Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Posted this on reddit, but I don't think it got "red"

Man. My blog is only ever read by people I know, and I certainly would have been more careful if I'd had any idea this was going to blow up. Friends have suggested I should clarify some points:

* Nobody suffered permanent marks on their transcript or lost marks from this

* One person lost a bunch of time retaking the course, the others had to go through an ordeal being grilled by me and were then told that I had decided not to follow up.

* I did not enjoy the grilling. Didn't really enjoy any of it after the amazing seating discovery (which may be one of the reasons it took me many years to post).

* It is not at all clear that three or four of these people were innocent: on the occasions where we've observed cheating in person, it has been collaborative.

* I followed up according to my understanding of the McMaster rules. If I find evidence of dishonesty, I'm expected to report it, investigate it, and then report my findings.

The reason the part about grilling them was written cavalierly is that, until now, I've mostly been criticized (though lightly) for letting 7 of the 8 off scot free. Had I expected this to reach a wide audience, I would have written more carefully.

What else? In this test, I think people were broken into big blocks by last name, but were then free to sit where they wanted. The questions were MC questions (often tricky), and I wouldn't expect a large fraction of common wrong answers from people who studied together. It's hard to be sure, though, which is one of the reasons I looked for outliers, instead of using statistics, and then verified with the seating chart. I honestly hadn't thought about the correlation between sitting together and studying together, but if any of the eight people had offered that as a defense, I would have.


  1. Sorry about my "Test" Jonathan. I posted a comment on the other page, and it got lost when i tried to preview it.

    People were beating you up over "lack of rigor", but you handled your first experimental case perfectly IMHO. And cheating is WRONG. End of story. Some idiot saying you should have devoted your time to improving your teaching methods was, ah, an amoral idiot. LOL They were "kind of obviously" cheating. LOL You could refine further analysis with probabilities of a chance occurrence. "Studying together" to explain the same wrong answers is really a reach. I had a few thoughts though. Some good, some maybe a bit overboard, but probably not actually. LOL You'll see:

    1.) It's not surprising that the outliers weren't good students. The top leftmost pair need to take "cheating 101". ONE OF THEM needs to know the material. LOL I also had a thought that there surely are cases where a straight A+ 100% type student, gets unknowingly copied from. So as you move down your line, "Outliers" will soon no longer appear as outliers. But below, I fix that!

    2.) That got me thinking about what I first considered stupid: Getting "seating distance" into the dataset. Surely it would show correlation between seating distance and cheating. Only it would also surely disappear as two students got much further than adjacent desks from each other. But still, if a point was a "near outlier" based on your existing criteria, AND they sat next to each other, depending on the seat distance/cheating relationship, they could become "outliers".

    3.) If you were to get "prior exam scores" into your data, combined with "seating distance", you could catch the best cheats: The ones who sit near an A+ student, who doesn't cover his paper good. Or is helping his friend. If a student had two consecutive 50%, then scored a 98%, AND was sitting next to someone else who scored 98% or 100%, it would be highly suspicious. Either he was cheating, or got a prescription for Adderall, and turned over a new leaf. LOL Probabilities could be calculated for all this stuff, but you'd start to need to be gathering data to arrive at the probabilities, and then since most might not admit to cheating, that could get kind of tricky. Udacities "Data Analysis" nano-degree would be perfect.

    4.) I'm embarrassed to have thought of this: A little creative cell phone usage, and you could pass multiple choice answers to another person, with almost no chance of detection, if you used some creativity. I saw a really exotic in-the-ear-canal, connected to a small cell phone, but that is getting a bit out there. Simpler things could be worked out. LOL I'VE EVEN GOT A WAY OF CATCHING THEM! If you get outliers that weren't sitting near each other, and the odds warrant it. Casually take a look at how far through the tests they are, and at about the half way point, turn on a cell phone jammer, if the first half matches, and the second half doesn't, THAT would be highly suspicious.

    Plus watching the expression would be priceless. Keep up the good work. The "naysayers" were really reaching. If this was a campus wide system, with mandatory outcomes, it would be one thing, but you handled it perfectly. They had opportunities to show their innocence. I would tend to find an A student letting a friend copy from him less abhorrent, then the kid doing the copying, which is probably not write. You'd have to figure out who was the copier, and who was the copyee too.

    There. Now I feel better.

  2. High Tech Cheating

    I was also thinking about the SAT coaching classes, and how they send people in to take the test with "extra good recall". Now, mini-video cams, are getting so small, that a button on your shirt could be one, and I guarantee, they are getting exact copies of SATs out. How to stop that? No clue. Verify student status at the school where the exam is taking place. If you have a junior that got recruited, and paid (bribed), you'd be out of luck.

    So, I guess you'd have to go to preferably those airport body scanners. If not have boy/girl strip search rooms. LOL

  3. Thanks for your feedback. I find it pretty hard to balance: the deterrent to cheating helps the good kids, and you want to do it, but you don't want to turn into a cop.

  4. I would never even have considered cheating when I was in school. Now students not only cheat, but justify it. Remarkable. If I were an employer and found out that someone had cheated in school, I would never hire him or her. A dishonest person can only harm a workplace.