Before 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, students trickled into Cook Auditorium, several sitting on the stairs. It was the class’s first meeting since judicial affairs director Leigh Remy spoke to students who allegedly misrepresented their attendance in “Sports, Ethics and Religion.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday during class, students answered a question using a personal clicker device. Religion professor Randall Balmer said he noticed that the number of answers, which he could display in real time, seemed inconsistent with the number of students in the classroom.
Balmer began to suspect that students were sending their clickers to class with friends, and decided to test his suspicion.
On Oct. 30, Balmer received approximately 250 clicker responses to his in-class question, teaching assistant Gregory Poulin MALS’16 wrote in an email. But after Balmer and the teaching assistants handed out one paper version of the question per person, it was clear that only about 200 students were present.
“We all saw it coming,” Zainab Bakrin ’18 said, “but I didn’t realize it was going to blow up like it did.”
On Tuesday, Balmer asked the 43 students to stay after class, and Remy informed them of possible disciplinary action.
All students interviewed for this article said they are not implicated in the incident.
Provost Carolyn Dever sent a campus-wide email reminding students of the academic honor principle Wednesday morning and confirmed that “the actions of a group of students for possible violations of the honor code relating to misrepresentation of class attendance and participation are currently under judicial review.” Dever said in an interview that academic policies “are not rules for the sake of rules, but about the value of education.”
“Without scolding, without judging, without fingerwagging, it’s important to remember that students are here to learn and faculty are here to teach,” Dever said.
A male member of the Class of 2017, who requested anonymity because he said he did not want his name associated with the incident, wrote in an email that when students were allowed to leave Cook to take the midterm in the library, it became apparent to him that “cheating became the norm.”
Balmer said he was aware of academic dishonesty during the online midterm.
Balmer did not address the possible violations in class, the male member of the Class of 2017 said, and students seemed to understand this silence to mean he was unconcerned.
“Following the midterm scandal, the class became a place that fostered cheating,” he said. “Were students forced to cheat? No. But the fact that cheating was clearly occurring yet was never addressed is absurd.”
A female member of the Class of 2017, who requested anonymity because she did not want to jeopardize her standing with her coaches or teammates, said students not enrolled in the class did not understand why anyone would risk facing disciplinary processes for a small part of their grade. Attendance and participation count for about 15 percent of each student’s final grade.
While some students “technically cheated,” she said she believes their violation differs from cheating on an exam.
“It’s like skipping any class, except they were saying they were there and they weren’t,” she said.
The male member of the Class of 2017 said that while cheating “is always wrong,” students in the class felt that because obvious cheating went unaddressed, they believed it was being “swept under the rug.”
Another male member of the Class of 2017, who requested anonymity to avoid compromising his grade in the course, said that students enrolled are now “in the spotlight” of conversations all across campus. He said he was surprised that term-long cheating had not been brought to judicial affairs earlier.
Jeffrey Lang ’17 said that it is “not that hard to hide in such a large class” and that he could see how people could take advantage of the situation.
The large size made discussions ineffective, said the female member of the Class of 2017.
Lang said the course size made it difficult to have effective group debates, which counted for about 23 percent of a student’s grade. Teams consisted of around 50 people, meaning debates more closely resembled presentations, and a “core group of people” would be involved, Lang said.
As it was difficult to coordinate large groups, the female member of the Class of 2017 estimated that half of the class did not do work for the debate.
“A handful do all the work and everyone else rides on that,” Bakrin said.
Clickers were used during group debates for students to vote in real time for the teams they considered most effective, Lang said. He said that using clicker results for discussion and answering questions that previewed the lecture benefited his experience.
Two students interviewed said the clickers did not seem useful and did not add to their learning.
Students did not seem engaged and most people seemed “static,” the female member of the Class of 2017 said, but she added that this attitude did not differ much than what she has observed in other courses.
Lang said the workload seemed comparable with other courses and included a significant amount of reading. The class size was not “detrimental” to the quality of the course, he said.
In addition, he noted that the course size meant there was great diversity of opinions and discussions reflected interest.
“People say a course is a layup, but there really aren’t many layups at Dartmouth,” Bakrin said. “There is a lot of reading and like any other course, you chose to do the readings or not.”
Sasha Dudding and Taylor Malmsheimer contributed reporting.
For related coverage, see a Q&A with Ethics Institute director Aine Donovan on the honor code.