Suing to prevent cheating vs. suing to allow cheating

A student at the Dayton School of Law is suing the school because it did not fix a glitch in the test administration software that allowed other students to upload pre-written exam answers during the exam. He feels disadvantaged because he had to type in his answers, while others uploaded their answers electronically.

http://www.daytondailynews.com/n/content/oh/story/news/local/2007/11/22/ddn112307lawschool.html

The student said, “I’m not upset with my actual grade, but that other students used the technique to get better grades and the law school didn’t try to prevent it.” (quote from article.)

This position seems rather tenuous to me. Without further information concerning the test, there is no reason to suspect that the other students would have received lower grades if they were required to type in their answers also. Cheating occurs when one or more individuals gain an unfair advantage. From the information presented, it is not obvious that these students have gained an unfair advantage in being awarded a higher grade.

(The company that produced the software used by the Dayton School of Law is ExamSoft: http://www.examsoft.com/)

The lawsuit does raise an interesting question. What conditions need to be present to hold an organization which administers tests accountable for preventing cheating?

On the other hand, last March several high school students filed suit against TurnItIn.com for adding their term papers to a massive anti-plagiarism database. Ostensibly, the students claimed copyright infringement. The link to the article is below.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/28/AR2007032802038.html

From the article we have the following quote: “Kevin Wade, that plaintiff’s father, said he thinks schools should focus on teaching students cheating is wrong. ‘You can’t take a person’s work and run it through a computer and make an honest person out of them,’ Wade said. ‘My son’s major objection is that he does not cheat, and this assumes he does. This case is not about money, and we don’t expect to get that.’”

Admittedly, this is old news. I couldn’t determine the current status of the law suit. When I first saw this story, I thought to myself that the use of metal detectors at airports doesn’t presume everyone is a terrorist and, similarly, that scanning term papers does not presume that all papers are the result of plagiarism. I was left wondering the question, “What rational motive do students have for preventing a term paper (which could be republished and redistributed despite having been added to TurnItIn’s database) from being detected as a potential source of plagiarism?” I thought that perhaps the students were planning careers as ghostwriters and wanted to amass their collection of papers, but the students say that they don’t cheat, so it couldn’t be that. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essay_mill)

But, I find it interesting that one student sues to prevent cheating and others sue to allow cheating.

Other references on the TurnItIn lawsuit:

http://volokh.com/posts/1175270161.shtml

https://turnitin.com/static/pdf/us_Legal_Document.pdf

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Dennis Maynes

Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security

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