Posted March 7, 2008 11:53 am by with 25 comments

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An 18 year old freshman at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, could be expelled his first year of college because of a Facebook group he was the administrator of. Facebook started as a way for college students to network online and Chris Avenir used is as a virtual study group for his chemistry class. Now he faces charges of academic misconduct and could be kicked out of the university.

There were 146 members of the group according to stories I read, but after searching, I couldn’t find Avenir or the group on Facebook. The group was called Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions. The class it was created for ended in December.

Avenir has an expulsion hearing on Tuesday with the engineering faculty appeals committee. If he loses that appeal, he can take his case to the university’s senate. He claims they helped each other with studies, but didn’t cheat or post answers to homework on the site.

“…if this kind of help is cheating, then so is tutoring and all the mentoring programs the university runs and the discussions we do in tutorials,” he said.

He got a B in the class, but when the professor discovered the Facebook group over the holidays, his grade changed to an F. It sounds like cheating when you read the invitation to the group. It said: “If you request to join, please use the forms to discuss/post solutions to the chemistry assignments. Please input your solutions if they are not already posted.” However, members said they never posted solutions to problems on the site.

It seems unfair that Avenir should take the hit for the entire group, which it sounds like he didn’t start. It’s tough to know if there was cheating but from what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like there was. It does make one point well – what happens in study groups is largely unknown. But once you post it online, anyone, including your professor, can scrutinize it.

  • If they weren’t actually cheating then the University should applaud the kid. Running something like that, a platform that helps students and encourages teamwork. The group may have helped some students better understand things they were expected to learn.

  • Well, the professor must have found something that didn’t go over too well for their to be a problem.

  • Facebook helps people to create team. This is very important thing in business and study.

  • Extremely backward thinking from a professor and university who are dealing with a ‘problem’ which they clearly don’t understand.

    I have always been under the impression study groups are encouraged. But doing it online is against the rules?

    I don’t know the ins and outs of the case, if he posted answers or any information which should not have been publicly disclosed he is out of order. If the group was formed to help each other and discuss coursework, the uni and professor are out of order.

  • That is pretty silly – since when was a study group grounds for expulsion. I can see the point about posting answers etc but I haven’t seen it confirmed whether this was the case.

  • Dean

    My impression is that the Interent in general has made college “cheating” a major in and of itself. I shudder to think just how much of it is going on and what Universities are doing to detect and combat it.

    It sure was harder to cheat in my day 😉

  • Is it cheating, or have things simply become more easy to find?

    The fact you find your answer on Wikipedia, rather than an academic book from the library doesn’t mean you’ve cheated. You have to be careful when using the internet as a resource and you need to validate your findings, but as exploratory research tools its as good as it gets.

  • Eduardo

    If the group was there to post answers to assignments or tests which the description clearly states then I don’t see the argument to why he shouldn’t get in trouble.
    There is no evidence though that we have seen on either side so it should just be left alone unless one can prove he was guilty. Thats the system right, innocent until proven guilty?

  • I think Chris Avenir brought this upon himself. Encouraging students to post answers is suggesting cheating. If it were used to schedule study groups, that would have been fine – but I think Chris’ intentions are slanderous.

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  • I agree with Steve on this one, I think this kid deserved to get punished. I mean, come on, asking students to post answers is rediculous.

  • He should have created a private group himself. Yet its ridiculous how people lose their jobs and university placements due to some group on FB.

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  • I am pleased this latest attempt at limiting the
    span web technology is being recognized. We are deep in the socialization of the web. Like all societies, norms and sanctions evolve as the culture and laws. Guilt is usually weighed with assessment of the “ïntent” upon which the (so-called) crime was committed. Ryerson appears to be penalizing for learning. The school is delinquent for NOT clearly defining the norms and sanctions in Their web society.

  • PS3

    My teenage daughter regular finds answers to her homework assignments with a quick search on Google. I discourage that in favour of getting her to think for herself….but is the internet as a whole “cheating”, or is it just a good research tool?

    Where do you draw the line?

  • Also my son does.

  • peter

    Hi All,
    In every study group in every school there are students who show others the answers, or how to derive the answers. There are students who request answers or request guidance as to the derivation of those answers. This has been going on at schools for as long as I know. Here we have the same thing.

    However, the medium in this instance is different from a classroom, or a study hall, or your buddies’ basement apartment. And that is all that is different. Using the argument that this group was specifically set up as a repository for swapped questions is really beside the point. For that is what study groups do; they are a gathering place for the dissemination of knowledge in a variety of forms and guises. Those who simply copy the answers will be ferreted out in the end if the course is assessed properly. All that this does, really, is to illustrate the lack of understanding of the medium on the part of a self-righteous Prof.

  • I’m amazed by the number of people – here and throughout the print media and blogosphere – passing judgment on the professor without knowing the details of the case. Give Ryerson some credit. The student has not been disciplined pending the findings of a hearing. Even if “convicted”, the student then has recourse to appeal.

    In general, if assignments are individually (not group) graded, students are expected to do their own work. Flagrant sharing of solutions is cheating … and every student knows the potential penalty for cheating is expulsion (the academic equivalent of the death penalty).

    That said, this could have played out differently as follows:

    1) Professor warns class not to share solutions (this might have already happened, we don’t know).

    2) Professor privately keeps track of students sharing solutions (kids tend to use their real names on Facebook).

    3) Come final exams, professor lets those student who have violated (1) that their exam will constitute 100% of the final grade.

  • Darren, I agree. The norms and sanctions MUST be clear. I think we all accept that given the opportunity to use the technology for seditious purposes, it will happen. That is human nature and inquisitive guile. The rules must be definitive and law.

  • It really depends on how people were using the site. The internet wasn’t there when I was in school, but it would be common for people to get together in person to help each, compare notes, and even show each other solutions to problems.

    If the point of the group was solely to post answers for other people to copy and hand in then sure it sounds like cheating.

    But if the solutions were there to help foster learning then the group should be applauded.

    The hard part in making the determination is it really depends more on the person using the information than the person posting it. If you’ve struggled with a problem seeing the solution can be enlightening. If you never attempted to work on the problem then seeing the solution falls more into the cheating category.

  • Hey Guys…this is horrible. As a soon-to-be grad (hopefully) from San Diego State…this is more of the old thinking that the ivory tower shoves down our throat.

    Is it OUR fault that schools are so antiquated they don’t understand that Facebook is like a virtual study hall or dorm room or any other place we would all normally study?

    Don’t let Chris take the fall on his own.

    Go to and buy something from the CafePress store. The money will be donated to Chris. He can either use it for legal expenses or for a round of beers (which I think we can all agree he’ll need during/after this debacle).

    Spread the world.

  • Nobody contends the use of the Internet as a good research tool. I guess the issue here is posting and sharing solutions to the assignments. While if that was done, it would certainly be wrong on the part of the study group, expulsion still seems to be a far fetched punishment.

  • Yes, It really depends on how people were using the site.

  • Nick

    I personally think the kid just worded the intro incorrectly.

    Me and some friends are doing a similar study style thing for physics (Please note that I’m in a different country and in no way connected to this). The difference is that we all meet personally in a library and work together on how to work out questions and syllabus information.

    The issue is that the kid obviously meant, is not provide simple answers, but to provide the method you used to GET your answers to aid those who are lost.

    After all if you are caught on an assignment you are allowed to contact your teacher to ask for aid aren’t you? Since they are tutoring you it would make sense, wouldn’t it?

    Isn’t this same?

    Then again I am doing a different type of course to the kid so I wouldn’t really know for sure. He may be judged a different way to me.

    From a different perspective, the students who posted answers may believe that they are simply providing tutorials for future students to aid them in their studies.

    If a student read the notes, then they are getting a second opinion, and isn’t that what your meant to do when getting information (fact check sources against multiple sources).

    I guess the real question is:
    What constitutes bulling?

    Since I’m in Australia the Board of Studies provides all students with a clear workbook detailing cheating and it basically says that it is wrong to bring notes into an exam, and it is wrong to plagiarize work. It doesn’t say anything about being helped, or helping others, in assignments.

    If the issue was checked through the methods here the only issue would be if his work somehow resembled the work of another (another student, off a website or out of a book, etc…)

    BTW Darran: there is chance he wanted people to provide the method of the solutions, not the solutions themselves. I guess if he was getting actual solutions it could be a problem.
    Still he stuffed up.

    So let this be a note for everyone:

    He should have said ‘methods for studying with practice questions that bear a striking resemblance to actual assignments’ not ‘solutions’

    Mind you, I may doing similar work to him, but I am doing it in the high school of a different country (we go up to years 11 and 12, and, in the last two years, the way the school works changes and you can be expelled if you cheat, or don’t hand in assignments, et cetera).

    His rules may be completely different, of course. If so they may need to be reviewed to avoid mix ups like this occurring.

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