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[P]
Scenarios in student ethics.

By Rezand in Culture
Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 11:50:26 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

Being a student, I have asked myself a lot of questions about ethics in academics. I don't have any delusions about the ethical level among students, even (perhaps I should say especially) among the most prestigious schools. If you received a paper or exam that was obviously graded too highly (perhaps you can count the points and see), how much would your ethical side come into?


[I was just about to place this discussion below on my website (to be read by no other human beings) when I realized I'd like to hear other comments on it.]

I'd like you to answer honestly, if for no other reason than that there's no one listening but yourself: What would you do if you were returned an exam (from a required course) that was graded incorrectly? Would you bring it to the instructor's attention?

Many people would say "yes" automatically-- that is, until I clarified that the paper was graded too highly in your favor.

Would this change your answer? I'm sure there are zillions of readers who would only report a grading error if it would help their grade, even if the teacher asked the students to recheck the instructor's math to be sure it was correct. Certainly I'm not judging anyone here, as I may or may not be that sort of fellow myself. (I'm not here to preach from a soapbox-- I merely speak of this to make you think.)

I do, though, reserve the right to add a little more to the story to make it more interesting. Does the difference between the false grade and appropriate one matter? What about a false 91 (A), while the appropriate was 84 (B)? Would it make a difference if you were given a 91 (A) instead of your deserved 43 (F)? What about a 94 (A) instead of a 92 (A)? The interesting part here is that I suspect we'll have a number of very ethical individuals who would (if they honestly put themselves in that situation) make the teacher aware of the error in the first two examples, but would not report the last case where the letter grade won't change. I imagine that losing two points without lowering a letter grade may be too small a loss to feel it's a true sacrifice of personal gain for following the ethical path.

For all those who lean in the less ethical direction so far, imagine that the class in question is an ethics class. Would that encourage you to seek a correction? I feel this would change the minds of a few people, if only out of irony or guilt. For those that remain, what if it suddenly occured to you that the ethics instructor may be testing you by grading your paper too highly? In an ethics course, it's certainly a valid method of seeing if the point has somehow hit home. And it's a point I'm afraid the majority of students would fail (unless they suspected the instructor's intent).

Today, leaving a class on ethics, I ran into this problem and the above thoughts and question about our society ran through my mind. I'm a firm lover of the questions of ethics, and it's quite possible you will see further discussions on this sort of thing from time to time.

And before you ask what I did in this exact scenario-- let me just say that it turns out my instructor is a good bit better at arithmetic than I am.

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Poll
Do you consider yourself ethical and/or moral?
o Yes! (I'm choosing this because I haven't really thought about it or I'm worried that someone will think less of me if I answered "Sometimes" or "No".) 1%
o Yes. (I really do think I live my life that way.) 33%
o Sometimes. (I try.) 47%
o No! (That sort of life is not for me-- I'm in this game for myself and mine.) 6%
o No. (I think ethics/morals are imaginary and of no true importance.) 10%

Votes: 145
Results | Other Polls

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Scenarios in student ethics. | 54 comments (52 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not such a big deal (4.50 / 6) (#1)
by klash on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 07:15:32 PM EST

I've been given incorrect grades that sway in my favor more than once, and I'll always bring it to the instructor's attention. More often than not, they'll say "thanks for being honest, don't worry about it," and leave it at that (perhaps that's why I'm so easily willing to tell them in the first place, there's no risk involved).

I can't think of a situation where a mistake could change a 43 into a 91. If the professor has spent the majority of their time on one exam making red marks, they're not going to get to the end and write "91 A" without suspecting that something's not quite right.



Just a note... (none / 0) (#14)
by Rezand on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 11:08:11 PM EST

It's not all that common to mistake a 43 for a 91, but it may be more common for something like 41. Regardless, the commonness of the situation wasn't the issue. =)

[ Parent ]
Marks don't matter (5.00 / 2) (#24)
by retinaburn on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 08:49:18 AM EST

As I have gotten older I have come to the conclusion that students should care less about their hard marks and more about what they feel they have learned. Teachers care very little for the grades they give out, as long as they meet their quota.

The difference between getting a 50 and a 70 on a test is a negligible increase in knowledge on a given subject. Maybe one idea was misinterpreted. Between a 70 and an 80, just a minor clarification of an idea.

If you know the stuff, and can see what mistakes you made and why then leave it at that.

If I get a test back and there is a small to moderate mistake in the marking (say +- 5 marks) then I won't bother to bring it to a professors attention. They have enough problem with the whiny complainers getting half a mark changed to deal with me.

However a good friend of mine was going through OAC (grade 13, entry to University) and didn't fight for every single mark, she ended up missing her Honor's by 1% which meant she was unable to attend the university of her choice.

Perhaps I should recheck my beliefs ;)


I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho


[ Parent ]
on grades and achievement (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by klash on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 04:45:46 PM EST

However a good friend of mine was going through OAC (grade 13, entry to University) and didn't fight for every single mark, she ended up missing her Honor's by 1% which meant she was unable to attend the university of her choice.

Perhaps I should recheck my beliefs ;)

Exactly. I spent most of my senior year in high school not caring about grades. The longer I was in high school, the more I realized what a joke it was, and so I totally blew off the nickel and dime fill-in-the-blank crap that high school is so famous for. My grades suffered for it, but I was learning at least as much as the A students.

Then the end of the year came around, and the 14 valedictorians suddenly started getting a lot of attention. A whole lot. They were invited to dinners and banquets full of rich, important people. They were asked to pose for lots of pictures, and showed up in the newspaper. They were honored at assemblies and referred to by the principal as "The Best of the Best."

I didn't give a rat's ass about the exposure, but then I noticed that they were getting into their first choice schools, and having lots of money waved in their faces. On all the scholarship applications it asked for your GPA of course (the Global Pointer of Achievement), and I began to realize that trying to convince these people and my prospective colleges that "golly gee, I really learned a lot but my classes just had stupid grading systems" wasn't going to be easy.

I care more about grades now.



[ Parent ]
Marks not important for their own sake (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by Eranu on Thu Feb 15, 2001 at 01:46:34 PM EST

I heard this sort of comment more than once when I was an undergrad, to the effect that students should stop fixating on their GPAs and concentrate more on the actual concepts. The implication tended to be that our priorities were screwed up.

That is a luxury that I would have loved to have. Unfortunately, I attended university on "Open Scholarship". What that means is, top 30% of the students (based on GPA) at the school had their tuition paid for. In other words, if my GPA dropped out of the top third, my tuition bill went from zero dollars to thousands of dollars.

A drop in GPA was *not* something that I could just blow off. Even though grades are not important in and of themselves, they are extremely important because of the importance that the universities attach to them. Ideally students would not have to worry about their grades, but in practice (because of the way the system is set up) they need to take them very seriously.

[ Parent ]
cheating is a cultural thing (4.00 / 4) (#2)
by rebelcool on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 07:19:12 PM EST

the thing about cheating is that it depends on your culture. For example, in germany cheating is not uncommon. In fact, it's viewed as "beating the system", so most students will protect cheaters, and most teachers dont care. In fact, many schools make the punishment for cheating very light BY RULE..you cannot punish someone more than xx for cheating. Of course, this is not to say cheating is rampant. They work awfully hard to make it difficult to cheat. But if you manage to, congrats.

Seems awfully strange coming from a culture that says "cheating bad!", but it's the way it is.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

doh..contradicted myself (5.00 / 2) (#3)
by rebelcool on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 07:20:45 PM EST

What i meant to say was "attempts to cheat are not uncommon".

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[ Parent ]

One differing data point (4.33 / 6) (#4)
by Delirium on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 07:22:23 PM EST

Nearly all my school's tests (and even some of the final exams) are given as take-home tests. They're closed-note, closed-book, and have a time limit printed on them, and oddly enough nearly everyone follows these rules; there is almost no cheating or use of unauthorized materials or aids. When tests aren't take-home, they're typically given in a 200-student lecture hall where we all sit next to each other and there is only one proctor who wanders in and out; still no cheating. As for why? I'm not really sure. Sure, everyone here is rather intelligent, but at other schools with comparable students, there is rampant cheating (from what I've heard from students there). Perhaps it's because the school I attend is not as famous/prestigious (due to the lack of a graduate school) as many of the comparable schools, so the sorts of students who care solely about appearances (name of the school, grade on the report card, etc.) don't come here. Anyway just one more experience to throw out there.

Might I ask... (and a long anecdote) (5.00 / 3) (#12)
by Anonymous 7324 on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 10:37:04 PM EST

which school? Your description sounds like Caltech, (they take it further, I believe -- everyone has keys to all the facilities, all the time) but apparently is not, since that has a graduate programme. But whatever, sounds like a most lovely institution ...

My school recently had a 'scandal' of sorts when a visiting lecturer from another <A HREF=http://www.ncsu.edu/">institution in one of our CS courses accidentally posted the solutions to a homework set on a Mac fileshare, and supposedly students got to it, and subsequently modified it slightly and turned it in.

Word also had it that the TAs, who have full access to solutions, were simply handing them out to students (they've denied this). Now, I don't know the details, or what actually happened, but consider this:

This is a class of 80 people. The professor suspended classes for 3 days (trashing the cirriculum), and pored(sp) over all the submissions, looking for evidence of cheating. He then claimed that half the class cheated, and demanded that they be separated from the college.

The problem is that this is an intro-level CS course, and there are really only so many ways to invoke a constructor, etc, etc. -- how he was able to ascertain that many cases of supposedly blatant cheating, remains a mystery to me, personally.

Upshot:

The disciplinary committee refused to take any action, because they did not feel that a clear separation of the cheaters from the non-cheaters could be found. Students have not been allowed to review the solution, as well as the 80+ submissions, so we have no clue just what the specific situation looked like. The visiting lecturer resigns during the middle of the term, leaving the class high and dry, forcing another professor on leave to take over.


While it is good to re-examine the whole academic honesty process once in a while, certain overzealous individuals such as this professor (who embarassed himself sufficiently not to be let back to his former college either) seem out to get whoever they can. (I can back up my assertion by posting several of his quoted blanket assertions about my college and Ivy leagues in general, if necessary.)

My take:

People definitely cheated. It is, however, pretty much impossible to determine who, except for a few extreme cases. The professor definitely overreacted, and spoke out too soon and too loudly, but the disciplinary committee should have prosecuted the extreme cases, and separated them out by assigning CS profs to look over submissions as compared with the solutions. Lastly: this should have never happened. The lecturer had _never_ used a Mac before (we're a Mac-based institution), and shouldn't have been teaching programming and controlling submissions, etc. on a platform he'd never used before. Irresponsible of him, and of the people who hired him. ** Notes and disclosures:

1) The professor was "strongly urged" by the faculty to resign, although he was not exactly intent on staying anyway, after expression "clear disgust" with the whole Ivy League system
2) We usually have >10 explusions per term (could be year?), and the process for each is indeed lengthy. The disciplinary committee would indeed have been stretched to the breaking point.
3) The course was Intro to Data Structures, which is the course immediately after the "how to program" intro to CS course. 4) Personally I have a feeling the Dartmouth administration definitely wanted to keep the whole thing 'small', and may have made some wrong decisions. (It can be argued the other way as well.) Either way, the whole situation definitely got out of hand, much more than necessary.



[ Parent ]
cheating and such (none / 0) (#18)
by Delirium on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 11:59:42 PM EST

which school? Your description sounds like Caltech, (they take it further, I believe -- everyone has keys to all the facilities, all the time) but apparently is not, since that has a graduate programme.

I linked the word "school" to www.hmc.edu. =P Harvey Mudd College. And yeah, we have access to all the facilities all the time (through coded entry doors); it's useful for when you need to print out a long report at 4am.

As for the anecdote, interesting situation. I'm not sure how people here would respond to that; there certainly would be a temptation to copy homework solutions if the answers and how to work the problems were available somehow (people would probably justify it with "it's only homework" or something along those lines). Of course, except for CS classes, homework is worth very little to your grade, so cheating on it isn't very beneficial. But this was a CS class you mentioned, so never mind. =P

[ Parent ]

Why nice teachers do good things for students... (4.16 / 6) (#5)
by Saxifrage on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 07:31:19 PM EST

I actually think this is an interesting subject, so I'll throw in my two bits.

My physics teacher has a long-standing policy that a student can never lose points on his mistake. For example, last semester I received a 40 out of 10 on a homework assignment (which are not even graded for correctness, but simply for being turned in) -- and while certainly I did not deserve that 40, by any means, I was able to keep it. Which eliminated the ethical dilemma (unless you count how badly your fellow students want to burn you at the stake an ethical dilemma).

However, you can certainly gain points off of his mistake. He lost a test of mine, and so therefore I received a 100% for the test -- and while I suspect that I got nearly that grade on the test anyway, because our homework problems to prepare for the test are worked in groups and a friend of mine got a 97%, there was no clear ethical dilemma standing in my way.

Such policies take away the risk of the student, and also the ethical concerns of that student regarding lying or telling the truth, and yet remains fair for all students, because every teacher makes mistakes for every student eventually. It's merely a question of when.



"I may disagree vehemently with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it." - Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire
While others may disagree (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by Anonymous 7324 on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 10:12:44 PM EST

** (disclaimer at end)

the whole point of ethics is that there are consequences. From what I understand, your professor took away pretty much all the consequences of calling to his attention errors in grading, of whatever sort.

Does this not take away the greater majority of the 'ethics' part of 'ethics?' Some might argue that this is good 'training,' but I'm inclined to think that people will always adapt to the circumstances. Once the penalties and incentives are taken away, the old ethics resume.

People can ramble on at length about cheating and the value of honest hard work and the resulting self-doubt yadda yadda, but the fact is that ethics and morals exist to ensure a smoothly running society. We prosecute for false advertising by companies, and we prosecute for cheating, because that leads to people being able to advertise themselves as being better than they are.

IMHO it's pointless for the professor to go through the motions without dealing out the consequences, in this case.

** disclaimer: I've never turned in anyone for cheating, I have never called a professor's attetion to a grading error, and I leave the question of whether or not I've ever cheated as an exercise to the reader.

[ Parent ]
Not quite (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by Saxifrage on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 12:30:36 AM EST

What he also did, however, just to refute the point I made earlier, is that he also made it much more realistic for students to take the course seriously. Because he's willing to admit that he makes mistakes, and that -- because they're his mistakes -- you can't possibly be hurt by them.

Is that so detrimental to our education, the admission that a teacher is human? After all, there's some truth to it, with most teachers at least...

Additionally, it means that the student can bring it to the teacher's attention without being penalized -- which encourages honesty. Again, is that so terrible? Would giving students a way to be honest without shooting themselves in the foot be so unrealistic? I mean, there's always that arrangement -- legally, you can always make arrangements to get immunity if you have information about a bigger fish in the pond, for example, and will testify.



"I may disagree vehemently with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it." - Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire
[ Parent ]
Honesty? What about responsibility? (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by davidduncanscott on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 08:45:07 AM EST

Honesty is Good, I agree, but then it's also pretty easy when it's free. I think what bothers me more about this approach is that both student and teacher are being let off the hook.

After all, are there any consequences for the instructor here? Is he 'fessing up to his superiors when he screws up, or is he simply keeping everybody happy (and quiet) by buying them off? "Don't worry kid -- I must have been drunk when I graded that one, but let's just keep this between ourselves, OK?"

Honesty is about truth, but it's also about consequences.

[ Parent ]

Once you leave school, things change for the worse (5.00 / 1) (#26)
by Zukov on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 09:53:08 AM EST

Because he's willing to admit that he makes mistakes, and that -- because they're his mistakes -- you can't possibly be hurt by them.

First, I admire the teachers honesty. Unfortunately, the teacher may be giving students the impression that life outside of school is going to work this way. In my experience it generally does not. For anything moderately serious, you had better (to the extent plausible) hide, evade, deny, and avoid any blame that might possibly attach to you, due to your own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. People in "inquisitor" mode will latch onto any admission you make and distort it to make you appear guilty of things you did not do. You can couteract this by admitting as little as possible.

I realize this all sounds bitter and twisted :) and I wish I had some way of making it sound better, but I don't.

¿ëë±È¶ ±Hæñ ¥ØÜ (§^Ð

Yes, I have just bumbled upon Gnome Character Map. Please ! me.
[ Parent ]

Don't you see!? (4.50 / 6) (#6)
by skim123 on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 08:03:22 PM EST

Today, leaving a class on ethics, I ran into this problem and the above thoughts and question about our society ran through my mind

You are being graded here. The professor did this to see which students (if any) would report the miscalculation! Report it and you will get an A! :-)

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum


Who grades you? (4.40 / 5) (#8)
by jabber on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 09:25:23 PM EST

Ultimatelly, who judges your performance? Who is it that you have to answer to for failure or excellence? You.

Sure, it might be a matter of passing or failing, or keeping a scholarship or being faced with paying out of pocket. But eventually, school is done, good or bad, and the only remaining constant in your life is you.

How would it feel, years down the road, when your little child looks at you and says "I want to be just like you when I grow up." You know, even now, that that ethical fork in the road will come back, tapping on the insides of your eyelids. Your child will have to make this sort of decision for themselves as well, and what will you do? Will you lie to them and say that 'daddy did the right thing'? Or will you tell the truth and say that 'daddy is a liar and lying is ok if it works in your favor'? Or, will you proudly tell the truth, that you did the right thing despite the fact that it cost you a few points on a test which contributed to a grade that no one looked at after you graduated?

How can you hope to raise a child into an honest and respectable adult who aspires to the greater ideals if you know in your heart that you compromised the little ones? You can't build a home from rotten bricks.

Yes, a few extra points here and there may add up to a higher grade, but it won't be your grade. You will not have earned it, and for the rest of your life you will make excuses to yourself. It wasn't really an A, technically it was a B+. Some people here, and many out there, judge themselves and others just by numbers. They lie constantly, they spread FUD and disinformation and they puff out their chests with hot air.

Do you want that on your conscience? Do you want to know, even if no one else does, that you are less than you appear? Do you want to secretly feel guilty for your success?

Once you are out of school, grades don't matter. While I was still in school, there came a point when I stopped caring about the grades in the first place. Oddly, my grades only improved as a consequence. It would be a shame to carry guilt over something that turns out not to matter.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Not exactly (2.00 / 2) (#15)
by skeller on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 11:36:14 PM EST

This assumes that I actually care about every class I'm taking, and that I'm doing it out of some want to better myself. Yeah, right, the reason I took freakin' English 100 wasn't because it was mandatory, but because I really needed it. I got an easy A, but it was a waste of my time. Had I come across any easy way to cheat and not have to do the work, I would have in a second.

This is the problem with posing ethical questions in a school situation. So much of the lower-division general ed coursework is bullshit to the point that you're only there because it is required. It's not about learning; it's about getting that mark on your transcript.

So no, I wouldn't feel bad about taking a score I didn't deserve. The only person that's being cheated is myself, and I'm fine with it.

Now, for courses where I honestly care about the material, it's a different story. But at the same time, I'm not the sort of person who gets bad marks in those classes anyway, so it's hardly an issue.

Even then, school is a means to a greater end. While I enjoy college, I don't want to spend the rest of my life there (though it certainly seems like I will be doing this anyway). The entire structure of schooling is so focused around getting grades rather than actual learning that there are times where I felt I knew the material adequately but did poorly on a test just because of the way the test was written. Or that I understood everything, but that fifteen page paper (that was going to be eight pages of filler anyway) got rushed in lieu of important things. When school stops being less of a game where the object is to get good grades, I'll start taking any sort of "ethical" dillemmas more seriously.

If it's wrong to eat puppies, why did God make them so tasty?
[ Parent ]

Sadly, it's true (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by jabber on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 11:56:34 PM EST

And that may be the biggest ethical dilemma of all.

Just how do you manage to care about the value of higher education while making your way through an educational system that doesn't? Into a world that doesn't?

The ideals that we're told to pursue while we're young are clearly not the things that we see to truly matter as we mature. And then we are expected to tell our kids to feel sorry for the 'immorally' successful who have held their nose and succeeded despite all the programming that they've been fed.

I guess that the important thing is to determine which ideals are important to us, and try to hold on to them until experience proves otherwise. But there's a danger of becoming 'compromised' in our own minds, and that's the bad part of life. If you can't be content with the choices you've made, even though they were the best choices you could have made at the time.

Oh well. It's all part of the ride I guess.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

child? (none / 0) (#36)
by Bridge Troll on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 07:29:40 PM EST

Well, by the time the child is old enough to cheat, he'll most likely be a teenager, and thus won't care what you did. I know I don't care about my parents childhoods, they don't apply (much) to me because they were children thirty years ago.


And besides, pounding your meat with a club is a very satisfying thing to do :) -- Sleepy
[ Parent ]
Never (3.33 / 3) (#9)
by ignatiusst on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 10:01:52 PM EST

I have, on a few occasions, been given test results back that were graded incorrectly to my benefit. I have never called a professor's attention to this. I would dope-smack myself if I ever did call a professor's attention to the fact he/she gave me a 91 when I deserved an 89. Also, I have never questioned my ethical standing on this issue. I never even assumed there was an ethical issue (though, of course, there is).

On the other hand though (perhaps to balance out bad karma with good), I rarely call a professor's attention to tests that were graded incorrectly to my detriment. When I do get screwed by a professors sloppy math, I will generally hold onto the paper until the end of the semester. If the bad grade pushes me to a lower letter grade, I'll bring it up. Otherwise, an A is an A whether its a 96 or a 93 (in my school, at least).

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. -- Jonathan Swift

As an experienced TA, I'd say... (4.50 / 2) (#11)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 10:19:26 PM EST

When I do get screwed by a professors sloppy math, I will generally hold onto the paper until the end of the semester. If the bad grade pushes me to a lower letter grade, I'll bring it up.

AAARGH!!! DON'T DO THAT!!!

Seriously, if you think there is a correction error of any sort, you should bring it up as soon as possible, when the memory of the grading is still on the grader's mind. Even sloppy math.

--em
[ Parent ]

School policy here (none / 0) (#29)
by Anonymous 7324 on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 10:23:46 AM EST

has always been that grading errors and corrections, etc. must always be submitted for review by at most one week after the test is returned, thus putting an end to this problem, and ensuring no huge backlog at the end of the term.



[ Parent ]
Students tend to be honest . . . (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by scrimmer on Mon Feb 12, 2001 at 11:47:48 PM EST

This may or may not apply here, but I'm a first-year high school English teacher. I made a mistake in calculating a test score on two occasions this year.

I neglected to mark a wrong answer incorrect in the first scenario, and the student brought it to my attention. I promptly thanked her for her honesty and let her keep the point because of it.

In the second scenario, I marked a correct answer as incorrect. Naturally, I changed the score accordingly.

Should I have "rewarded" the first student's honesty in the manner I did? I don't know; however, I _was_ impressed by her willingness to admit she should have had a lower score.

Heh. My patent answer is becoming "there's a reason I majored in English and not math, ya know!"





What about bad test writers? (4.00 / 6) (#19)
by FuzzyOne on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 12:00:49 AM EST

I took a physics course where the professor had, as the teaching assistant who taught my honors course pointed out to us on the eve of a test, a fondness for a particular letter answer on his multiple choice test questions. It was long known in the department that he had this tendency and that it was a blind spot; the TA merely suggested that an astute observer might notice a certain preference for one answer to occur much more frequently than others.

Come test day, the preference became obvious to anyone who could answer more than a few questions correctly: 10 out of 11 were choice "B". Granted, this was only about 30-40% of the points on the test, but still... This also applied to subsequent mid-terms and the final. Needless to say, the honors class did very well that semester.

Now who was more to blame? The physics professor with the bad tests? The TA who passed on the lore? Or the students who happily capitalized on the system?

Reasonable precautions (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by Anonymous 7324 on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 10:20:44 AM EST

must be taken -- there's a limit to everything. We're all human, not saints (well, most of us, anyway). If the temptation is too great, the result _will_ be 'cheating' of one sort or another. The professor may well have to bear the brunt of the responsibility in this matter. Consider:

1) Telling the professor about his 'blind spot' is akin to an admission of intention to cheat, and puts oneself in jepoardy(sp). Pointing the finger at the TA, leads to the moral problem of betrayal of someone who aids you with good intentions.

2) If one does not tell, then the idea that 'B' will likely be the right answer is probably ingrained in one's mind. Have you ever looked at the solution to a multiple choice problem, and then gone back and tried to do the problem objectively? A big part of multiple choice is eliminating the unlikely answers, and picking the likely ones.
The test was automatically made easier when a certain choice (the correct one) was singled out as more 'likely' to be correct, and from that point on all the students who knew that B was a good guess had been 'tainted,' with no easy way of untainting.

All in all, an unsavory ethical situation, although I'm sure none of the students who made out like bandits minded! :)

[ Parent ]
What about teacher oversights of other kinds? (none / 0) (#39)
by eofpi on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 04:23:15 AM EST

I'm an American high school student in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at my school. Last year, in one Advanced Placement (AP) class I had, the teacher used the same test for a practice test for us to help us get used to the testing format (the class was AP European History, usually the first AP class taken by anyone) as the one he used a month later for our final exam. Needless to say, most of the class took advantage of both this fact and the fact that the teacher, although brilliant, has incredibly bad eyesight. It is also of note that I do not know of any completely ethical IB students, and most of the ones at my school know almost too well that ethics are relative (myself included).

[ Parent ]
Analogous for life ... (3.00 / 4) (#21)
by loaf on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 05:03:00 AM EST

If you receive too little change or you notice that your credit card bill has an item larger than you recall, you going seeking redress?

Would you still point it out in the other direction?

Do you drive over the posted speed limit when there are no cameras/police around?

Of course you do - I certainly do.

Although in this ethical situation, don't spend too long with your self-flagellation. I've spent too many long nights marking exam papers and I'll let you into a little secret - the good papers received good marks, the bad ones received bad marks ... but there's often no effective means of differentiating between two papers which end up being separated by only 2-3%. It's "luck". Grading papers is, at the finer levels of granularity, a black art. A few points here or there are not an issue.



Too much change (4.33 / 3) (#25)
by davidduncanscott on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 08:57:22 AM EST

FWIW, yes, I have corrected cashiers who charged me too little, or gave me back too much change. If you want a self-interested motive, then I prefer to deal with well-trained, accurate cashiers, even if I have to train them myself, but mostly I prefer to pay what I'm supposed to pay so I can feel smug and virtuous.

Mind you, if I get as far as the parking lot, then I'm not going back in unless the error is huge.

[ Parent ]

Little risk (4.00 / 1) (#32)
by bjrubble on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 02:10:52 PM EST

I also point out cashiers' mistakes in my favor, and I used to feel (well, I guess I still do) good about it. But when I think about it, it's a pretty easy call. A dollar just isn't worth that much to me. If my credit card company made a $500 mistake in my favor, it might be a harder call.

I also tend to judge it on a case-by-case basis. There are enough companies that have screwed me or profited off my mistakes, that I'd be challenged to correct theirs.

[ Parent ]
depends on stakes (4.50 / 2) (#22)
by chimera on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 07:48:37 AM EST

I'll answer this [def. full posting equals Question] as truthfully as I possibly can.

I would definitely turn attention to faulty corrections in my favor, if I had nothing to lose in doing so. However, that is not the case. For me personally I would in almost all scenarios suffer a financial penalty one way or another. [This is more or less a result of how student financing is set up where I live, IMO. Others in the same system might say there is no problem of that kind. But that is another debate].
Other studying systems encourages other types of unethical behaviour, for example the necessity of being top-in-class at certain law schools to get a job in your chosen profession, which not surprisingly leads to a, always get the best results you can .. and b, lower the results of your competitors.

So, conclusions; the mind says Yes! The wallet says No! Is that unethical? I don't know. Perhaps it isn't as unethical as it might seem since I involountary [sp?] have to stick to the ethic as it is defined by the system boundary in which the Question is asked in order to survive.. something which in my mind is ethical.

Didn't understand that last thing? No worries :) , think of it in terms of the metaphor GIGO; Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Thus, dear poster Rezand, I must say to you that you're not asking the Right Question to get the Answer you want, sorry.

Definition (none / 0) (#33)
by bjrubble on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 02:46:34 PM EST

the mind says Yes! The wallet says No! Is that unethical?

Uhhh, I think that's the very definition. Often what is ethical is also pragmatic, but being ethical means you're willing to sacrifice pragmatism for "higher" purposes.

I involountary [sp?] have to stick to the ethic as it is defined by the system boundary in which the Question is asked in order to survive

It's very unclear what you're saying here, but it sounds a lot like "I was just following orders." If the system you're in is wrong, you are wrong to follow it. I might forgive you if it's truly suicidal to reject the ideas around you, but that still doesn't make it right.

[ Parent ]
Quality Control of Societal Products (none / 0) (#27)
by Anonymous 7324 on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 10:14:21 AM EST

I do, though, reserve the right to add a little more to the story to make it more interesting. Does the difference between the false grade and appropriate one matter? What about a false 91 (A), while the appropriate was 84 (B)? Would it make a difference if you were given a 91 (A) instead of your deserved 43 (F)? What about a 94 (A) instead of a 92 (A)?

Ethics, and in this specific type of 'honesty' exist to put some type of quality control on 'Societal Products' -- people. Being able to label oneself as whatever one wants is detrimental to society at large, since it is then impossible to pay the best people the best money, with everyone appearing to be equally good.

Result: less innovation, less new ideas, etc, etc.

Your hypothetical situation with an A versus a B or an A instead of an F, or lastly, an A versus an A, can be put into two categories, mainly because of granularity. A versus B, A versus F causes a mark, however tiny, upon the person's future, career, etc., and taken to its extreme, society in general. An A versus an A, however, likely means that looking at it from a rougher granularity that will be recorded (e.g. overall course grade), that there is no difference in the individual.

That said, all of these might be worth reporting:
even if it's pointless to correct a misjudgement of a student's knowledge, it certainly calls to attention their dubious ways when the time comes to evaluate them again -- and noone is forever at the top of the pack -- those two A's might have made no difference, but what about a year later when it really might have been a D versus an A?



Whose ethic? (4.00 / 2) (#30)
by dabadab on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 11:49:30 AM EST

[ For my purposes I define ethical as "conforming to accepted standards of social or professional" (WordNet 1.6) and I will use "social normals" for clarity's sake. ]

I think that people tend to adapt themselves to the social normals of the society they are in - and not the formal, theoretical, but the real one (so they behave ethically, if you want to put it this way).

If they see that the number of points do count they will go for gaining points.

If they see that knowledge and honestness are the important thing they will go for them.

Unfortunately, our school system focuses on points - it is what determines that how much stipend you get and whether you can graduate at all. Honesty and real knowledge are mostly unnecessary and unusable. So, if you cheat (and in my interpretation stuffing facts into your head the night before the exam, and forgetting it all half an hour after the exam is cheating, too) and exploit every possibility to maximize your points, you, in fact, conform to the school's social norms.

So, you are ethical if you do not let your teacher know about incorrectly high points, and unethical, if you tell him. Dees that answer your question? :-)

Disclaimer: My remarks about schools are based solely on my and my friends' experiences and they may or may not apply to your specific school/class.


--
Real life is overrated.
Might as well forget the word (4.50 / 2) (#35)
by bjrubble on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 04:20:38 PM EST

You know, there's nobody insisting that you act ethically. If you consider it too much trouble or not in your best interest to be honest, just say so. But don't twist the concept of ethics to fit your pragmatic mindset.

Ethics is not self-serving. It is not a calculation of your best interest. It is by many measures the exact opposite -- the true test of a person's ethics is whether they will violate their own self-interest by their actions.

Your "accepted standards" criteria does not define "ethical," it defines "unethical." By this kind of argument, anyone who hasn't been convicted of a crime is a good citizen, anyone who hasn't been in a mental hospital is psychologically healthy, anyone who's not obese and on heart medication is in good shape.

[ Parent ]
true tests... (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by Elmin on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 12:42:22 AM EST

You can't prove that you're ethical by jumping off a cliff.

The "true test" you are referring to is really just consistency. If you have a system of ethics that you understand and you are consistent about following it, that would be a fairly good indication of ethical health.

I would also disagree with you about the "accepted standards" bit. If the accepted standards make sense and are consistent as a system of ethics, they do not make something unethical. Whether or not any of them do make sense as a system of ethics is another issue, but in this case I think they do.

Further, your examples have nothing to do with accepted standards; they are simply accepted law in many countries. By accepted standards, a murderer is a murderer whether he is caught or not. To test this, tell your relatively normal friend tomorrow that you kill toddlers in front of their mothers as a hobby but have not yet been caught, and observe how quick they are to proclaim you a wonder of ethical behaviour.

Actually, I doubt that accepted standards are much good in forming a system of ethics; they are not very consistent, and tend too often to rely on concepts of absolute good and evil.

[ Parent ]
Consistency (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by bjrubble on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 03:35:26 AM EST

Tell your neighbors that you consistently base all your actions on the philosophy "get as much as I'll get away with" and ask them if they think you're ethical.

Ethics are owned by people who believe in right and wrong, if not Good and Evil. It is right to honor the rules, to be truthful in word and spirit, to pay heed to the interests of others. Accepted practices may vary in application, but all of them uphold a few core principles. People are free to embrace other principles, but they don't get to take the word. Taoists believe in the Tao. I don't. Thus, I can't call myself a Taoist, much as I might like the name.

[ Parent ]
That's one way of looking at it... (none / 0) (#52)
by Elmin on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 01:13:52 AM EST

The term "ethics" refers a system of rules for moral behavior (right and wrong). "Right" and "wrong" are subjective, therefore ethics must also be subjective. Perhaps I should not call myself a Taoist if I do not believe in the Tao, but it's hard enough to say you believe or do not believe in a system, much less a type of system. Since ethics are subjective, there can be many systems of ethics, depending on who you are, and what your conception of right and wrong is. In the first example you used above, you're asking my neighbors to judge me based on an unspecified system of ethics, and I suppose they'd use their own, not knowing or understanding mine. If I truly believed that "get as much as I'll get away with" was right (which I don't, at least not in such simple terms), I would consider myself ethical by my own standards, and really there's no way you coud convince me otherwise. You'd just have to keep saying "but it's wrong, dishonest, dammit!" And I would have to keep saying "so what, it's the right thing to do!"

So, you have said that you think "it is right to honor the rules, to be truthful in word and spirit, to pay heed to the interests of others," but that's only your view, and if you truly are ethical by your own standards, you will pay heed to the ethicsl views of others besides yourself when considering problems of ethics.

[ Parent ]

That's one way of looking at it... (none / 0) (#53)
by Elmin on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 01:13:59 AM EST

The term "ethics" refers a system of rules for moral behavior (right and wrong). "Right" and "wrong" are subjective, therefore ethics must also be subjective. Perhaps I should not call myself a Taoist if I do not believe in the Tao, but it's hard enough to say you believe or do not believe in a system, much less a type of system. Since ethics are subjective, there can be many systems of ethics, depending on who you are, and what your conception of right and wrong is. In the first example you used above, you're asking my neighbors to judge me based on an unspecified system of ethics, and I suppose they'd use their own, not knowing or understanding mine. If I truly believed that "get as much as I'll get away with" was right (which I don't, at least not in such simple terms), I would consider myself ethical by my own standards, and really there's no way you coud convince me otherwise. You'd just have to keep saying "but it's wrong, dishonest, dammit!" And I would have to keep saying "so what, it's the right thing to do!"

So, you have said that you think "it is right to honor the rules, to be truthful in word and spirit, to pay heed to the interests of others," but that's only your view, and if you truly are ethical by your own standards, you will pay heed to the ethicsl views of others besides yourself when considering problems of ethics.

[ Parent ]

Non-issue (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by Elmin on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 02:03:33 PM EST

What are grades for but to inform you and others of your performance? If you spot an error, you are aware of it, so there's really no problem unless the error is against you, in which case it might cause you harm later on by closing doors that might be open to people with higher grades. As for deceiving others, it would only be a problem if you knowingly used the false grade to promote yourself or your skill set, in which case you are doing yourself a disservice anyway. Otherwise, it just sits on a transcript and allows you to learn more.

Of course, it might be a good idea to make sure that all of your critical grades are legitimate, so that you can use them later on without moral qualms.

Assumed Rules. (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by reshippie on Tue Feb 13, 2001 at 03:19:26 PM EST

Most teachers don't mention it, but I have had several teachers say that if there is an error that harms you it will be fixed, not problem; but if there is an error in your favor, just keep your mouth shut and be happy.

That's pretty much the attitude I've assumed most teachers to have. I never really thought of it as an ethics issue. I guess technically I didn't "earn" the grade, but I've never seen an error that resulted in more than a few extra points. Certainly not the difference between an A and an F.

I've always assumed that this was the way teachers handled things. Then again, I have a relatively optimistic view of most people I meet.

Those who don't know me, probably shouldn't trust me. Those who do DEFINITELY shouldn't trust me. :-)

analysis of a high stakes situation (4.25 / 4) (#40)
by SEAL on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 05:58:19 AM EST

This post is really a contrast to chimera's post. You see, I went to the U.S. Naval Academy where ethics is pounded into your head from day one. The honor code states:

"A midshipman will not lie, cheat or steal."

This applies during your entire stay at the academy. Failure to follow standard rules can get you varying suspensions and lost leave. But violating the honor code can result in your expulsion!

Yet, the possibility of such a harsh punishment doesn't always deter unethical behavior. My class (1994) was involved in a huge scandal over the honor policy. I found this article on Google which tells you the basics. Interesting that it mentions Brian Pirko, who was a good friend of mine during my stay there.

The press jumped all over this story. How could these midshipmen do this? They are supposed to be the top blah blah percent, leaders of our nation, etc. But consider the situation:

  • The final exam generally hits you for 40% of your grade in the course.
  • EE is horribly difficult at the Academy. People there that year will remember one (tenured) prof in particular who was a complete ass. In particular, he was despised for his track record of roughly 80% of each class receiving either a D or F.
  • Failing the class, or getting a grade which puts your total GPA too low leaves you with very slim odds of graduating. You can't easily retake a course as in other colleges.
With that in mind, these guys were faced with the risk of getting caught cheating and expelled, vs. the risk of failing and getting expelled. It was simple risk management. Unethical, sure, but they were put over a barrel.

Now what none of the articles will tell you is that this stolen exam was actually a copy of one from the previous year. Now that's still no excuse, but the information these guys had was NOT the exact same test. Yet many were expelled anyhow, because once the story was out, the Academy officials wanted to cover their asses. In fact, some guys (like Brian) TOLD them what had happened, since they figured:

  • It wasn't really cheating in the strictest sense of the word, since it wasn't the same test.
  • They hadn't stolen the test. Someone else did, and shared it with them.
  • By fessing up now, they were not lying.
End result: expulsion. So back to my title about the stakes. High stakes may push a few people towards more ethical behavior in the short term. Lots of people tell white lies for example. No one gets hurt, right? But at the academy, you just don't do that. If there's even a smidgeon of a chance that someone will find out about it, you're putting too much on the line. It's better to tell the truth and face the consequences.

However, when high stakes put your back to the wall, they have opposite the intended effect. People decide to take chances with unethical behavior because the alternative is worse. I think even more shameful than the unethical behavior, is the fact that 4 years of work was wiped away from these guys because of a no-win situation.

Best regards,

SEAL

P.S. I wasn't a EE major...

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.

response (none / 0) (#43)
by chimera on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 02:32:34 PM EST

good post.

[ Parent ]
No samples? (none / 0) (#54)
by Tisniq on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:08:18 PM EST

I have never had a class in which the instructor did not give either exam like questions, or sample exams. It is common practice to get old exams to ensure you can answer the type of question they ask, and you know what they are expecting. You either know the material or you don't, sounds like that guy is just an asshole

[ Parent ]
One, isolated part (4.50 / 2) (#41)
by piwowk on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 09:26:32 AM EST

For all those who lean in the less ethical direction so far, imagine that the class in question is an ethics class. Would that encourage you to seek a correction? I feel this would change the minds of a few people, if only out of irony or guilt. For those that remain, what if it suddenly occured to you that the ethics instructor may be testing you by grading your paper too highly? In an ethics course, it's certainly a valid method of seeing if the point has somehow hit home. And it's a point I'm afraid the majority of students would fail (unless they suspected the instructor's intent).

Today, leaving a class on ethics, I ran into this problem and the above thoughts and question about our society ran through my mind.

Your language implies that you believe that an ethics course is taken in order to become ethical. I expect your ethics prof. would disagree. I do.

Ethics courses exist to teach you about ethics, that is, an ethics course is meta-ethics. You (often) learn historical ethics (such as utilitarianism, egoism, et al), and discuss the origin of ethics, or an ethic in particular.

Keith

(ps)what is "our society"?

Good point,but not really the intended implication (none / 0) (#48)
by Rezand on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 10:36:42 PM EST

Your point is good, but I wasn't exactly believing that the teacher would 'grade' us on our choices (as you say, he's not there to judge how ethical we are, but to teach the subject for our own knowledge). My thoughts were that he may be testing our current ethical beliefs to see where they lie (likely with no penalty other than perhaps to little embarrass us a little).

[ Parent ]
right (none / 0) (#49)
by piwowk on Thu Feb 15, 2001 at 10:59:13 AM EST

I can imagine a prof. doing just that thing to get his/her students to examine their own beliefs.

[ Parent ]
Poll == bad (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by piwowk on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 09:36:08 AM EST

No! (That sort of life is not for me-- I'm in this game for myself and mine.)

This type of assertion could be described as "egoist". Egoism, for those wondering, is the ethic that is typified as self-serving.

Ironically, "perfect egoism", the society of only egoists, who all behave in a perfectly self-serving way is predicted to be harmonious. The perfect egoist recognizes that it is in his/her best interest to get along/help/support others.

Keith

Yes. (none / 0) (#44)
by Matrix on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 04:10:30 PM EST

I would notify a teacher of a misgraded paper, no matter whether it was too high or too low. I haven't had a misgraded paper yet this year (frosh year in University), but I did several times last year. About half the times, it was too high. The teacher didn't lower my mark - a couple of times, I think I actually got a bonus point or two for being honest.


Matrix
"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

A couple questions for you (4.00 / 1) (#47)
by MoxFulder on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 08:24:18 PM EST

I'm assuming that the first time you reported a grade that was too high, you did it just because you thought it was the right thing to do.

But, subsequently, when it happened again, were you even more motivated to report the grade because you thought that you would win bonus points or at least the instructor's trust?

And if your instructor had lowered your grade to what you deserved the first time it happened, would you have been more reluctant to do it again?

I'd be interested to hear what you think about these questions ... I know that I would certainly be more inclined to report an accidentally high grade if I was sure that I wouldn't be penalized, and might even be rewarded.

"If good things lasted forever, would we realize how special they are?"
--Calvin and Hobbes


[ Parent ]
What I did ... and how I justify it after the fact (5.00 / 3) (#46)
by MoxFulder on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 08:17:54 PM EST

Last semester, I received a grade of B- on my Medieval Architecture mid-term exam (fortunately I did much better on the final paper :-) ... As I added up the points, I realized that the professor had added them up incorrectly and that in fact I had only gotten a C+.

I did not tell the instructor about his arithmetic error. At the time, I'm sure that I just did this merely because I wanted to keep the better grade.

Since I read this article, I have been a bit disconcerted by what I did, and I have been trying to come up with ethical justifications for it. I have only been able to think of one decent reason for not reporting a grade that is too high in your favor:

It is the responsibility of the instructor to ensure that an exam is graded fairly, while it is the right of the student to have his or her exam graded fairly.
Thus an instructor is ethically required to grade an exam fairly, while a student has the option to ask the instructor to take another look if there's an error in the grading. This would mean that my Medieval Architecture professor committed some sort of ethical error, although unintentional, in giving me a grade that was too high.

What do people think of my argument? Is it really a good reason not to tell an instructor that he's given you a grade that's too high in your favor? Am I missing something important? Thanks to Rezand for the thought-provoking article!

"If good things lasted forever, would we realize how special they are?"
--Calvin and Hobbes


What about other student's right to fair grading? (none / 0) (#51)
by Estanislao Martínez on Thu Feb 15, 2001 at 09:07:47 PM EST

It is the responsibility of the instructor to ensure that an exam is graded fairly, while it is the right of the student to have his or her exam graded fairly.
The problem here is that grades are not supposed to be just about your performace, but also about your performance compared to that of other students. Thus, if you get a grade significantly higher than your performance, other students are possibly affected, e.g. they come lower in the grade rank, or perhaps the curve moves higher. If this kind of mistake becomes known, other students will rightly complain that they are the ones who are negatively affected.

In courses I've been involved with, we've had students complain of getting points off for doing some particular thing, and offer to bring as their defense some other student's paper that they claim did the same thing and got no points off for it. Which is commonly a wrong assessment (the other student didn't really do the same thing). Still, I have the policy to tell them that if the other student really did the same mistake, and that is brought to my attention, I'll take off points in the other paper. Nobody has ever brought one.

Not that all this grades nonsense is meaningful anyway-- AFAIK all they do is distort the academic experience.

--em
[ Parent ]

Scenarios in student ethics. | 54 comments (52 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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