Thursday, March 6, 2008

Facebook Study Group Administrator - Expelled for Studying?

There was a controversial article on the CBC today about Chris Avenir, an 18 year old computer engineering student at Ryerson. Last fall, Chris became the administrator of a Facebook study group entitled Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry solutions. The group of 146 students was built as a study network where peers could ask one another about homework assignments.

Chris’s professor discovered the group, changed his B to an F and recommended that he be expelled from the university.

Here’s a quote from the article:

"It is not fair to students to perpetuate the myth — and it is a myth — that they can do what they like online and that they're protected because that's only a forum for young people where they can do what they want to do, and that's really not accurate," he said.

"It is our job to protect academic integrity from any threat. And if that threat comes from new online tools, we have a responsibility as academics to understand the risks, to assess those risks and threats, and to educate people about how to avoid misconduct."

Norrie said the university understands the nature of Facebook and its groups.

"This is not a bunch of old academics sitting around a table saying, 'Oh, this scares us.' That's not what's happening," he said.

Norrie said the university wants to make it clear that its academic code of conduct applies to online behaviour of students.

This is a shocking turn of events for Facebook who’s entire success was predicated on the collaboration of students through the social networking platform it provided.

Many students are absolutely appalled by the allegations against Chris.

Here are some random thoughts I have on this issue:
  • Study groups have always existed, the size of the groups and the contents of their discussions may not have been as accessible to academic authorities but they have always existed.
  • This expulsion would set a precedent that would be damaging not only to Facebook but to the millions of students that have actively set out to network amongst their peers.
  • Academic institutions that view Facebook as a tool of misconduct might as well move to ban email, instant messaging, blogging and the use of search engines because these tools have all been used for years by students as valuable study tools.
It baffles me to see students punished when they obviously have such passion for the subjects they are studying. While many students post pictures of beer nights and pot mornings, one would think that a student who is so visibly advocating the course and its content would be commended rather than expelled. This as an influencer of academia that is being singled out and punished.

I'll follow up on the appeal...

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