Irony: Dartmouth Students Cheat in Ethics Class


An academic dishonesty case at Dartmouth College — in a class involving Ethics — has implicated 43 students.

According to the case, the students did not attend class, asking other students to sign in for them in "Sports, Ethics, and Religion" and answer questions for them using an electronic clicker. "Each clicker is registered with one student, who gains points for submitting answers to certain in-class questions," The Dartmouth reports.

The course, taught by professor Randall Balmer, is the largest course offered this semester, enrolling 272 students. "Attendance and participation account for about 15% of a student's grade in the class," The Dartmouth reports.

Balmer said his course was created with athletes in mind. In fact, 68% of the students enrolled are Dartmouth varsity athletes, including many of those accused of cheating.

"I wanted to appeal to their interest, have a positive experience, allow them to succeed and build on that for their remainder of Dartmouth … Obviously it's a great disappointment to me that many of the students, including many athletes, subverted the whole experience," Balmer told The Dartmouth.

Balmer became suspicious of the goings-on a few weeks ago after issues of cheating arose during an online, closed book midterm exam. He then decided to test his theory. He took note of the number of students in attendance, and then asked the students a question to answer on their clickers. After doing so, he then passed out a paper version of the question to be handed in to him.

"The TAs and I distributed these sheets to all the students in the class, being very careful not to distribute more than there were students in the class," Balmer said. "It turns out that 43 students who said they were there were not there."

Dartmouth astronomy professor Robert Fesen said that while the clickers do provide instant feedback with regards to students' understanding of the material, he chose to use unannounced paper quizzes in their place in order to more accurately gauge attendance.

College officials have not said who has been accused in the case, or what their punishment might be.

Meanwhile, Balmer is unsure of how he will handle the students academically. He originally thought of failing them all, but after many of them came to apologize, he changed his mind. "I'm torn about this," he said. "I've heard statements of genuine contrition. I don't want to ruin anyone's life over what might be regarded as a relatively minor infraction."

In an email last Wednesday, Provost Carolyn Dever addressed the student body with potential punishments for those found guilty.

"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," she said. "No students have been found responsible for honor code violations at this time. The Academic Honor Principle is clear: ‘Fundamental to the principle of independent learning are the requirements of honesty and integrity in the performance of academic assignments, both in the classroom and outside.' "

Attendance in Balmer's class has been "very good" since the incident.

11 19, 2014
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