses hatched an ambitious conspiracy to ensure A’s for everyone.  They all agreed to refuse to enter the exam rooms, so the top score, and only score, anyone could get would be zero. Since the grading curve would have to start with that, they reasoned, everyone would have to get the top grade. The students stringently enforced their plot, apparently, and nobody broke ranks.

What could the professor do? Well, he could have flunked everybody, and the students wouldn’t have had any recourse. A professor isn’t obligated to keep the same grading system for every test, and if a class intentionally tries to game a system to get a grade that isn’t truly earned by mastery of the subject, that would be justification for any professor to chart a different curve. He could have also made the lawyerly argument that not taking the test was materially different from taking it and not answering any questions correctly, and flunked everyone on that theory.

Prof. Frölich didn’t take these approaches, however, perhaps because he was impressed with his students execution of the optimal result in a “Prisoner’s Dilemma”-like scenario.  He held himself accountable for allowing a loophole in his grading system, and acknowledging that game theory was part of the class subject matter, as well as recognizing the effort it took to get an entire class to collaborate when even one defector would consign every other student to an F, he gave his students the victory, and awarded them A’s. He also demonstrated his own integrity, teaching the students more important lessons—-taking responsibility, the importance of collaboration, cooperation and loyalty, problem-solving, “thinking outside the box”—than a traditional course usually conveys.

Another way of looking at it is that he rewarded his students for successfully rigging his system. The way I read the facts, the class’s methodology included coercing students into participating in the conspiracy. I’ll tell you right now: I would have refused to do it. I think the plan constituted cheating, and I would have either announced in advance that I would take the test and breach the test boycott, or blown the whistle on the scheme. That fact that Prof. Frölich allowed the plan to succeed in its objective may have taught his students that cheating to beat a system is perfectly acceptable, as long as you get away with it. They may live to regret that false lesson. Or perhaps the rest of us will.

What is this, Harvard Business School?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz, then, is a simple one:

Is Professor Prof. Frölich an Ethics Hero, or an Ethics Dunce?

______________________________

Pointer: Jonathan Turley

Facts: Inside higher Ed

Graphic: Law Rules

. However, he has changed his policy to expressly state that if “everybody has 0 points means that everybody gets 0 percent.”

109 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Professor, the Plot, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

  1. Neither hero not dunce, ethically speaking.

    One could say he’s an ethic hero that he stuck honorably to his published grading system despite the glaring flaw shown in it. One could say he’s an ethics dunce for sending students on to the next level of skill mastery or even the market itself with potentially unprepared people.

    I almost called him an academic dunce for arranging a grading system like that. But then realized that no, he had every reason to trust students ought not seek ways to pass the system other than through diligent study and integration of the material.

    My pronouncement is that te students are collectively ethics dunces and professor washes out neutral.

    I like the curve idea as well for top grade getting the A and all others adjuste from that, but it seems there ought to be a minimum standard met by the top grade before it gets to be bumped up to an A.

    A test is a demonstration of expected knowledge. If the top grade is a 0 then either the professor wasn’t teaching (not likely) or the students are are imbeciles and therefore not truly deserving of any good grade, let alone passing.

    However, the professor made a clear, albeit flawed, grading system and although treachery is too harsh of a word (I can’t think of another this late and with newborn baby giddiness) he’d be kinda treacherous going back on the standard.

    I wouldn’t slight him for going back on the grading schema either, cuz hey, he’s a professor and he makes as well as is above the law in his little domain. His job isn’t to sell A’s or pat backs of crafty students. His job is to ensure knowledge (a student has already purchased) is distilled into a cognitively easy way to absorb while being available to guide students to better understanding and then evaluate whether or not students understand it.

    That objective trumps any need to remain faithful to a published grading scheme. A grading scheme established assuming students also had the desire to receive the knowledge they purchased.

  2. Dunce. As you pointed out, the entire purpose of his course (and any course) is to impart knowledge and skills to the students. But a crucial part of any profession is its ethics. This professor predicated his curve on the honor of his student body… who massively betrayed their trust. Thus, they not only failed to prove their worthiness for a good grade in the exam, but likewise proved they were unworthy of trust by any customers in their projected profession. Without this, their skills would be useless in any case. The professor should have flunked the entire bunch AND recommended their expulsion, as they were proveably unfit for college, much less an adult career.

  3. This was a “Zero Day Exploit” of a bug in the grading system.

    The class discovered a “corner case” in the logic of the grading algorithm, where the result goes haywire due to unexpected input variables. In software engineering, discovering these situations is very important so they can be handled properly.

    Most software security issues stem from programmers not considering how their code will react to unexpected parameters. “Zero Day” means the attack is made before there is any chance to correct the fault.

    I think the class clearly demonstrated they know how to think like programmers by discovering this bug, however they acted like “Black Hat” hackers by exploiting the bug for their own personal gain. “White Hat” hackers would have passed along the discovery to the Prof., so it could be corrected before an exploit could be made. The class, while clever (and brave), were Dunces.

    The Professor, however, is an Ethics Hero for gracefully accepting the consequences of his flawed grading system, because a software engineer should be willing and eager to uncover and correct any weakness in his thinking and thankful to those that point it out. (Plus I think he realizes that the kind of analysis that found the hole in his logic is exactly the kind of thing he was trying to teach).

    • That’s a justification. Saying they demonstrated what he was trying to teach is bullcrap.

      In classes at Texas A&M that were horticulture or mathematics or intro to landscape architecture or countless others that had the exact same grading scheme as described above, even though freshman level classes, every single time students would flippantly call out the prof audibly by sayin “what if we all agreed to flunk it? Then we’d all get A’s”

      To which each prof replied “nah, I’d just fail you all”

      It doesn’t take some collective body of geniuses or deep problem solvers to figure that one out. It wasn’t some great revelation of programming understanding to see that on the students parts…

      I retract my original judgment, both professor and students are ethics dunces.

    • When I first started college, the computer science department supposedly had a policy regarding what later became known as hacking. If someone found a bug that caused the operating system to crash, their penalty was to come up with the code to fix that bug.

      Eventually, they ended up with an extremely stable operating system — an important plus in those days, when all the programs were submitted on punch cards and were run in batch mode. If you didn’t have a priority, you likely submitted your program one day and got the results the next day.

      This professor’s solution reminds me somewhat of that type of policy. Back in those days this type of approach was almost expected when dealing with computer science majors. We tended to be prototypical geeks.

  4. He is a dunce for allowing his students to cheat as they are for cheating. A classic response would have been for the prof to lay out to the class all the options available to him just as you described them, including an acknowledgement that their courageous, clever yet ethically challenged plan may still work. Conclude with, “I will decide tomorrow. In the meantime, here is another opportunity for everyone to take the test.”

        • Was anything they did disallowed? Was anything they did likely to disadvantage others in the class?

          No and no. I don’t see cheating.

          I also think that because of the subject of the class, students doing what they did should have been expected. If it wasn’t desired, it should have been planned for. If you teach me how to do X, and give me an opportunity to use X to improve my grade, I’d assume that you want me to do it.

          • TGT: Are you suggesting, then, that the professor deliberately set things up to encourage cheating? For what purpose? The PURPOSE of the course was to inculcate the students with skills in computer technology. Unless you can argue that the central purpose of the course was actually to train criminal hackers, your argument is invalid.

            • Are you suggesting, then, that the professor deliberately set things up to encourage cheating?

              No. I’m suggesting that based on what happened, it was reasonable for students to assume what they did was appropriate.

              • That’s idiotic.

                Professor’s have been using curves in good faith for years. If it was reasonable for students to assume this was an appropriate option, it would have occurred sooner and been nipped in the bud sooner.

                As I alluded too above when I discussed many of our professor’s who confronted flippant remarks about similar schemes with a simple “no, I’d just fail you all”.

                • Yes, teacher’s have set curves up forever. Most classes don’t teach game theory that would explain how to legally exploit the curve.

                  I stand by my statement

                  • Except I’ve already shown above in many of my classes that had nothing to do with game theory, that everyone knew how to exploit the ‘curve’ loophole. And professors (who obviously knew it was not in good faith) told students he’d still fail them if they tried.

                    Not sure if you have any more legs to stand on since you still stand by your statement.

                    • Here’s your previous situation:

                      In classes at Texas A&M that were horticulture or mathematics or intro to landscape architecture or countless others that had the exact same grading scheme as described above, even though freshman level classes, every single time students would flippantly call out the prof audibly by sayin “what if we all agreed to flunk it? Then we’d all get A’s”

                      To which each prof replied “nah, I’d just fail you all”

                      First, you didn’t debunk anything in my comment. You have said that someone in every class explained how to game the system. So what? Most people don’t understand the game theory of it, so even though there were vocal students, so long as some don’t get it, it’ll never work. It shouldn’t be expected in a random class. In a class that taught the game theory of it, it’s much more expected that the students might actually be able to organize and do it.

                      My point was that if it was taught, it would be reasonable to think that students would think it was appropriate to use. Remember, the ethical thing to do in the prisoner’s dilemma is to not rat on your partner. If the class was taught that it’s ethical to do the thing that benefits all, even if it may be to your detriment (some kids in the class would surely set the curve without studying), then I don’t think it would be odd for them to think it was appropriate to do. On balance, the students actions might not have been, but it wasn’t unreasonable for them to think it was appropriate.

                      Reasonable belief that X is good doesn’t always gibe with X being good.

                    • Absolutely unreasonable to think that.

                      The professor defines the parameters of a test of skills, not the students. The students deciding to cheat the system to skew their grades had nothing to do with telling the prof “hey, we understood what you taught us”.

                      In all your other threads, you’d been slowly gearing towards a legalistic argument, and finally got to it, but you are just rationalizing the student’s behaving in bad faith.

                    • The professor defines the parameters of a test of skills, not the students.

                      I have never argued with this

                      The students deciding to cheat the system to skew their grades had nothing to do with telling the prof “hey, we understood what you taught us”.

                      You are begging the question on “cheat the system”, but otherwise, I agree with this.

                      In all your other threads, you’d been slowly gearing towards a legalistic argument, and finally got to it, but you are just rationalizing the student’s behaving in bad faith.

                      I don’t think I’ve been slow on the legalistic argument. I’ve been saying the same post-hoc consistency of rules(weak sense of legalistic) argument for the professor not failing the students the whole time. In this subthread, I’m not talking about the ethics of the students. I’m talking about the reasonability of their actions. Reasonability is not ethics. Reasonability involves context of what the students likely think and know that ethics don’t.

                      It’s reasonable for a person who grew up in a heavily patriarchal society to think men are better than women. If you know someone grew up in a patriarchal society, you should be prepared for sexist comments and actions. Now pretend you taught the person the patriarchal attitude. You absolutely should know that you’re going to get sexist comments. If there are contexts where the comments are inappropriate, you damn well need to tell the person. Any sexist comments would be unethical, but also reasonable.

                    • I didn’t beg the question on ‘cheating the system’. Jack did a good job showing how the action of the students was cheating. The conclusion followed logically.

                      Based on your examples of what determines reasonably expected behavior, then by extension you have demonstrated that the student’s ‘reasonable’ behavior must derive from their upbringing. An upbringing that encourages the seeking of short-cuts and scams in order to bring about desired results, versus achieving those results through hard work and discipline. An upbringing that encourages taking advantage of superiors when they have behaved in good faith towards them if it gets an easier pay-off.

                      Good one TGT. Based on these student’s ‘reasonable’ behavior, we might expect them to move on to lucrative careers siphoning money from their employer, finding quick schemes to promotion, undercutting their client’s good-faith agreements when it suits the bottom-line.

                      I can see that you weren’t considering ethics at all, or you would have distinctly different opinion of how the professor should have handled it.

              • “It was reasonable for students to assume what they did was appropriate.” That doesn’t pass the laugh test. They exploited a loophole that they hoped would eliminate the need to take any more tests. They knew that was not the intent of the grading system. That is cheating.

                • Refernces to the “the augh test”, “common sense”, and “the smell test” are inherently invalid. It’s a dismissal due to the argument being unfamiliar to what you’re used to.

                  I think they exploited a loophole to get a good grade on 1 exam. A loophole that they had been specifically taught. Nothing more.

              • “Reasonable”? Only in the Ethics Free Zone. Those kids saw a loophole and exploited it in order to skate through the course. The professor abetted it by letting them get away with it. Thus, another flock of ethics free skaters is released on society. How nice!

                  • Yes. Your own comments about how college exams mean little, how college “taught me to think” and how to deny your endless, sophistic arguments smacks of “sexism” (I didn’t really think you were a guy!) and, generally, how the means justifies basically anything tells us all a lot about you… generally in confirmation. College did, indeed, teach you to think. The condemnation of that benighted school is the MANNER in which they taught you to think… in the complete absence of any intellectual honesty. Since this, to you, is “shit”, I’d advise you take another long vacation off site and expand your moral horizons just a trifle.

  5. He’s an idiot to let the students pick their grade, and I like the incomplete idea because they didn’t take the test…. make that incomplete make-up test harder too than had been the original test.

    The students are ALL ethics dunces, especially the ones who were already on track to get an A. I worked hard for may computer classes, and why should my risk subsidize the students who had not worked? Altruism is giving a kidney or a chance at a job, not requiring coercion and giving the benefit of an unearned A.

  6. Ethics Dunces all around.

    The students tried to get a grade awarded to them them was not earned by any of them. That’s cheating.

    The professor is a dunce because there’s no virtue in rewarding that cheating. Opining that it was a new and innovative form of cheating makes it no less a form of cheating.

    Fred Davison’s note about White Hat and Black Hat hacking is right on the money. Reward the White Hat behavior, not the Black Hat behavior.

    He also demonstrated his own integrity, teaching the students more important lessons—-taking responsibility, the importance of collaboration, cooperation and loyalty, . . . .

    Jack has already written about this particular form of “loyalty”, and I’m pretty sure that the first two “c” words can comfortably be replaced by “conspiracy”.

    –Dwayne

  7. Grading on the curve was the academic answer to tough tests and courses in my day: Everyone lagged, but there was a normal distribution of scores, so there was some fairness in the grading. Today it looks like the curve is skewed. Either there are a few exceptional students acing the material – outliers – or there is a bimodal distribution of scores, with high (winners) and low (losers) scores split. But we live in a day of equality, where the top performers must be adjusted to the level of the crowd, the large tail.

    You don’t show up for a test, you get an incomplete as Sarge 983 recommends. Score this Prof ethically challenged.

    • You’ll see a lot of the bimodal distribution of scores attributed greatly to people who honestly do not need to be in college. But big education has pushed the myth that everyone needs a bachelors degree.

  8. This bit has nothing to do with my previous ethical analysis of all parties being dunces (prof and students) but on how the students could have cheated more believably.

    What is the worst thing a cheater can do in terms of ensuring success while not arousing suspicion?

    Cheat so perfectly their test scores come out perfectly. The best cheaters throw just enough answers to make it believable. No teacher would suddenly believe Mongo, with his history of D’s, to suddenly squeeze out a perfect score.

    No, had these students really wanted to game the system to believability, they would have collectively identified the students who were the likely Acers and A plussers who knew the material so well, they knew which answers to throw off.

    That small cadre would collectively decide how many answers to flub and how many to be correct. A low enough value, that the top scoters still fail miserably, but in such a range that when their scores are curved, the true dunce-caps who get 0’s and the underachievers who get 10s -20s can all end up with C’a, and b’s.

    Just enough randomness for the prof to suspect perhaps he didn’t cover the material well, since, hey, the traditional Acers did poorly, but at least did better than most. Yet not so much randomness that the morons don’t get a big grade boost.

    Now that would have been better than the ‘perfect’ cheat of everyone getting a 0

    Of course, to put that much effort into cheating successfully, why not study?

    • Your situation is a real prisoner’s dilemma. Nobody knows what anyone else is doing. I doubt it would have worked. By keeping people from taking the test, the dilemma part was removed. They all knew that nobody was defecting, so it was much easier to keep everyone in line.

  9. But they did execute the optimal strategy by getting lost in the crowd. They got buy-in from the good students, who have nothing to gain (OK, maybe peer acceptance), while they saw their mediocre scores rise. What would we call this in another domain: redistribution of grades; student nullification?

  10. What could the professor do? Well, he could have flunked everybody, and the students wouldn’t have had any recourse. A professor isn’t obligated to keep the same grading system for every test, and if a class intentionally tries to game a system to get a grade that isn’t truly earned by mastery of the subject, that would be justification for any professor to chart a different curve.

    If a professor says that grading will work a certain way, then that grading system can’t be changed without notice. That’s basic ethics.

    • Yes it can, if the spirit of the law, that is to say the grading system, which the professor established in good faith that students are there to gain and demonstrate knowledge. In his little microcosm of the classroom, he established that grading system as law, but also in that little classroom he has no reason to be held to that law when he knows the spirit of it is violated.
      The classroom isn’t a little republic.

      • I disagree. I didn’t do one of my take home final exams in college. Why? It was worth so little compared to the rest of the class that I already had an A with a zero on the exam. This definitely violated the spirit of the grading system, but it made sense for me. Should the grading system have been changed to bump me down to a B or worse? Spending hours on the exam would have detracted for the time I could spend on other classes, where my grade was still technically in doubt.

        For other classes, I was sometimes known to not bother with homework, or much homework, if the grade incentive wasn’t worthwhile. If homework is 5% of my grade, and I think I can get Minimum A level +6% on the rest of the coursework, then that’s enough for me. I’ve always thought that learning the material and getting the desire grade are more important than following the desires of the professor.

        • Your example doesn’t weaken my assertion. My professors had similar schemes that they openly discussed while reviewing the syllabus at semester start.

          They let us know that they considered the final exam just a repeat of all the other exams and really more like a second chance for people who may have miffed a periodic exam, and followed up that by saying they don’t care if people didn’t make the final if their grades didn’t need to.

          Hardly a violation of the spirit of the law.

          But all your examples involve your own private decisions of what to prioritize in your own academic life (which really don’t violate the spirit of the grading system). They are hardly analogous to the collective gaming of a grading curve system in which the spirit of the law is clearly being violated.

          • My teachers didn’t openly discuss a lack of need to take exams/do homework. I can’t imagine a teacher suggesting to not do homework, as the risk of people needing the homework not understanding that it doesn’t apply to them is too great. You changed my situation to attempt to make it not parallel.

            Your last paragraph creates a distinction with no difference. Whether my behavior was private or public is of no matter. Does my behavior become cheating if I discuss it with other students and multiple people follow it, or we come to a group decision for how it works best? We very well could have collective gaming of the grading system in which the spirit of the rules are clearly being violated without any dependence upon each other.

            • How grades are broken down for you, an individual student, throughout the school year and how you prioritize those specific grades does not relate one iota to how a professor intends to adjust grades for a particular test across the board and how a collective body of students chooses to corrupt that system to collective advantage.

              Sorry guy, but there is a distinction between an individual choosing to prioritize certain aspects of a semester in relation to other aspects and an individual (or collection of individuals) manipulating a grading system to skew a grade higher than it would have within the professor’s intent.

              Just because your teachers didn’t make it clear to you that it is okay to prioritize some assignments at a cost to others doesn’t mean that it violates the spirit of a grading system.

              And telling other students how you prioritize which exam is not the same as figuring out ways to skew your grade higher outside of the professors intent. That you cannot see the distinction is telling of your own ethics process.

  11. Professor: Dunce. Students: Dunces and liars and thieves.

    All the professor managed to do was teach his students how to “get around” rules, and then out of ignorance for their ability to conspire, let them get away with it. No honor system there? No standards of responsibility? Good luck to them in the real world. And bad luck for us when they get there.

    PS Giving them all “incompletes” might well have been the best response, since taking the final exam is ipso facto part of completing the course.

    • Technically, the students taught themselves how to “get around” rules. The professor didn’t teach them anything, unless, as some have suggested, their scheme applied principles they’d learned in the course.

      What the professor taught them in this particular situation, though, is to honor one’s word. Some day the shoe will be on the other foot, and these students will be challenged to hold to a former agreement after they discover too late that it doesn’t work out in their favor. When that happens, wouldn’t you want them to have a good example to look back on?

      • And more likely they will be called upon to demonstrate their supposed knowledge in the market, where it counts, only many may not have that knowledge despite being told they did after a clever scheme that violates the intent of the grading scheme.

  12. He is a complete dunce. He gave A’s to students who didn’t learn the material, e let them move on to classes where that material would be required, and he told all potential employers that those students have an excellent grasp of the subject matter (it goes on the transcript).

    Now, not taking an exam is different from getting a score of zero on the exam. I actually differentiate those in my gradebooks. At my undergraduate institution, for example, failure to take a final exam resulted in an automatic failure of the course even if a zero score on the exam would have resulted in a passing grade. At my graduate institution, we had qualifying exams that were required to take. A zero counted, but nonattendance resulted in dismissal from the program. Many an exam had students come in, sign their names, and leave.

    Although I do sometimes grade this way, I never list it in the syllabus as such (just to keep things like this from happening). I set a straight grading scale, but list that I reserve the right to give better grades than the scale sets and that grade adjustments will be across-the-board and not for individual students.

  13. I know that I disagree with 97% of acadameia, but college isn’t about gaining knowledge – particularly in the computer fields, where the knowledge you gain your freshman year is outdated by the time you graduate. College is about learning HOW to think first, and broadening the base of knowledge you can draw from second. That’s the goal that people are actually paying for – not good grades, not passing scores on tests, not being able to recite page 129 of the textbook. At least that’s what it SHOULD be.

    Professor set a standard. Students found a flaw in the standard. He held to the standard he originally set forth, instead of changing it halfway. Ethical. If he had laughed a bit, then given the students a 0 or an incomplete, that would have been stretching his word and integrity, but also taught the students an ethical lesson about gaming the system. Sacrificing his own personal ethics so that they may learn an ethical lesson – utilitarian, but hardly unethical.

    • I can see that your opinion has gained a lot of weight in the K-12 system. Many of my freshmen know nothing. If you don’t gain knowledge in school, where are you going to gain it.?

      If I tell my brother you opinion of the computer fields, he will probably bang his head on the desk in frustration. His company has trouble hiring programmers because they didn’t learn how to actually program.

      You can’t teach people how to think without teaching them anything. To teach them how to think, you first have to give them the knowledge they need. Projects my brother had to do in school included: create a speech recognition program using no more than 64 kB of memory and designing, building, and testing a digital signal processing chip in 1 semester without using auto-layout software (as a 2 person team). Those projects taught him how to think, but he first needed the knowledge of how to accomplish them.

      • If you know how to think today, you can gain facts and knowledge anywhere, for free. Students today have access to the greatest library in the history of the world carried about with them, plus constant access to groups of experienced professionals and amateurs in literally every field to consult with. That is, IF they know how to think, how to appraise facts, measure them against what is already known, check them against common sense, follow instructions, ask questions, and verify results.

        Ideally, K-12 should be about teaching students how to think (which it most assuredly is NOT currently) as well as a broad base of very general information; then college should be about broadening your education, while trade schools are about specialization. Yes, your brother needed to know basics of coding in order to craft his project – but unless his project was ‘here are the instructions for how to build a speech recognition program with these specifications – now complete’ then the project was a test not of how much he knew, but of how well he could apply it.

  14. In case there is any confusion: what the students did was cheating.

    It was cheating because

    1) it constituted collusion, in a test in which mutual cooperation was not allowed. Harvard just expelled about 50 students for colluding on an exam.

    2) it was a method to get an A without study or effort, in direct contradiction of the known qualifications for such a high scholastic grade.

    3) it was keep secret from the teacher, which is the smoking gun: the student’s knew that what they did would be blocked and not permitted if done surreptitiously. Surreptitious means to succeed in a competition that does not explicitly allow chicanery and subterfuge is cheating.

    4) Tampering with the good faith assumptions of a system is also cheating. Maury Wills, when managing the Seattle Mariners, was found to have tried to actually change the foul lines of the field so more bunts would be fair. Cheating. The Dirty Dozen cheated in the war games, when they wore the armbands of the other side.

    • Collusion is disallowed during test time, but that’s not what happened. If they aren’t allowed to work together before entering the test room, that would seem to disallow group studying.

        • If two students come late to the exam because they were studying, are they guilty of collusion?

          Until they see the test questions, there can be no inappropriate collusion.

                  • Get sick of your own behavior then. Everyone here seems to be discussing from a clearly understood set of premises.

                    You are the only one playing academically irresponsible games and pretending like certain things were never established.

                    If you wish to be honest, and taken seriously, try not taking things out of context or pretending like context was never established

                    As far as I’m concerned you are dishonest and untrustworthy and not a single of your arguments can be taken seriously.

                    • What was an academically irresponsible game?
                      What did I take out of context?
                      What was established that I claimed was not established?

                      Oh the irony in responding to a complaint comment calling out generic attacks with yet more generic attacks.

            • It came from your claim that collusion was based on behavior occurring during test time. That doesn’t apply across the board, and you hadn’t limited it for a specific case.

              You’ve now created a new, and pretty random definition of collusion:
              “Collusion is concerted, coordinate action designed to affect grades that are supposed to be individually earned.”

              Unfortunately, that applies to all group studying.

                • So what? Your definition of collusion didn’t have to do with test taking.

                  If you make your rule specific enough to cover this behavior as bad, it looks like special pleading, so you go general. When you go general, you add in other behavior you don’t intend to add in.

                    • I’m not attempting to misconstrue. I’m taking your argument at face value instead of reading into it. When I read assumed meaning into it, I find other flaws, but I don’t know if that’s what you intended or not. When I try to do it, I come up with a convoluted mess of rules and exclusions that covers only this situation. When you create rules and exclusions for one situation that don’t apply elsewhere, it screams rationalization.

                      Can you please write out fully what you mean taking into account the issues with the simplified examples and responses you’ve given?

    • 1) No Parallel. The student’s behavior is collusion only as much as studying together and coming up with test taking strategies is collusion. Technically so, but completely different from crowd sourcing answers. This is blatant equivocation.

      2) Smart people often can earn A’s without study or effort. Are they cheating? There are techniques that help people learn. If someone is able to make an otherwise difficult topic easily learned, your logic would say they are cheating.

      3) This isn’t a competition. The parallel doesn’t work. School is a completely different dynamic. Even if it was a competition though, doing things secretly is not evidence of cheating. In baseball, there are secrets galore. Secrets that the hitters and runners know. Secrets that the pitcher and catcher (and hopefully fielders) know. Secrets about particular bat weighting. And, hey, aren’t you a proponent of the hidden ball trick?

      4) Maury Wills was violating the rules. Each team was required to set up the field in a specific way. No parallel.

      I can’t speak to the Dirty Dozen example due to my recollections of the movie being extremely hazy, but based on you prior arguments, I’m loathe to give you the benefit of the doubt here.

      • 1) No Parallel. The student’s behavior is collusion only as much as studying together and coming up with test taking strategies is collusion. Technically so, but completely different from crowd sourcing answers. This is blatant equivocation.
        Wrong. Study occurs prior to the exam (the Harvard example, by the way, involved pre-exam collusion). This was collusion during the exam period.

        2) Smart people often can earn A’s without study or effort. Are they cheating? There are techniques that help people learn. If someone is able to make an otherwise difficult topic easily learned, your logic would say they are cheating.
        I mistakenly omitted “or demonstrated mastery of the subject matter.” Good catch.

        3) This isn’t a competition. The parallel doesn’t work. School is a completely different dynamic. Even if it was a competition though, doing things secretly is not evidence of cheating. In baseball, there are secrets galore. Secrets that the hitters and runners know. Secrets that the pitcher and catcher (and hopefully fielders) know. Secrets about particular bat weighting. And, hey, aren’t you a proponent of the hidden ball trick?
        Sure it’s a competition, since the professor makes everyone’s grade dependent on the top scorer. Secrets aren’t the same as hidden misconduct, which is what this is. Hiding signs is one thing, hiding sandpaper is cheating.

        4) Maury Wills was violating the rules. Each team was required to set up the field in a specific way. No parallel.
        No, it’s a good analogy. Each student is required to “take” the exam. Avoiding a variegated set of scores by colluding to avoid any scores is unfairly changing the acknowledged requirements of “the game.”

        5. “I can’t speak to the Dirty Dozen example due to my recollections of the movie being extremely hazy, but based on your prior arguments, I’m loathe to give you the benefit of the doubt here.”
        The judgment of anyone who can’t recite all the lines of “The Dirty Dozen” from memory is inherently untrustworthy.

        • 1. First, during the exam was not part of your rule when I wrote this. You added that later.

          Second, it still isn’t a parallel situation by any means. This is test taking strategy, not help with answers during test.

          This is an outside the box situation; it doesn’t tie easily into common ok or inappropriate situations.

          2. I don’t see where you can put that in so that my reply would no longer be valid. I see that as a completely different point. One that I actually agree with.

          3. Competition: By your definition, It’s a competition among students that allows ties, and when there are ties, everyone wins first prize money instead of splitting it up. Unless the students are competitive by nature, there’s no inherent benefit to not working together. I’m not a fan of grading systems that try to pit students against each other. I think it’s a waste of resources and creates perverse incentives. This is an example of that occurring. If anyone set up a sports competition this way, there’d be uproar.

          Secret vs hidden misconduct: You are begging the question here. You say that the secrecy was smoking gun evidence of misconduct. I pointed out that wasn’t true. You can’t go back and just assert that this secrecy is misconduct.

          4. No student was required to take the exam. It’s just expected that most will take it. There was an actual requirement on Wills.

          5. I almost through in a line about this admission possibly invalidating all my responses.

  15. I’m amazed by how many people are saying he’s an ethics dunce. It is always unethical to renege on an agreement after you discover that that agreement has negative unintended consequences. Agreements are meaningless otherwise.

    It’s fair to say that the professor is a dunce in a more general sense. He should have recognized the loophole and closed it ahead of time. His responsibility once the loophole has been exploited is to honor his agreement and learn from his mistake so that it doesn’t happen next time.

    • I have concluded that he’s an ethics hero for choosing to honor his stated standards of grading (though he really had no duty to do so), but a dunce for rewarding unethical conduct, which is especially bad for a teacher. He’s either both, or they cancel out each other.

      • So… what post-test behavior could he have done better. If he gave everyone 0’s or even incompletes, he would be breaking his solid word that the student’s relied upon, but not rewarding unethical conduct.

        • No, his purpose is not to honor a grading scheme that was clearly cheated just to be true to his “word”. His purpose is to distill knowledge and guide understanding and follow up with evaluations of whether or not that knowledge is gained.

          His duty to that purpose trumps the need to be honorable to his word when the students betrayed the good faith behind the intent of the grading system.

                  • No, it’s not completely isolated. But when you’re breaking down a sub point, that subpoint is isolated. Jack had the teacher as both an hero and a dunce, and given the situation, it seems to me that he couldn’t be one without the other. I tried to point that out.

                    Instead of responding to my comment, you made an attack on the teacher’s behavior. At best, your post could be taken as a rebuke of Jack, but it was in response to me.

                    It seems like you’re suggesting that your comment was not a direct response to me and that it’s appropriate (or at least sane) to use “No” in that context as something other than a negation of a point.

                    • No, the sub-point is still not isolated. The choice here for the professor is

                      A) honor his ‘solid’ (as you put it) word on his grading system. Which requires a legalistically onerous reading of his grading system and throws out the good faith expectation that the students would still try to take the exam as best they could

                      B) honor his duty to the students by ensuring the students have been adequately tested on knowledge and skills that they paid for

                      You only addressed consideration A as the right answer as though that were a forgone conclusion that outranks consideration B. However, B is the right answer because the students’ violation of the good faith expectation in consideration A nullifies the professor’s ‘solid’ word. They were the ones who violated the agreement, not the professor.

                      The fact that you are using a legalistic reading of something tens of thousands of students and years and years of custom has understood to include the good-faith portion of consideration A shows you have no understanding of this in terms of ethics.

                      You are just interested in ways to read literally into things in order to ‘stump the chump’.

                      So, yes, regardless of if it was specifically mentioned in this sub-thread, the professor’s purpose does weigh in, and has been generally understood by the people in this discussion. (there’s one of those context things and established things I mentioned when I mentioned your inability to argue in good faith and you made a comment about irony. By the way, look up irony since you don’t know what it means)

        • You’re reading facts into the scenario. He had said that this was his grading system. He didn’t say “I promise that I will adhere to this system in all cases, even when it is inappropriate.” There was no enforceable contract to stick to that system (a unilateral promise is not enforceable), nor could the students claim they relied on his word to their detriment when they were the ones who intentionally foiled the good faith expectations his plan was based on.

          • I’m making the assumption that when someone says “this is my grading system”, they actually mean “this is my grading system”.

            Your talk about enforceable contracts is out of left field. This was his word at what will occur. It’s reasonable for the students to rely on the teacher’s word and it’s inappropriate for the teacher to go back on his word after events occur.

            This statement shows your error:

            “[N]or could the students claim they relied on his word to their detriment when they were the ones who intentionally foiled the good faith expectations his plan was based on.”

            There’s no coherent logic here. Here’s an example. A teacher says that a test will be graded only on the final answers, no partial credit will be given for work. He’s notorious for writing incredibly long exams that people don’t have time to finish. One of the smarter students can do many steps in his head, so he writes down very little work before his answers, and effectively gains more time to work on the problem.

            The teacher had a good faith belief that the students would write down all their work…that’s the usual. The student didn’t do anything wrong, but it wasn’t what the teacher expected, and the student got an apparent unfair advantage to earning a good grade, right? Would you think it would be okay for the teacher to mark the student off for not showing work? I don’t. I think the only appropriate thing is to change the policy going forward.

            Negative retroactive changes have to be considered inappropriate generally. To do such, one needs an overwhelming case. I don’t see that there is one here.

            • I don’t see the analogy. There is no requirement understood or stated that writing down all the work is a requirement of the test. Actually TAKING a test is always a unstated but tacitly understood requirement, and reasonably so. No student in the actual situation would have denied it, either, I assume.

                • I don’t know what this is supposed to mean. If you mean that you had a test that counted so little that you could get a zero and still pass, that’s not responsive. If you mean there was no test, that’s not responsive either. If you mean tests didn’t count, and were for the students’ edification only, nor is that.

                  • He’s trying to draw an analogy between how his semester’s grades are proportionally weighted for the final course grade and how a professor grades a test. In that analogy tries to say that ‘manipulating’ his grade by prioritizing one test over another is the same as the conspiracy between multiple students to skew a grade by playing legalistic games with how the professor grades an individual test.

                    This analogy has been debunked elsewhere in this discussion.

                  • You’re right, my comment didn’t apply. I got mixed up between argument and missed one of the premises of my argument.

                    My 1:05pm response should have been like this:

                    My parallel is that teachers expect that students will be taking every test, but they are no more required to take every test as they are required to show their work. In my example, the explained grading system was indifferent to showing work, and some students took advantage of it. In the case under question, the grading system was indifferent to people taking the test in certain end case states…and students took advantage of it.

                    The difference between the examples is that one can be done on a case by case basis while the other requires agreement of the group, but in response to the comment I was responding to, the number of people doing it is irrelevant.

            • I also don’t think a professor’s grading system is relevant to how one takes the test, so “this has been my grading system” doesn’t commit a teacher to anything, nor should it change how the test is taken by the students—unless they are trying to game the system.

              • The wording wasn’t “this has been my grading system”. It was “this is my grading system”. You attempted to change the situation again.

                I’d say that a professor’s grading system can be very important to how one takes a test. If a professor marks down spelling errors, Students will likely spend time double check their spelling. If a teacher gives partial credit, student’s will make an attempt at questions they can’t complete. I had a teacher that marked down if fractions weren’t completely straight, so I took the time to write all my fractions with a ruler.

                For teacher’s that graded on a curve? We didn’t have the same study groups as we had for teacher’s that graded on a fixed scale.

                A teacher’s grading system absolutely changes how students prepare for and take exams.

                • 1.”A teacher’s grading system absolutely changes how students prepare for and take exams.”
                  How and why? What the test asks—as in correct spelling— for is not “the grading system.” It is what is being tested.

                  2. Prior to an exam, “This is my grading system” is the same as “This has been my grading system” for all practical purposes. Do mean to say that if a teacher determined that in a particular test, the system had an unfair result, it would be unethical to alter it? Wrong. In 2009, I had been using a strict numerical grading system. The final was tougher than I thought it would be: no student scored high enough for an A, and by my announced scale, about 6 students would have flunked. I calibrated the results and put it on a curve. only one student flunked, and there were 5 A- grades. Was this unfair? A violation of integrity? I acknowledged my own error in pitching the test too high, and adjusted after the fact.

                  • 1) We clearly have different definitions of a teacher’s grading system. You seem to think it’s just “grading on a curve vs 90% is an A vs 85% is an A”. I can’t back that. That’s a piece of the grading system. Anything that is not strictly course content is also grading system. Spelling on a Socrates exam? That’s not philosophy content. Perfecting horizontal fractions? That’s not calculus content. Whether partial credit counts or not? That’s not class content. The partial credit itself can display content, but whether a teacher marks it or not is grading system.

                    That last example is very clear to me. One semester in college, I was a grader for Calc 3 taught by two different teachers. The one teacher wanted no partial credit. The other teacher wanted me to give all sorts of partial credit very favorably credit out of 6. There was no difference in class and exam content. The first teacher had a 70% as an A. The second teacher had a 90% as an A. The partial credit (or lack of it) was a necessary feature of each teacher’s grading system.

                    2) I see a difference in after the fact degrading and after the fact upgrading. “I made a poor test” is very different from “You did something I didn’t expect”

                    I thought I wrote something similar to that in this greater thread already, but I can’t find it now.

                    • Further on 2. Look at it like the law. If I do legal thing X, then the law changes so X is illegal, I can’t be prosecuted for it. If I did illegal thing Y, then the law changes so that Y is legal, sometimes we let the people who did Y go. See all the pending state marijuana cases that were dropped by prosecutors after voters in their state decriminalized minor possession last year.

                    • But it’s not like the law. Within the tiny domain of the classroom, the professor is king, with wide discretion on how to evaluate student knowledge. Within his domain, he is above the law (insomuch as the law is analogous to the reasonable grading standards he applies)

                      The professor’s duty to ensure that the knowledge his students paid for is tested trumps his duty to honor his word.

                      Yeah, his word is pretty high on ethics considerations, but it is outranked by the sheer quantity of students he would *falsely* certify as having knowledge and irresponsibly move on to higher coursework.

                      Also, you stated “Anything that is not strictly course content is also grading system. Spelling on a Socrates exam? That’s not philosophy content. Perfecting horizontal fractions? That’s not calculus content.”

                      Not true. Coursework builds on prior coursework. You should reasonably expect to be graded on knowledge you learned years before that is completely applicable to the current course. Can’t spell on a Socrates paper? Yeah, you get counted off. Just because you passed spelling tests in Elementary School doesn’t give you a pass for the rest of your life.

                      Then you stated “Whether partial credit counts or not? That’s not class content. The partial credit itself can display content, but whether a teacher marks it or not is grading system.”

                      This actually is how the professor chooses to grade a display of knowledge and is not analogous to the Socrates or fraction example (which are displays of skill and knowledge, not how they are graded)

  16. The students are dunces for creating doubt in the integrity of their grades, but their actions could be mitigated if the class were generally highly achieving and hoped to expose a flaw in the system.

    Prior coursework, for instance, could have demonstrated to the professor that all the students had sufficient understanding to have earned their overall course grade, even if the final were artificially inflated. Thus granting them “A’s” on the final was not necessarily a dishonest evaluation of their performance. Giving inappropriate overall course grades would be unethical, but there is no evidence provided that he did so. It would be unfair to rate his response as ethical or unethical without this additional information.

    Partially mitigating the actions of the students, they did not force anybody to participate; they all waited patiently at the door in case anybody broke the pact. They seemed to have been prepared to take the exam if needed. It seems to me that this situation was more of a prank than than a dishonest attempt to manipulate the grades. Presumably, anybody who did not show up or was otherwise unprepared was already willing to accept the consequences if the prank backfired.

    Overall, there is not enough information to indicate whether anybody inappropriately passed the course. This alone qualifies the students as a dunces for casting doubt on their grades, because the burden is on them to demonstrate their understanding of the material. There is not enough information to evaluate the Professor’s response to the prank.

    • They didn’t take the final exam! “Overall, there is not enough information to indicate whether anybody inappropriately passed the course.” How much more data do you need? I have never taken any course where a 0 on the final exam didn’t mean you failed the course.

      • I have never taken any course where a 0 on the final exam didn’t mean you failed the course.

        Good for you. Michael R already showed a counterexample to your hysteria. I have multiple examples as well: My comp sci 203 proofs class (Everyone who stayed in the class was guaranteed a passing score). My philosophy 146 critical thinking class (I needed something like a -3% on the final to get an A). My Math 221 linear algebra class (Tests were 4-7 true false questions. No partial credit. 50% was an A).

        Since you were in college, grading systems have often become considerably less final dependent. That’s due in part to the increased understanding that tests are not necessarily the best way to determine all students’ grasp of all material.

        • I fail to see an example here that counters my experience. And I think everyone (except maybe you) would agree that NOT taking an exam provides less verification that someone has grasped the course material than choosing to test one’s knowledge and risk evaluation by taking it. Participating in a conspiracy to get away with not taking it demonstrates no mastery, just poor ethics. Unless the class is “Conspiracy 101.”

          • I fail to see an example here that counters my experience.

            Your comment was:

            I have never taken any course where a 0 on the final exam didn’t mean you failed the course.

            Michael R lists that this happens frequently in his classes. I came up with 3 classes that I took where a 0 on the final was not necessarily a failure, One class where it was NEVER a failure, one where it wasn’t a failure for me, and a third where it would likely not be a failure.

            I’m not sure you could be rebuked any more.

            (Note. That’s just college. In High school, every class was set up so, depending on well you did on the 4 quarters grades and midterm, the final might have no bearing on your overall grade. It happened to me a couple times.)

            And I think everyone (except maybe you) would agree that NOT taking an exam provides less verification that someone has grasped the course material than choosing to test one’s knowledge and risk evaluation by taking it.

            I’d agree to that. Same goes for not turning homework and not answering questions in class. So what?

            Participating in a conspiracy to get away with not taking it demonstrates no mastery, just poor ethics. Unless the class is “Conspiracy 101.”

            I agree to the lack of mastery (except for some minor sidechannel mastery), but not necessarily the poor ethics. I’d like to agree, but I can’t make the argument. I wouldn’t say this shows ethics hero type ethics by any means, but every time I begin to think it’s poor ethics, I find a problem with the argument. What really gets me is that the anti-students position seems to overstate their case thoroughly, and that’s a giant redflag to me.

            • Here’s what Michael SAID: “At my undergraduate institution, for example, failure to take a final exam resulted in an automatic failure of the course even if a zero score on the exam would have resulted in a passing grade. At my graduate institution, we had qualifying exams that were required to take. A zero counted, but nonattendance resulted in dismissal from the program. Many an exam had students come in, sign their names, and leave.” That is what you consider support? You are arguing against an interpretation of my statement that would render it irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Why would I be referring to a Zero grade that isn’t germane to the discussion? I presume that corespondents in a discussion of whether a class that gets a Zero by not even entering the exam hall should get an A rather than failing will assume that the statement “I have never taken any course where a 0 on the final exam didn’t mean you failed the course” is meant to apply to the situation at hand, not theoretical or eccentric cases, real or not, that have no application to the debate. Furthermore, that statement for me was accurate even in the broad and inclusive sense. But giving counter examples unrelated to the actual Zeros in this case is just deflection. The topic is cheating to get an A, not showing that I didn’t craft a comment with brief-like precision.

              • You are arguing against an interpretation of my statement that would render it irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Why would I be referring to a Zero grade that isn’t germane to the discussion?

                Irrelevant points are not exactly uncommon on Ethics Alarms. I know I could find some that you made, and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find ones I made. In this case, it looked to me like you tried to make Rick’s comment look ridiculous by saying that it was against a general and obvious rule. The more general obvious the rule, the better your point looks. I assumed that you were intentionally going further than the issue under consideration to bolster your point. Since I didn’t think the rule worked, and I thought it was in good faith, i rebutted it.

                Even if I could tell the difference between unintentional overstatement and intentional overstatement, in the former case, I’m still not going to treat it as the lesser logical statement and give you some free rhetorical weight.

                That said, two of my exam examples contradicted the lower logical statement on it’s own. Even your lesser statement fails. I probably could have been more clear there. The critical thinking and linear algebra classes would could be passed with a “no test” on the final.

                I also think you’re playing games on the “did not take exam” vs “0 on exam” issue. If all the students had simply written their names on the test and turned it in, I suspect you’d consider that equal, inappropriate collusion. Am I wrong?

                The topic is cheating to get an A, not showing that I didn’t craft a comment with brief-like precision.

                Is that the topic? I thought we were discussing whether or not it was cheating, whether or not it was ethical, whether or not the professor’s response behavior was ethical, what else the professor could have done, and any other issues around the topic. I’m pretty sure we’re not discussing students hiding crib sheets on their hats, getting exams ahead of time, copying other students’ answers, etc…

                In this specific subtopic, you had a problem with Rich R’s statement that we don’t know that anybody wouldn’t have passed the class. That’s a pretty narrow topic and we don’t need to get into the wider discussion to deal with it. (As an aside, my response to Rich would be “so what?” People pass classes when they demonstrate the knowledge, not when we’re unsure about them. If Rich’s logic were to hold, then we should simply pass students who decide not to exams or turn in papers that everyone else does. It’s a rationalization of behavior.)

                • * Great, an everybody does it excuse for an irrelevant argument.
                  * It’s a ridiculous point. A test that you don’t have to pass isn’t a test. A course you don’t have to attend isn’t a course. An assignment you don’t have to do isn’t an assignment, and an order you don’t have to obey isn’t an order. This was a test the students had to take and pass. The whole line of argument is a distraction.
                  * Yes, cheating to get an A is cheating. Cheating is never ethical. I gave the professor a provisional ethical pass for holding himself responsible for the loophole, and for allowing the students’ conduct in the context of the narrow area of computer programming and gaming. I’m not crazy about it, but I’m not arguing about that.

  17. Reading these discussions is just depressing me. Is it really this true that no one values knowledge these days? Is it true that no one really thinks anything is gained during a college degree? Is pulling a stunt equivalent to actually learning the material in a 3-credit hour class?

    Now I understand my teaching evaluations. My common comments were “He wouldn’t slow down”, “The material was too hard”, “He used science words too much and I didn’t understand when he explained what they meant”, and “He made us do problems in class, that was very unprofessional”. For reference, I just BARELY made it through the requisite material in the semester, this material is needed by all the future classes in their field, and if they don’t know how to do this stuff they will kill people. Perhaps that is why 300,000 people/year die from medical mistakes (as opposed to fewer than 500 murdered by assault rifles).

    Idiocracy is a documentary.

    • In the 10 years since I graduated college, I think I have directly used only 2 things at my job that I originally learned and was test on in college.

      That said, I indirectly use skills I learned in college close to daily. High school taught me how to regurgitate and a baseline of knowledge to build on; college taught me how to think.

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