Although it’s been at least a couple of decades since I was in university, I can remember how useful it was to get together with other students at the library or in the coffee shop to talk over a problem or an assignment. Using something like instant messaging or Facebook would have been a huge benefit — but now a Ryerson student is being threatened with expulsion for using Facebook in just such a way. This seems like a gigantic mistake to me, and not something I would expect from an institution as supposedly progressive as Ryerson (which happens to be my alma mater).

Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests is calling for a blogosphere uprising on Digg and elsewhere to help the student, Chris Avenir, and I would wholeheartedly support that call to arms. If there was evidence that Avenir and the group were somehow cheating, that would be a different — since cheating is clearly wrong, as Michael Geist notes in his post. But so far it looks like Ryerson’s response is completely out of proportion to what the students actually did, which was to exchange tips on homework that only accounted for 10 per cent of their final mark.

Ryerson says that it is not anti-Facebook, and that it has to maintain its academic integrity. I don’t think anyone would argue with those goals — and if the Facebook group was set up for the express purpose of exchanging answers to exam questions, then the university would be well within its rights to take action. As far as I can tell from what’s been reported by the Star and the CBC, however, that’s not what it sounds like. And I think that Ryerson risks losing a lot of goodwill with its students if it bans a social networking site without having a pretty iron-clad case.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

17 Responses to “Ryerson fails, not Facebook student”
  1. […] whose answers are easily copied, in this day and age.  As I wrote over at Mat Ingram’s blog, all this does is drive those seeking to trade in answers in the social “underground”, or via private online groups, and you’ll never find them.  Answers to old tests and exams […]

  2. Not just “fail” — I believe the appropriate phrase is “EPIC Fail”.

    Secondly, the bigger academic question is how appropriate is it to have homework assignments that hinge upon anyone “not copying” the answer in this day and age?

    It seems ludicrous, because while Facebook was the easiest way to form a study group around this issue, all it does is drive it into the social “underground” into more obscure sites, or simply private online groups, where it can still proliferate.

    t @ dji

  3. oh, academia's *definitely* struggling when it comes to understanding social networking–not to mention most of what's happening online. When I read this story this a.m., I wasn't just horrified–I thought about a prof I met last week at We Media Miami, who is from Ryerson, who was talking about how she teaches media literacy in her class. …and what I've discovered is that there are pockets of professors in many universities who are teaching about the ups and downs of Facebook in their classes. But that the universities, overall, have no understanding of life online. So, we get really bad stuff like this happening. I sure hope Ryerson sees their way to not expelling this kid.

  4. If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that everything you say and do online can and will be indexed by Google on the world wide web. The overriding sentiment is that the Facebook study group is no different than students hanging out at school or the library helping each other with homework. Over at my blog, I argue that actually, it is.
    Whatever you do in private is your business. When you do it on the Internet, it becomes everybody else’s business. Govern yourselves accordingly.

  5. […] a well-reported story today, a Ryerson University student was threatened with expulsion for creating a Facebook study group. The claim is that James Norrie, director of the School of Information Technology (a program for […]

  6. Someone should advise the accused student to start a petition against the school to drop its unwarranted threat of expulsion and to offer him an official apology for their misappropriation and duly bias negligence in the assessment of the matter.

  7. If people like this Ryerson student want privacy on their social networking sites, they should consider posting legal terms of service to that effect. See http://hack-igations.blogspot.com/2007/11/privacy-advocates-such-as-nyu-professor.html The idea is not legal advice for anyone, just something to think about. –Ben

  8. Hey Guys…this is horrible. As a soon-to-be grad (hopefully) from San Diego State…this is more of the old thinking that the ivory tower shoves down our throat.

Is it OUR fault that schools are so antiquated they don't understand that Facebook is like a virtual study hall or dorm room or any other place we would all normally study?

    Don't let Chris take the fall on his own.

Go to www.ChrisDidntCheat.com and buy something from the CafePress store.

    The money will be donated to Chris. He can either use it for legal expenses or for a round of beers (which I think we can all agree he'll need during/after this debacle).

Spread the world.


  9. I'm not part of the nerd community so I don't even know what you are planning to do, but I wanted to point you to the petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/chrisdidntch

  10. I think the whole issue here was about plagiarism. The whole thing is that helping too much and too many tips can lead to plagiarism and from my point of view, I don't care if it counts 10%,5% or 1% of teh final mark. It counts and that is that. Students rely on internet too much and plagiarism is somehow a very serious problem nowadays. Copy/paste is not a desirable outcome that we want to promote in our universities.
    Online Education

  11. You got a nice blog up there.

    aion kina | aion kinha

  12. I think they are making a big fuss over nothing. And that guy Ryerson needs to check his clock, it's 2009 for God's sake.
    My erectie blog has all you need.

  13. I think they are making a big fuss over nothing. And that guy Ryerson needs to check his clock, it's 2009 for God's sake.
    My erectie blog has all you need.

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