Facebook Riot!

Isn’t Internet activism funny?

Mr. Avenir was singled out by the university for his role as the administrator of an online study group that attracted more than 140 members looking for help with chemistry homework assignments that accounted for 10 per cent of their mark.

When the course’s professor — who had stipulated that work be done independently — found the site, he gave Mr. Avenir a failing grade for the course and charged him with academic misconduct.

The case has created a groundswell of online support for the 18-year-old, including an online petition, a Facebook support group and a website, chrisdidntcheat.com, that among other things is selling T-shirts, hats and buttons with the slogan.

Is Chris Avenir in the right? It’s hard to see sharing homework answers as cheating, assuming each kid then had to do their own rendition of the work, since no one would have complained had it been face-to-face. There are surely more semantics there, but the question is really irrelevant considering the students’ response.

It’s kind of insulting that this is my generation’s form of resistance. I have many friends who use Facebook “causes” to fight for ideals. But in so doing, it seems that on-campus petitions, protests, or boycotting the school becomes completely overlooked!

Here’s a tip, people my age: If there isn’t going to be any financial damage, the school won’t give a lick. I don’t think they’re shaking in their booties that you are creating angry “Groups”. Internet activism, though good for garnering attention, needs to result in action, not more e-rants!

Thanks to your e-support, the punishment has been decreased for Mr. Avenir. Now he won’t be expelled — he’ll just get a 0 on the assignment. That kind of minor alteration is exactly the type of effect Internet activism brings about.

Now what’re you going to do about it?


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Zayna
    Mar 19, 2008 @ 16:38:00

    This reminds me of my business teacher admitting to me that while in University she and a group of about 7 others, rotated through their more “boring” classes, taking notes and homework assignments to later distribute to the others.

    In fact, I see what my business teacher was doing as much more dishonest and worthy of condemnation than what this 18 year old has done.

    We create the technology in the hopes of bettering the lives of mankind (our children specifically – or so we claim) then we get insulted when they (our children specifically) start to use it in ways we never thought of…

    Techno Envy?


  2. juggling mother
    Mar 20, 2008 @ 09:07:36

    This sounds like a teacher I know who failed a child’s essay on history on th basis that he had “researched too much from the internet”.. How can research be bad? It’s just not understanding the technology, and the teacher is the one acting unprofessionally! A teachers job is to teach thier students how to learn, how to find out information and how to pass that information on to others. Facebook is as good a way of doing all that as face-face or homework clubs, library seminars or such like.

    Still, I agree that signing petitions (faceook orp aper) is unlikely to bother the school. But petitions are all the in thing at the moment. Wait till the US recession really hits – people with less to lose are more willing to risk personal action:-)


  3. MaryP
    Mar 20, 2008 @ 10:50:15

    Am I missing something? The students were given an assignment and instructed that it was to be completed independently. Instead, this student organized a very large group to work on it together. It’s about as blatant a flouting of the professor’s direction that I can think of.

    Did anyone approach the prof. directly and ask about study groups? Question his rationale for stipulating independent work only? Or did they simply decide that his rules were stupid and thus didn’t need to be heeded?


  4. Bill
    Mar 20, 2008 @ 12:52:48

    I was about to say exactly what Mary P said, so now all I can do is concur.

    If the prof stated you must begin all sentences with a question or do them standing on your head, those are the rules.

    My question is who sets exam rules the prof or the student?


  5. nebcanuck
    Mar 20, 2008 @ 14:23:41

    Mary P: Am I missing something? The students were given an assignment and instructed that it was to be completed independently. Instead, this student organized a very large group to work on it together. It’s about as blatant a flouting of the professor’s direction that I can think of.

    It’s a fine point. I think that the key here is that it’s a blatant flouting, though, not that they worked on it together. For all that I agree with Bill that the rules are the rules, the theory is very often different in practice.

    Would I have followed the rules to the letter? Probably. I tend to do that in general. But most professors — in my experience at least — allow some leeway concerning conspiring on answers, with the assumption that the ultimate response will be personalized. And certainly, there would never be any worry if I happened to chat with a friend about an essay or something, since it’s basically inevitable that my essay will vary a great deal from my friend’s. For these people on Facebook, presumably, they were setting this up as more of a “discuss the issue” rather than a “photocopy the answers.”

    However, where this argument falls through is in the fact that this is chemistry, not English or Politics. You can’t have a “casual conversation” about a chemistry assignment, because it’s math-based, not theory- and language-based. So, perhaps there was more exchanging of actual numbers than is suggested in the term “discussion group.” They do, however, point out in the article that there was no focus in the case against the students on whether or not information had actually been exchanged, but that there was a “post” asking for people to do so. It doesn’t really matter if you assume that that line — no cooperation whatsoever — is going to be followed. But if it isn’t, as most professors would assume, then the real issue would end up being whether answers were actually supplied to students, or if it was more of a “What does H mean again?” type of discussion.

    But I do think that making this so public, and so large, was asking to be kicked in the can for it. Isolated conversations with your best friend over the material is simply a smarter tactic if you’re going to “bend the rules.” Again, I probably would have been avoiding this type of situation, and actually think that he should be punished, with the information given.

    However, those who don’t think so, as far as I can guess, have some argument that’s not covered very well in the article. We’re dealing with a team of university students — self-centered, but not unintelligent, presumably — and in my mind they must have some reason for protesting it. Perhaps it’s true that this is just frustration at being caught, but I would think at least some of the leaders could present a more rational case than is being conveyed here.

    Regardless, I really think it’s laughable what their course of action is about it. Perhaps it would be better if they did approach a major news source like the Globe and Mail, in order to get their full reasoning out there. Perhaps they need to be protesting on campus and gaining that media attention. Instead they are restricting themselves to their peers’ signatures on Facebook — some response that’s going to get!

    I think that their venue of resistance is dooming them to look ridiculous, honestly. Perhaps they really are being whiny and have no case. But I don’t think there’s any way they could appear otherwise because of their choice of the Internet as their sole medium.


  6. Zayna
    Mar 21, 2008 @ 10:02:14

    MaryP – “Am I missing something? The students were given an assignment and instructed that it was to be completed independently.”

    Actually you did not…I did. I totally missed the part where the kids were instructed to work independently. That of course makes a difference.


  7. juggling mother
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 04:52:57

    Would the work have been any less independant had the students gone to alibrary to look up the math formula in a book? Or if they had checked a “reputable” online source? I don’t really see there is much diference between researching the answer in published works or researching the answer in other students works – especially in something like chemistry where you would nahve to show all you personal workings out and conclusions anyway.

    I am, of course, assuming that the group was just research – assistance with what formala said, rather than which formula to use where and/or when. Without knowing what was “discussed”it is difficult to say whether it was within the rules or not – but I can see that it could be.


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