Profs and students wary of answer-sharing network

January 19, 2009 – The Dalhousie Gazette

Samantha Durnford
News Contributor

University students in Eastern Canada have another online option available to them when looking for help with assignments.

The recently launched StudyPipe.com allows students to search for the university they attend, find their course and then post answers and discuss assignments anonymously.

Joel Wenzel, creator of StudyPipe, says his site is meant to help students with their schoolwork and change the way students complete assignments.

“The whole idea of the site is to change the concept of using assignments as a grading tool and to make it more of a teaching tool,” says Wenzel.

The site currently involves universities in Eastern Canada. Wenzel plans to use input from Dalhousie and potentially the University of Toronto to improve the site before opening it up to other Canadian schools.

Wenzel says he wants to encourage the idea of discussion when it comes to assignments. He says students should use StudyPipe as a learning tool at their own risk because the answers and help posted are not monitored and may not be correct.

Wenzel also addresses the issue of plagiarism, saying it’s present in any school course.

“My feeling towards the issue is that students who aren’t in university to learn shouldn’t be there in the first place,” he says.

StudyPipe.com isn’t the first website which allows students to discuss assignments online.

Last year, first-year Ryerson University student, Chris Avenir, was slammed with 147 charges of academic misconduct after creating a Facebook group for his classmates to discuss homework questions worth 10 per cent of their marks. According to the Toronto Star, nobody posted a final solution to any of the questions, but Avenir was still charged and threatened with expulsion.

Dal chemistry professor Alan Doucette says a “backdoor” discussion board is not how students should go about getting help. He has set up Blackboard Learning System (BLS) for his classes, and believes students benefit much more from using BLS because he can monitor posts and ensure students are discussing the question properly.

“With each and every posting, I monitor the questions and answers. I personally make very regular contributions to the postings,” says Doucette. “I feel it is extremely important to encourage student participation in this format. My classes are difficult, and the students need such an opportunity to enhance their learning.”

Doucette says he has taught his students how to post properly on BLS to help other classmates, rather than providing “recipes” for figuring out a solution. By being able to monitor his class discussions, he says he can ensure plagiarism and cheating won’t occur.

“If (StudyPipe) becomes active, I will have to take action to clearly define what is considered an act of academic plagiarism,” says Doucette.

Matthew Campbell, a third-year kinesiology student at Dal, says he would have no need for a site such as StudyPipe because he uses BLS and the Undergraduate Chemistry Resource Centre, staffed by chemistry graduate students and advanced undergraduate students to help first- and second-year students with questions.

“When I have a question, BLS is great,” says Campbell. “You can get help with anything, it even draws stuff out for you and teachers can record lessons.”

He says he has enough resources at Dal and doesn’t need another site.

Dal physics professor Jordan Kyriakidis says a website like StudyPipe could be a useful tool for students, but says it shouldn’t be used too often

“Anything that helps students learn more is good,” says Kyriakidis. “However, there are better ways and more efficient ways for students to receive help.”

Kyriakidis echoes Campbell, saying Dal offers a wide range of resources to help students with assignments. Kyriakidis thinks the best way for students to discuss answers is in group discussions.

“I encourage students to get into group discussions,” he says. “It’s more efficient than online because you get the interaction and are able to draw things out and discuss face-to-face.”

Kyriakidis says he would rather spend time teaching than preventing cheaters.

“In the end, there is an exam,” says Kyriakidis. “If you want to cheat your way through school, what are you even doing here?”

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