1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How to mention academic dishonesty to professor?

  1. Nov 4, 2015 #1
    I am currently enrolled in an upper level Physics course and our prof has seemingly used the EXACT same midterm from each of the past two years. Now some of the students knew this would be likely, while others had no idea. (The class is only 15 people.) The midterm was only a few questions long and all of them could be found from one of the textbooks we reference, but the students who knew about this professor literally memorized solutions to these specific 3 problems since they knew which ones it would be.

    Now besides me disliking that some of my peers had a very unfair advantage over others in the class, I don't plan on reporting them since I think it was the professor's fault for using the exact same exam from previous years. The students who did this were simply making the best of the information they had, and they didn't do anything wrong per se...although it seems like borderline academic dishonesty to me. With that being said, I do plan on at least hinting to the prof to at least change up the final exam so that everyone is back on fair ground again in the future. If you have any advice on how to approach my professor and mention this fact to them to ensure the final is different from previous years and/or reweigh the midterm, that would be greatly appreciated!

    Just some more things to add: the midterm was quite tricky and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few fails. Unfortunately, with such a small class, the people who did poorly may not get adjusted accordingly. Secondly, I am also wary that I will be put in a bad position by bringing this up. That is, I may be put on the spot to identify the people who I know did memorize answers, otherwise I'll be punished for something I never did. Maybe I'm just paranoid, and I do plan on just feigning ignorance and saying I heard this in passing, but any advice you have to make sure future assessments are fair and that students are not punished for the instructor's laziness would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2015 #2

    fresh_42

    Staff: Mentor

    Firstly a big sorry for I haven't the solution for you you want to hear. All I can offer you is born out of life experience: forget it! and learn the previous tests. There is no honorable way out as there might have been in former times. The prof is obviously just lazy and you bet he knows. And what counts even more, probably the whole faculty knows and ... does nothing about it. Of course you can fight the unbeatable foe, bear with unbearable sorrow and run where the brave dare not go. But it'll do you no good and I can't see anyone around you paying respect to your honesty. It might hurt to forget about it but it'll hurt you more if you don't. I once mentored a student whose task it was to work out a thesis of someone. The central theorem had a real big bug: a < b ⇒ -a < -b. Reporting it to the prof who posted this task he just said: "The result is true anyway. Find another proof." He didn't even wanted to know about this error. And so won't your prof. "Forget it" is the healthiest you can do. Not my favorite solution but the one life has taught me.
     
  4. Nov 4, 2015 #3
    Fair enough. Maybe something to add: I actually worked closely with this (tenured) prof in the past and although he is a nice guy and we have a good relationship, this does seem like something he's at least aware of to some extent. But yes, I feel like the chance to do bad is much greater than the chance to do good with this...I just feel terrible for the people who've gotten the short end of the stick since it's not their fault yet they're the ones getting hit.
     
  5. Nov 4, 2015 #4

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    Details matter- was it the exact same exam or not? How do you know?
     
  6. Nov 4, 2015 #5

    billy_joule

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    How are the students locating the old midterms?

    I understand some universities use the same exams every year so they are closely guarded and cannot be taken out of the examination room, anyone found with a copy can be disciplined as a cheat.
    If they are freely available then I think it's a non-issue - If students don't even bother to look at the previous exams available then they would probably fail regardless IMO.

    Either way, If you don't want to offend/burn bridges with your prof. you could talk to your dean and explain why you want to remain anonymous.
     
  7. Nov 4, 2015 #6
    Yes, they are the exact same. Only 3 questions were on the exams, and so students who took the course remembered them. So people in the course currently simply asked past students what was on them, and were told it was those same 3 questions.
     
  8. Nov 4, 2015 #7
    There are 3 questions in total on the exam, and these 3 questions are taken verbatim from a textbook used in the class. Students in the past realized it was the exact same questions as from the textbook, and these same 3 were once again used. It was pretty easy to remember the questions since there were only 3.
     
  9. Nov 4, 2015 #8

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    The first step is to speak with your professor- why did (s)he do this? What is the rationale? If you do not get a satisfactory answer, the next step is to speak with the Department Chair. And you will need to bring proof- last years' exam, this years' exam, and the book from which the questions were taken.
     
  10. Nov 4, 2015 #9

    billy_joule

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    That sound like previous exams are kept secret. IME they have a clause on the paper to the effect of 'taking this exam paper or memorising it's contents for the purpose of sharing with other students is considered serious misconduct and can result in expulsion'.

    In which case your Prof. has done nothing wrong and your class mates are cheating.
     
  11. Nov 4, 2015 #10

    berkeman

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    You are seriously advocating cheating? It doesn't sound like you are a good match for the PF...
     
  12. Nov 5, 2015 #11

    fresh_42

    Staff: Mentor

    I do not advocate cheating. I advocate to leave things alone which cannot be changed by any intervention. As I mentioned earlier it's very likely that the problem with the lazy prof is known by many others in the faculty, more important than the Canadian. And since they do nothing about it it's a suicide command for him to fight. Also it's not cheating. It's about available information. I've been into a faculty's politics and seen profs like him before. I just don't think you can do anything about it. Perhaps spread the facts. But that's it. And yes, I do not advocate denunciation. (At least if it's not about crimes.) Therefore the only possible way would be to talk to that prof. And here it's becoming human. He certainly knows what he's doing and confronting him will only damage who dared to do so. At the end nothing will be achieved beside a honorable person, the Canadian, will be damaged. And I just said: To fight like Don Quijote might be glorios but at least my life taught me it'll not pay off. If you insist on something has to be done about, then it has to be done by the one hiring this prof, probably someone in the university's administration. Or you can try to establish a kind of quality control within the faculty. That might help to avoid future cases but probably will come too late in the current case.
     
  13. Nov 5, 2015 #12

    mathwonk

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I agree with you completely that this situation is unsatisfactiory, when different students are being tested under different conditions. But to me, this is not academic dishonesty by the students, but extreme carelessness by the professor. Working out old exams is standard practice for preparing for an exam and it is advised for everyone. An appropriate strategy in my opinion would be to simply inform all the students that the old exams are available for study, which is strongly advised since old questions tend to recur, and also to inform the professor that this is the case, so he will realize the need to make a new one.

    When I was in college it was standard practice to store old exams in the residential house libraries for the use of anyone energetic enough to look at them. I did not learn this until late in my career, but had been too lazy to use them anyway early on. The professors were of course aware of this and had to make fresh exams, although some did repeat a few old questions from time to time. Indeed in any math class where there is a core of principal theorems one should be able to state and prove, it is impossible not to repeat oneself, since there are only a finite number of theorems to ask. Indeed in any course with a finite number of basic principles, one should expect to be tested on each of them, and practice accordingly. Moreover simply knowing in advance that one needs to be able to state and prove a big theorem is only useful if you take the trouble to learn it. And since the purpose of the course is to help and motivate you to learn the material, this goal is largely achieved if you do memorize the basic facts for the exam.

    As a teacher I have often distributed old exams to my students to help them get an idea of what they would be facing. Of course then I had to write new ones more often. The idea of an exam is not to trick you with questions you cannot answer even if you know the material but to measure your grasp of the important stuff and to help you review and master it. Sounds as if your prof is not doing his whole job, which I can sympathize with given that I know how hard it is.

    By the way, a profesor who asks questions so tricky they cannot be answered without prior exposure is almost forcing his students to use this technique. If you have access to him you might suggest this is unfair testing practice. I once had a prof who gave a homework question so hard no one could do it so he devoted an entire class to solving it. Unfortunately I was sick that day, and then he asked it on the exam and gave it something like 50% credit for the whole exam. At any rate it counted so much that I went from an A to a B on that one question, for the whole semester course, rather unfairly I thought.

    A person writing a test should always ask himself what he is testing. Does this test measure class attendance, or mastery of basic material, or ability to solve tricky problems, or to calculate quickly, or advance preparation on specific questions, or what? Your prof is apparently measuring largely access to old tests, which is something I would think he would want to be made aware of, if he isn't already.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2015
  14. Nov 5, 2015 #13

    symbolipoint

    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    I like what mathwonk later said, better.
     
  15. Nov 6, 2015 #14
    If I were the prof, I would want to know. (I've never re-used exams, except for occasionally using exams from past years as make-ups).

    If you think there may be negative consequences for telling him, set up an anonymous email account and inform him that way.
     
  16. Nov 6, 2015 #15

    atyy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    As mathwonk argues, it is not cheating unless there is an instruction that sharing the questions with other students is misconduct. In that case, it is the students who took the course in the previous years, not the current year, who are breaking an agreement.
     
  17. Nov 6, 2015 #16
    I agree. Everything that is not explicitly prohibited is allowed. Unless there was a rule in place prohibitting access to prior tests, we are looking at acceptable diligence rather than academic dishonesty.
     
  18. Nov 6, 2015 #17

    symbolipoint

    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    How could any professor expect to make a rule like, "Do not remember these questions for the unfair benefit to future students."? Maybe the only reasonable practice is to periocially adjust the test questions; not complete "overhauls", but every couple of years, make a few alterations so that memorization by itself will be ineffective.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook