Course material easily found online, according to students

According to FSU students interviewed by The Gatepost, some test, quiz and homework questions and answers can be found online, which makes cheating easy in some of their courses.

Professors who choose to use either recycled or prepackaged coursework risk having their materials available on the Internet for students to find.

At FSU, these incidents mostly pertain to test and quiz questions in online courses, or homework assignments in traditional classes.

“I was shocked the first time I found out that I could copy and paste a quiz question into a search engine, and find the same question, word-for-word, with multiple choice answers, choice-for-choice,” said a senior, who asked to remain anonymous.

“It makes me feel like I am paying for an overvalued degree,” he said.

He added that he has been able to do this in courses such as Introduction to Information Technology, Introduction to Operating Systems Using UNIX and Networking Technologies – all taught by computer science Professor Suban Krishnamoorthy.

Another student who asked to remain anonymous said, “Close to 100 percent of Krishamoorthy’s [questions] can be found online.”

Another anonymous senior agreed, saying, “The answers were very easy to Google. … I have had many professors that take whole quizzes off-line or straight out of the teacher’s manual in the back of their books which is easily attainable online.”

Krishnamoorthy said via email that the fact that students could find his exam questions online was “news” to him and he is “very unhappy about it.”

He added, “I want to take steps to make sure that the exam questions are not available to students going forward for any of my courses.”

Robin Robinson, director of education technology and interactive media said, “The structures of the courses are really left to the professor, so in terms of guaranteeing integrity, we expect students to be professionals.”

College professors teaching both online and in-class courses do have the option of using a course cartridge, according to Robinson, which the Blackboard website describes as course content created by a third party, available for download by instructors. These packages often include slides, documents, quiz questions and other teaching tools.

Another senior, who admitted to cheating in courses, but asked to remain anonymous, said, “Many teachers are purchasing these tests from education companies like Pearson and Cengage, and do not realize that the answers are all over the Internet.”

He said he believes this puts students in a difficult situation because “many students who want to remain honest still feel pressure to Google the answers, because they know that everyone else in the class is doing it.”

Robinson said that despite pressure on students, it is never OK to cheat because logging into Blackboard implies an agreement to comply with the FSU academic honesty policy.

FSU’s academic honesty policy specifies that cheating includes the use of any materials or sources not authorized by the course instructor.

“Most of our professors are creating their own curriculum,” said Robinson. “They’re not taking textbook course cartridges and taking materials from a test bank. Not to say there aren’t some that do, but for the most part when they’re developing their quizzes, they’re basing a lot on their course goals and objectives.”

She said in many courses, it is difficult to use prepackaged materials because the course work is so specialized.

Yet students who take courses in math, science and computer science are sometimes able to find their coursework online.

Another senior who asked to remain anonymous said he has been able to find test or homework answers online in Calculus I, taught by Professor Julie Levandosky, and Cell Biology, taught by Professor Ishara Mills-Henry.

“I typed in the questions, and the answers popped up like other schools have used them before,” he said.

Levandosky responded to this claim by e-mail, admitting that she uses some questions from the textbook for homework assignments, so she is aware these answers may be found online. However, she said, “A student’s homework average is worth a very small percentage of their grade.  As a result, if they are not able to do the problems on their own, it will become apparent during the exams.”

Professor Mills-Henry did not respond to a request for comment.

A junior who asked to remain anonymous said, “I’ve noticed it a lot, and while it helps to get my homework done easily, which is nice … it makes me feel like I’m not learning as much as I could be.” She said it has happened in a few of her courses, but was only specifically able to identify Math for the Liberal Arts, taught by Professor Mohammad Salmassi.

Salmassi responded to this claim by e-mail, saying, “If you dig enough, you can find answers to almost anything.” He said he has caught students cheating in the past, and a few years ago, a student in his Introduction to Statistics class acquired a teacher’s manual.

“He was rather dim-witted since he sometimes copied wrong answers and typos from the manual,” he said.

He said that he does recycle some exam questions and would not be surprised if students passed them down to other students or published answers online.

“But I am not worried,” he said. “During 14 weeks of a regular semester, with multiple tests, homework, sometimes labs, projects and portfolio, I am confident that I know who is who. I am not concerned if someone finds a question or two online.”

Other students said they have also been able to find their course material online, but were unable to recall specific courses.

Robinson said, “If there’s a reason they [students] feel the course isn’t meeting their standards, they should be having a conversation with the professor, too, and not just feel like this is just a throw-away course.”

A senior who asked to remain anonymous said she has been able to find her homework assignments for her Database Management class, taught by Professor Zhenguang Gao online, and thinks it is unfair.

Professor Gao said he did not wish to respond to this claim until the article was published.

Daniel Facchinetti, instructional designer of the education technology and interactive media office, said if a student thinks a professor using pre-packaged material is cheating, that “presumes that students are in college just to do work and it’s just about getting through it.

“They’re here to learn, so if a student were to cheat on a test or an exam, then they’re cheating themselves of learning whatever their professor is trying to teach them.”

He added, “The fact that the professor has been teaching this stuff over and over and over again for years is not exactly the same thing as students being in college to learn what they came here presumably to learn.”

English Professor Carlos Martinez has recently been working with faculty members to research “pedagogical and institutional problems surrounding plagiarism.”

He recently created a Blackboard module for Director of Academic Support/Disability Services LaDonna Bridges and Dean of Students Melinda Stoops that he described as “a tutorial on Blackboard that goes through various specific rules and examples concerning plagiarism.”

Martinez added he thinks very few students cheat, but he thinks “that the students who want to cheat must have reasons for doing so. Hopefully, it is not that the material is too difficult to process. The whole point of seeking a college education is to be challenged, so it is such a disservice to the process and to themselves to seek a shortcut.”

He added, “I also believe that professors should do what they can to make it difficult to cheat on their tests and assignments.”

In his own courses, Martinez said he tries to prevent cheating by using up-to-date resources, assignments which require students to show work, and online tools designed to detect plagiarism.

Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said she is “very concerned about the integrity of our classes and the value of the education that our students receive.”

She said that if students are in a position to cheat, they should look over the academic honesty policy and follow it.

“Students are bound to honesty. They’re supposed to be honest,” she said.

She added that students who even hear about incidents of cheating are also supposed to report it. It isn’t considered “telling on someone,” but instead “preserving the integrity of the degree they’re about to get.

“How many people around the world would love to be sitting right where you’re sitting right now?” Vaden-Goad asked. “Having the opportunities that you have, living like you live, sitting in classes with wonderfully educated faculty who can talk with you and listen to your ideas. … It’s such an opportunity, and it’s such a shame to be wasting it.”

She said she does not believe that it is unethical for professors to use prepackaged course material.

“You can easily also just type in some words and get what the original researcher said. … We’re in a new era right now with the Internet, and you can type in and get all kinds of things,” Vaden-Goad said.

However, she said, “We have to be the ones that stand behind strengthening good practice, and I think good practice is doing everything within your own power to make it hard to cheat in your class.”

Administrators are currently working on FSU’s academic honesty policy to create a strong honor code, according to Vaden-Goad, and she plans to incorporate this issue into the discussions.

She said she would like to see an honor code that is heavily managed by students such as the policy at the University of Virginia.

That policy is so strong and effective that students can write checks without presenting ID in the community, they can ride their bikes without locking them up and they can leave their computers anywhere, because it is a very honest environment, said Vaden-Goad.

She said it is important to create an honest community to “assure that the degrees we offer are real.”

She added, “We have to offer our communities the promise that students here who graduate, or take courses and get grades, have done so with integrity. That’s our responsibility.”

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