Friday, April 18, 2008

A Moral Dilemma

I finished my college semester yesterday, and I wish I was happier about it.  On the one hand, it is so nice to have these two classes off my plate (and my mind) and yards and yards of free time ahead of me.  Additionally, I did very well in my online Oceanography class - the exams are graded on a curve, and at one point I had a 102% in the class.  I take too much pride in educational success, and this just stoked the flames.  On the other hand, though, my Microeconomics class was utterly disappointing and has left me with a moral dilemma.

The teacher, first of all, is young.  He's finishing his doctorate program, so however long it takes to do all of college through to a doctorate without stopping for anything, that's how old he is.  He is so arrogant and such a know-it-all - in Brian Regan's terminology, he is a total Me-Monster.  I kind of wonder how he can think he knows so much when he hasn't done too much other than go to school?  

That would be irritating, but acceptable, if it were not for his biggest flaw:  he's lazy.  He never prepared a lesson plan, just read to us from out of the textbook.  He gave us homework to do, but also gave us the answers to it.  So the second time we turned homework in, every single person in the class (except for yours truly) got wise to his deal and just printed out his answers and wrote their name on top.  My homework was the only one handwritten on torn out notebook paper, because we had to do a bunch of graphs and charts that would be hard to do on a word document.  He didn't even check to make sure it was right, or even all there, because by the time I went to bed at night, he had already posted a grade for the assignment, and there's no way he could have actually graded anything. 

The thing that has me in a dilemma, though, is the three tests he's given.  They were taken online at home, and they were open book, open note, open whatever.  The first one was hard, but I had studied the chapters and knew where to find all of the answers, so I got a 98%.  The second test, though, covered the bulk of the semester, and was just about impossible.  I studied for days and spent almost every minute of the 2 hours allotted to take the test.  In the end, I got a 78%, and boy was I ticked off.  The questions were not what he had covered in class, and the only reason I did as well as I had was because I searched every answer out of the book.  

Can I just take this minute to say, I really don't like doing badly on tests, especially when I've actually prepared for it.  Really, really, really don't.  I paced around the kitchen for 10 minutes after getting a C, and had a very hard time winding down that night, I was so frustrated.  It'd be different if this was a hard class, or a hard topic, but it's not.

So last week, after our final class (where our sum total preparation for the final was "know the definitions from these three chapters") I was talking to another woman about the teacher.  I told her how I didn't think he was very good, and she said this was the third class of his she's taken, because he's so easy and once you know how he operates it's easy to get an A in his class.  She went on to tell me that he takes every single test question right out of the textbook's website practice quizzes, so all you have to do is take the practice quizzes, save the answers, and you've got the entire test.  She had done that on the second test, and gotten a 98%.  

I was floored.  Is this okay to do?  It seems so much like cheating, but can it really be cheating when the teacher sets it up that way?  It's not like I had gotten a copy of the test from someone who had taken it last year, or some other type of subterfuge.  The questions were available on the student website, a resource that we are supposed to be able to consult as part of the class!  Should we be faulted for using the best resource available to take the test?  It's not like the teacher cares - if he cared, he would have spent some time to make up his own questions, like every other teacher I've ever had in my life.  And if he wanted the tests to be right from the text, then assign us the chapters to read, so we could be prepared.

Most likely, he is doing for us what he wishes a teacher had done for him.  He would have loved for a class to be easy, so he could skate through it and be done.  Why make us do more work than the absolute minimum, right?  And if we are smart enough to figure out the most efficient way to pass the class, then he's done his job.  (Efficiency is an economics topic, see I did learn something!)

But to me, it still feels like cheating.  I wrote a scathing teacher evaluation, which I have never done before, and no doubt it will be the only one saying anything negative.  Then I started preparing for the final, and I just about lost it.  There was almost nothing from our lectures that even sounded vaguely familiar compared to the chapters in the book.  I knew that if I took the exam, I would fail.  So, I tossed my ethics out the window, went to the student website, got the questions for the chapters, and then took the test.  

Thirty of the 50 questions were on the student website.  The other 20 he actually made up himself from some articles he had covered in class.  If I hadn't looked up the questions, I would have gotten literally all 30 wrong.  They weren't even the slightest bit familiar.  I ended up with  98% on the test.

But I'm not happy.  While I think the teacher wouldn't care that I (and the rest of the class) did this, I care.  I feel like a hypocrite, taking the easy way out, when I should have read the chapters, studied on my own, and prepared for the test the way I thought it should be done.  But is that rational?  What makes a certain behavior wrong?  Is it wrong when the person in charge says it's wrong?  Or do you go by your gut to know the difference between right and wrong?  Either way has a lot of room for error - get an evil person in charge or an evil person making the choice, and their determination of right and wrong is going to be backwards.  (I'm not calling my teacher evil, obviously I'm just making a point.)  If you were to go by the rule of law, you'd have to say that the teacher specifically made the test open book, open note, online at home, so there's no way he could have a rule that we couldn't look up answers online.  Unless he called the honor code into it, which he didn't.  

So, that's where I am right now.  I did the right thing in the eyes of the teacher and the other students, but I feel wrong about it.  Ryan, in attempting to talk me down from the ledge, reminded me about being in Malaysia.  The rule there is that you don't tip the waiters.  But for us, not tipping is something we just don't do - when you are at a restaurant, you tip, and that's the way it is.  For us.  But not for them.  In fact, the first several times we left a tip, we got funny looks and pointing and whispering by the waiters, until we finally asked someone who clued us in.  Then we stopped tipping and the status quo resumed.  I think I'm in the same situation now - I'm in a foreign country, where everyone is trying to get through this class with as little effort as possible, and I'm throwing a fit over not being worked hard enough.  When in Rome, do as the Romans, right?  In this case, when in Microeconomics, do as the Microeconomists, I guess.


Drake Steel said...

Been there, done that!

One of the many classes I signed up for was called Labor Economics. The instructor worked at the Labor Dept and had great background and insight into the system. The first night, I actually got there on time and he was reviewing his requirements and expectations. The book for the class was easily 600 pages and it was only one of them! He cavalierly said that he expected us to read 60 pages, in my quick thinking brain I said to myself I could do that many as long as it was interesting, PER HOUR! 180 for the week? Ahhh, no. I swapped the class at the 8:30 break for a class that I enjoyed and I think got an A in.

At some other point in my college experience I took a class like Consumer Law. It was taught by a GSA lawyer who had to be the most disorganised human to be paid by the university. His problems were always a significant part of the lecture. When he was teaching he was great, when he was not there, goofing off etc, the class sucked (we didn't use this work, back then we would say that it vacuumed greatly;-)!

My reaction to all this is that I and you go to college to learn stuff. You graduate by figuring out the scheme. How I have changed is not decided by the grade I got, its by what the teacher did to change me to know more about the subject. That I know more about the Russian Government (in 1983) was the great part of a class that I took, that I got a C in it (with a great story about how little I did outside of class) is not important or devastating to me. The grade didn't or doesn't define me.

SaraH G said...

I think you hit the moral answer when you said:'d have to say that the teacher specifically made the test open book, open note, online at home...
That's really how it was.

My last class for my last AA (got 2, haven't gone on to BA yet) was a online/1x a week combo Oceanography class. The teacher had the same system of using all the chapter exams to make the tests. But that was announced, clear and open. And the tests were in class, not open book. So... that felt very ethical. I ended up printing out every chapter exam and memorizing the correct answer (answer is 2nd from top. last one. first one. yeah.. it was pathetically memorized!) to them all. But that was ok - the test wasn't open book - i did have to actually learn the stuff!
Granted, an easy A is nice when you *have to* take the class and would otherwise never take it. But when you *want* to take the class... it's frustrating to not learn the subject and just the system.

Good for you for writing teacher reviews. So many classmates would dash off the minimal marks and toss them in, while i'd evaluate and thoughtfully respond. I hope it does good each time around... and it's kinda nice that i don't really know if it doesn't.

I had a history teacher who tested from the text, did a lecture, started precisely on time, and expected WORK from each student. I got my worst grade ever (because i didn't know how to write a research paper and tried to pass my attempt off), but oh! i LOVED that class. He was there to TEACH. and he wanted us there to LEARN! it was thrilling in it's way.