Can You Get Expelled For Running A Study Group?

I missed this story back in March. A student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada was almost expelled from the university for creating a study group. Huh? I was in study groups when I was an undergrad along time ago. So what did he do that was so different or so wrong?

He created that study group online using Facebook. Running a Facebook study group was seen by Ryerson as cheating.

The student is Cris Avenir, a freshman computer engineering student, and he was charged as the administrator of the online group (he wasn't the creator, but took over the admin role) and with an additional 146 counts for each classmate who was a member of it. Geeeeez.

Though I missed this story when it broke, there was a lot of online debate about whether the study group amounted to online cheating or it was students exchanged academic ideas in the same way that face-to-face groups, tutoring and mentoring work.

Initially, when his "Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions" was made known to his chemistry professor, the teacher  gave him an F in the course and charged him with academic misconduct. The main thrust of the professor's charge was that he had told students to work independently.

The Ryerson University's Faculty Appeals Committee ultimately announced that they would not expel the 18-year-old, but he would be required to take a course on academic misconduct, have a note on his transcript saying he was disciplined, and get a zero on one of his assignments, worth 10 per cent of his course grade.

His defense was that the group allowed students to share notes on assignments that were worth 10% of the overall course grade and was no different than any study group that met in he library or student center. The Facebook group was originally created by Ryerson students who had study group sessions in a room on campus known as "the dungeon" and wanted to continue online. 

Chris has an entry on Wikipedia now and I don't see any news posts after the decision about an appeal or follow up.

I doubt that Ryerson University expected the world headlines and online posts about their actions, but the incident became a kind of test case. There are other online study groups in higher education and in secondary schools. I did a search on "study groups" in Facebook and there were over more than 500 which is the number a Facebook search stops at, so maybe there are 5000. If we could search other sites like MySpace, Ning sites etc. we would find plenty more.

I'm not sure the real issue for us is whether or not students were supposed to work together on those Ryerson chemistry problems in person or online. The local issue is whether or not the university reacted appropriately. The global issue is how we react to students using the Internet on their own to learn.

Students are going to do creative, legal, illegal, helpful and harmful things online - and I'm not convinced that students will always be clear on where their actions fall.

Is being in an online study group wrong? I doubt it. But I would have to see the information on the course's syllabus and the school’s acceptable use policy, their academic rules and their student’s rights and responsibilities.

What? You say that online study groups isn't even addressed in any of those documents? Oh...

Students are very comfortable working and having online discussions - more comfortable than most of their teachers - and we keep asking them to work online in learning management systems, ePortfolios, blogs, and social networks. Schools (and teachers) need to look formally at their policies for technology use.

You don't want me and the rest of the bloggers writing about your course or school, do you?


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