The toughest lecture

I’m going to give a lecture today that basically is the toughest one I’ve ever had to give, and for some of you it’s the toughest one you’ve ever had to hear.

Last month, Jonathan Turley posted an entry about Richard Quinn, an instructor at the University of Central Florida who confronted his class after discovering one-third of them had apparently cheated on their midterm exam. Mr. Quinn used a test bank provided by a textbook manufacturer to produce the exam; the students allegedly acquired said test bank and used it during the course of the exam, although it’s not clear exactly how that happened. Here’s the video — it’s a little on the long side but I do recommend watching the entire thing:

While watching this, I found myself slack-jawed at several moments — not at the audacity these students had shown, or the amount of statistical analysis the instructor and his TAs had done to determine who had cheated, but at how perfectly this situation encapsulates everything that is wrong with American higher education right now.

With 600-some-odd students and basically a course that I’ve taught fundamentally the same way for the past 4-5 years, you don’t see [a class-wide grade and a half] improvement by chance.

Mr. Quinn makes his style of teaching clear from the beginning; he has been “delivering course content” for more than two decades, and relies heavily on statistical patterns to determine whether the course is on track or not. I understand that it’s just not possible for one instructor to give personal attention to 600 students, even with the help of teaching assistants … but if his focus here on statistics, data, and grades is any indication, that’s how he he likes it. Other choice quotes:

[11:11] The days of being able to find a new way to cheat the system …. are over. They’re over. Not just for this course, but for this university. This kind of behavior cannot, will not, be tolerated. You know who you are.

[12:20] For those of you who took the shortcut: don’t call me. Don’t ask me to do anything for you, ever … again.

[13:10] [The midterm exam will] be open for 51 hours. That’s it. […] I don’t care what’s on your schedule, I don’t care what you have planned. If you have to give birth, you’re gonna give birth in the exam room. Because it’s gonna have to take a signed, hand-delivered note from God for you to get out of taking this midterm exam. So adjust your schedules, blow off whatever it is you have to blow off to be there. […] It is mandatory for everybody.

I’m most surprised by how personally Mr Quinn takes the entire situation … especially considering he didn’t personally write ANY of the questions on the original exam (he just cobbled them together from a publisher-provided test bank). While the comments on Turley’s blog turn snarky pretty quickly (these are the intarwebs, after all), there is some pretty interesting point / counterpoint action, and one commentor posted this brilliant video from The Onion (NSFW due to profanity):

The comment thread on the original post is dead at this point (this is what happens when you start writing a post and don’t finish it until a month later) … but feel free to leave a comment below!

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

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