Saturday, September 24, 2005


A good friend of mine started in the MBA program at the University of Colorado - Denver last week. We talked about how all the classrooms are wi-fi enabled, how everyone takes notes on their laptops, how you can search the web for topics or people that you're discussing right at that moment, or how you can blow off the discussion and just surf or IM. Certainly none of this is a surprise to me but it's definitely different than when I last attended a college lecture.

What did surprise me is the rules for taking exams. Apparently they shut down wi-fi access (but if you're enterprising you may be able to find an unsecured access point). And they will allow laptops on some exams. But on other exams students get a few pieces of paper and a calculator only. The most surprising rule to me was that they don't allow cell phones in the exam. Apparently students have taken photos of the exam, emailed them to friends, and then received text messages with the answers! Man, if these students put in half the effort to studying that they do in coming up with nefarious cheating methods...

It reminded me of my favorite cheating incident while I was an undergrad at CU-Boulder. I was finishing up my first CS programming course (Pascal!!!), and it was the last assignment, which is to say that it was the toughest yet and we had to put a lot more time in at the lab. We also had the choice of working with one or two other students in a group. My professor for the course was an engineer at Ball Aerospace in Boulder and I guess he wrote embedded software for satellite systems. Anyway, at the end of one of the last classes of the semester, the professor called up a group of three guys. I was sitting in the front row and heard the whole thing (picture an angry professor/engineer and three stunned 19 year-olds):

"Did you guys write the program that printed this output?" (holding up the printouts)
--- silent nodding ---
"There is no way that your program could've created this output."
--- edgy silence ---
"So here's the deal... one of you gets an 'F' for the semester. You guys go and decide who and come back and tell me."


The temptation at the time was to pull scrap printouts from the recycle bin at the lab. I don't know if that's what they did, but if so, it obviously wasn't very smart (think about why they're in the recycle bin).

My other reflection on cheating is that I was most exposed to it in natural science courses that were part of the pre-Med track. I really resented students that spouted off constantly in Chemistry lab or BioChem lab about how they sat in on a surgery or rode in the ambulance, etc. then would copy lab assignments at the last minute... In fact, the cutthroat atmosphere was what ultimately drove me away from natural sciences and the pre-health track; well, that and an honest C+ in Chemistry. Looking back, and also giving a nod to close friends who became doctors, I'm confident that the medical school pipeline eventually weeded out those hacks.

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