Show #105: Watch Out for When It’s Gaul

The hunnerdfif episode of our podcast, Paul and Storm Talk About Some Stuff for Five to Ten Minutes (On Average), is now online.

This week’s episode: Paul doesn’t quite meet up with Weird Al; Paul asks for judgment on a high school exam situation; the Steampunk Soup Internet; spiciness and a “Stupid Young Storm” story; we recommend many things, including books, some artwork, and a podcast; and a bake-off battle.

AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION ALERT: Regarding Paul European History situation: a) did he cheat? b) was it unethical? and c) was it “unfair?” EDIT: In addition, d) was it “wrong?” Also, please participate in the poll below.

Show #105: Watch Out for When It’s Gaul



  1. J
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Damn, I was in the Princeton signing line and talked myself out of believing that was really you under the facial hair, Paul. If I hadn’t been desperately trying to entertain my kindergartner I might have taken the time to speak to you. I was the bald guy staring at you and weighing your identity for what was probably an uncomfortably long time. Sorry now that I didn’t give it a shot!

  2. Kieran C. (Who'd you think your kidding minion)
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    In all honesty, cheating all depends on what you call it.
    If you called it ‘Revision’ then yeah, that’s fine.
    but… call it something more seedy then just maybe.

  3. Posted February 2, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    (a) It may have been cheating. But I don’t think so. If the teacher does not change the test and does not limit access to the test, then why not use them? Also, I agree with your limitations on what would have made it cheating. (b) I’m not sure about the ethics of the situation. Hmm. I’m leaning toward unethical, but I’m having a hard time making a solid judgment. (c) “Unfair”… Hmm. Yes. Compared to an alternate version of you not having the test, you would be at a disadvantage. So I would say it was unfair.

    From an educational viewpoint, you shouldn’t have done it so you would learn the material, as was discussed. From a student’s viewpoint, though, I understand completely why you did.

  4. Andrew
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I think the question really depends on another question. Did you merely memorize a series of multiple choice or fill in the blank answers or did you actually (even vaguely) learn something?

    There’s also the added question of the value of knowing (European) history. I’m a history dork so obviously feel it’s valuable. So let’s consider:

    1) Fairness: I agree with Storm in that fairness is largely irrelevant if your group of friends was not in fact competing for class rank or there was some bet going on with real stakes. But you say there was not, so fairness goes poof.

    2) Ethical: Clearly slightly unethical. As you took a path to lessen the expected amount of work expected of you to earn the grade. Not damning, but a minor sin.

    3) Cheating: For cheating to have occurred someone has to be cheated. So let’s consider options. Was your teacher cheated? Obviously no, because she’s not putting in a lot of effort to at least moderately revamp her test every year (even varying the order). Were your classmates cheated? If there was no curve, no they were not. So the only option is did you cheat yourself? And now we return to my initial questions:

    1) Is history valuable to know? I say yes. If you agree, we go to
    2) Did you learn something or simply memorize things you immediately forgot?
    If you didn’t learn anything, then you cheated yourself. If you actually learned something, you did not cheat yourself and you’re clear.

  5. Andy Arenson
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Cheating: Yes. The rule you broke was implied rather than stated: You are not to know the questions beforehand.

    Ethical: No. You committed fraud. You represented yourself as having performed to a particular level when you did not _necessarily_ do so. (It’s possibly you would have gotten the exact same grade without doing any other work, for instance).

    Fair: No. One’s GPA affects one’s class ranking, so you potentially affected other peoples’ class ranking.

  6. Lena
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it’s cheating. However, if your teacher actually allowed students to keep tests, and never changed her tests, then she hadn’t been very smart.

    However, did you learn the material? Or did you just learn the answers? If the previous test helped you learn the material, then maybe it isn’t as bad, because you did reach the desired end result.

  7. Paul and Storm
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Clarification: in my case, at least, I memorized the material, not just the answers (they were, for the most part, multiple choice, matching and fill-in-the-blank, though there were some short answer sections as well). I can’t speak for the other folks.

    In retrospect, I should have swapped out the “fair” question for “wrong.” This is where my wife’s objection lies, and it would seem several commenters’ as well–that it’s considered “cheating” because, well, because it’s just *wrong*. While I don’t begrudge folks their opinion that it was cheating form a “spirit of the law” standpoint (because of the “unethical” or “wrong” nature of what we did), I also don’t believe that what we did should have resulted in disciplinary action (if it had come to that); and if it had, I would have fought it bitterly.

    [EDIT: I have added the “wrong” designation to the questions]

    For those who claim it’s cheating, here’s a further question, in the spirit of debate: same situation, but she had changed the new tests so they were no longer the same–such that we basically used the old tests as study aids, akin to using other people’s notes, Cliff’s Notes, etc.–would what we had done *still* be “cheating?”

    When it comes down to it, I personally think what we did was roughly equivalent to the Healthy Choice frequent flyer promotion exploit portrayed in “Punch-Drunk Love”: We found a “loophole,” didn’t violate any rules in doing so, but it’s clearly not what was intended by the system. Had it been discovered, I would have expected the loophole to be closed (so to speak), and for us to receive a vigorous tsk-tsk-ing; but our grades would not (and in my opinion, should not) have been invalidated or any similar punitive action. (Not that “we would have gotten away with it” is the final measure of whether it was right or wrong; it’s just the question I’m concerned with…)

    Keep up the discussion, folks; I’m fascinated…

    Paul the Cheater(?)

  8. Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    1) Cheating
    2) Unethical
    3) Unfair
    4) Wrong

    To expand on 1 in response to what was left in comments: We had teacher’s give us old tests to study from, as guides. Having a guide is not the same as having the exact answers and questions, on which you will be tested. Sure you memorised and learned the information, but it gave you an unfair advantage.

    I had somewhat of a similar situation. My grade 9 Science teacher loved me to bits and pieces. It is safe to say that I was a teacher’s pet. He had me create the final exam for the class that year. I had assumed he would give me an old test. I was actually quite dismayed and upset that he gave me the same test that I had created. I felt as if I cheated, as I had an unfair advantage being the person who created the test. I should have entered that test with the same disadvantages of every one else: not know what would be on it.

    Had you passed this info on to every one in your class, giving every one the opportunity to cheat, it would not have been unfair. However, the entire class would have turned into unethical cheaters, which is wrong.

  9. Jeremiah Dixon
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Arenson is correct. You are a bad, bad person.

    Next time I attend a JoCo wingding, I shall, for the duration of you opening act, sit facing away from the stage, fingers in ears (mine), humming Randy Newman tunes as loudly as I possibly can.

    Good DAY, Sirs!

  10. Sarah
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    I feel that your situation is practically the minimum of the lengths I have seen peers go to in order to succeed in their classes. I’ve watched old tests be used as “study aids” as you just described, and that doesn’t strike me as cheating at all. The teacher/professor made the choice to allow their material to be kept, and they changed their tests accordingly. If students are reviewing what was on the old tests, they are pretty much just using their resources in this generation’s academic environment.

    Last semester I watched about half a class use photographed images of the previous semester’s exams taken by an earlier student with identical multiple choice questions as the current semester (i.e., the professor didn’t let students keep the exams, but someone photo’ed the exams when they got to review them). That was fairly shocking. I’m not sure I could argue it was ethical in any way, but even being a fellow student in the class, it didn’t really offend me. Even if it meant working harder to perform on the same level, the only person that I had responsibility for was myself. We all make our choices, and most of the time, the choice to “cheat” is just the choice to not let the “cheater” next to you get ahead of you by not “cheating” yourself.

  11. Román
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I refuse to vote this as a yes/no question.

    I (and some wine) think it’s:

    a) Not cheating. The old tests are out there, and the teacher knows that’s exploiteable.

    b) Unethical. I tkink it’s not something you’d like to know your daughter or son to do, and if the teacher knows of the exploit she is trusting that you won’t use it.

    c) Unfair, not to the other “regular” students but to the other cheaters. The classic cheats (i.e. small notes, called “machetes” up here) usually make you learn a little in the effort to make them as small and hideable as possible. Knowing what the questions will
    be make you learn answers (even if you personally didn’t) and, I agree with Storm, make you skip what you know won’t enter the test.

    d) Something I would have done without questioning *even* for courses I like and wouldn’t really need to cheat, because I like learning, not being tested on what I already know I learned. Or at least that’s what high school me thought. Therefore, not really wrong at that age.

  12. Román
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Going back to the Twitters after writing my comment I read this:

    [P] Further clarification: I still learned lots in the class, didn’t cease paying attention just b/c I “had the answers.”.

    That’s exactly what I would have done. So why am I not in a succesfull comedy/music duo? Is it because I’d be the tall one?

  13. Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    (d) Well. NOW it’s interesting. Based on your Twitter comments, you still learned from the class, and you also had to put in work to achieve your high score. You just had to put in less work than you would have needed to. I still think it wasn’t cheating, but was it wrong?

    I think so. I would say so. My gut says yes. The fact that you’re not preparing for the test the way an average student would have to, and therefore, you’re breaking the common laws of school, if you will. However, this is all thinking within the context of a classroom.

    In the long term, have your actions harmed anyone, including yourself? Again, you learned from the class, and your work ethic appears to have experienced no shift in either direction because of your actions.

    All things considered, then, I think that is was wrong. But only by a hair, and only because I can’t bring myself to say it was right. Does that make sense?

  14. William
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m going with cheating, unethical, unfair, and wrong. I’m still mid-podcast, but gaining access to the test with the understanding and knowledge that they did not change from year to year meant you were knowingly circumventing the purpose and spirit of the exams.

    That said, at my school under the circumstances you wouldn’t be punished (too much). There is also a burden on the instructor to not create a situation encouraging students to cheat (Stanford’s Honor Code quoted below). Nevertheless, I assume that your teacher wouldn’t be happy if you told her what you did, thus cheating, etc.

    a. The Honor Code is an undertaking of the students, individually and collectively:

    1. that they will not give or receive aid in examinations; that they will not give or receive unpermitted aid in class work, in the preparation of reports, or in any other work that is to be used by the instructor as the basis of grading;
    2. that they will do their share and take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the Honor Code.

    b. The faculty on its part manifests its confidence in the honor of its students by refraining from proctoring examinations and from taking unusual and unreasonable precautions to prevent the forms of dishonesty mentioned above. The faculty will also avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate the Honor Code.

    c. While the faculty alone has the right and obligation to set academic requirements, the students and faculty will work together to establish optimal conditions for honorable academic work.

  15. Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    It’s a tough call. On the one hand, you just “studied”, and your study material happened to use was the test. You’re supposed to study for the test, right?

    On the other hand, you had access to the test and used it to memorize the answers.

    If you had just generic questions and answers and used that, then that wouldn’t be cheating. But you specifically went to what you knew was the test and memorized the answers.

    Sorry, but that sounds like cheating to me.

    Having said that, the teacher was really lazy.

  16. phogan
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    As an update to what were said in teh twitterz, my handle stands for P. Hogan as in Pat Hogan, but I frequently have been called “phogan” with the fffff, particularly once it became my e-mail address at my place of business. I like it, and happily accept it as my nom de guerre.

  17. Jeremiah Dixon
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    To further document/justify my judgment above, here is a quote from Mr. Tender Branson (as transcribed by Mr. Chuck Palahniuk in the case study titled “Survivor,” page 209.

    Maybe what I liked most about dancing is the rules. In the world where anything goes, here are solid arbitrary rules. The Fox-trot is two slow steps and two fast. The Cha-Cha is two slow and three fast. The choreography, the discipline, isn’t up for debate.

    These are good old-fashioned rules. How to dance the Box Step isn’t going to change every week.


  18. Luke M
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    1) If you have to ask whether something counts as cheating and you are afraid to ask the scorekeeper to clarify the rules, you obviously believe it’s probably cheating.

    2) What you did is called test banking: Professor has a sad —

  19. Beth B
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    The sharing of exam questions/answers with a student not in that class is specifically called out as a form of academic dishonesty and/or a violation of the honor code at most academic institutions. So yes, is cheating.

    Lazy teacher, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t cheat.

  20. Paul and Storm
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    @Beth B

    Aha; *there* is the first thing that *might* sway my opinion here; unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of my school’s old student conduct policy.

    FWIW, I’ve looked up the current policy, and it’s unhelpfully vague on the subject. There’s a brief section prohibiting the giving/receiving/using of “unauthorized assistance or unauthorized materials” (though the specifics seem primarily geared towards crib sheets, electronic aids/devices, plagiarism, etc.), and is probably the section that they would have used to nail us, assuming it’s essentially the same as it was 24 years ago. But it definitely doesn’t specifically call it out, or even semi-specifically.

    They’d have probably just thrown it under the “unauthorized” label and zapped us, and I’d have VOCIFEROUSLY fought it (because I was like that when something stuck in my craw back then).

    But we certainly can all agree that we *totally* took advantage of her “I’m a couple years from retirement and no longer give a crap”-itude.

    Verrry eeenteresteeng,


  21. Beth B
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    >*there* is the first thing that *might* sway my opinion here

    I WIN!

    What do you mean, it wasn’t a competition?

  22. Paul and Storm
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Also, @Luke M…

    Very interesting video…although this particular case apparently revolves around people gaining access to the publishers’ premade test bank (a prewritten batch of questions and answers instructors could pull from to create an exam), which nobody besides the instructor(s) were ever supposed to have access to. (The equivalent of students passing around questions/answers they found on the teacher’s desk)


    Gonna sleep soon, and will probably wake up with a whole new raft of ideas an opinions on this. Thanks, everyone!


  23. Tracy
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    This is one reason why I don’t return tests to students. (Nor do I let them disappear & take photos when looking them over.)
    Another question might be whether you knew said tests would be the same. If so, you really weren’t using them as study aids. You were using them for the purpose of getting a good grade while doing much less work. I believe this would be morally wrong.

  24. Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Captain Kirk battling in a bake-off? That’s so five years ago.

  25. Rich McGuire
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Did the students learn the material? The only ones they would be cheating, in the end, is themselves. We get so hung up on the grade that we forget what the grade is supposed to represent; how well the material is learned. Today, no one cares whether I got an A or a C, only that I know the information.

  26. Charles Ross
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    a) Not *technically* cheating… No actual rules were broken. If the school had a honor-code in place or something then yeah it might have been cheating, because it is definitely dishonorable. But failing that, no, not cheating.

    b) /Definitely/ unethical. You were getting grades that gave an artificially inflated measurement of your actual knowledge. So.. in effect, it was a lie. The ethical thing to do would be to let the teacher know that the secret was out. If the teacher then did not do anything about it… then you would have been in the clear ethically speaking. The goal of the test is to gauge your knowledge, and you circumnavigated that.

    c) It was absolutely “unfair” by definition. You were not on a level playing field with the other students for reasons that had nothing to do with your innate ability… but honestly.. who cares? The world is not fair. To be “fair” you would have had to have given the knowledge to all students in the class. (And that would have been cheating IMHO).

    d) I’m gonna go on a limb and say no it was not wrong. Totally expected behavior for a student of that age in that situation. On the other hand, if a parent, or the teacher had found out, they would have said it was wrong.. but from the perspective of the person who did it.. I’d say no.. not wrong.

  27. Non-Specific Minion
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Cheating, unethical, unfair, wrong. OTOH, the teacher has significant culpability, since she’s apparently recycling exams, and I’m not sure you could fairly be punished under those circumstances, even if you’d been caught. Just keeping a significant pool of questions and mixing them up would reduce the unfair advantage of those who have access to old exams without requiring the lazy teacher to draft a completely new exam each time. OTOOH, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with looking at old exams to get some hint as to the type of questions an instructor uses; I’ve had college profs who offered the previous years’ exams as study material for those practicing for exams, presumably to offset the advantage of those (e.g frat members) who had access to pools of old exams. When old exams are in circulation, offering old exams to all eliminates the unfairness aspect.

    I took a calc class in which the TA, during an exam prep session just before the final, basically told us what questions would be on the final; the numbers were different on the actual final, but the problems were of the same form, and the final was very easy for anyone who had attended the prep session and bothered to practice those problems. That session was open to everyone in the class, though, and as such it was no more unfair etc. than noting when the prof mentioned in lecture that a particular topic would be on the exam.

    Long story, tangentially related. When I was a Boy Scout, our troop had a leader who made decorative neckerchief slides as a hobby and gave them out as prizes in ad hoc contests of his own devising. Having previously one such a slide, I was ineligible to win when he handed out a pop quiz on US history. It was mostly trivia, but I knew most of the answers off the top of my head. I gave my best advice to a friend who only knew a few answers, and he ended up winning by a wide margin.

  28. xandahar.
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Is it “officially” cheating? only if there were a rule against it. I’d call it cheating anyway, because the purpose of the test was to test your knowledge of the subject, not your ability to find the answers to the questions asked beforehand.

    Was in unethical? I don’t know, who’s ethics are we talking about? It would certainly be against my current set of ethics. But I don’t think it would have been against my ethics when I was that age myself.

    Was it unfair? Yes, not really much question there. You had an advantage that was neither innate, nor shared by everyone.

    Was it wrong? Yep. Cheating, unethical, unfair. How much more wrong do you want?

  29. Posted February 4, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Like Storm said in the podcast, I think you did have an unfair advantage in that you didn’t have to study all of the information like you would have if you were studying in the “normal” way. But, there are always advantages and disadvantages. For example, before my exams, I always do review with the students using some type of review game (Jeopardy most times). Often, I take questions right from the exam and use them in the review. Technically, the students who are present in class for the review have an unfair advantage over any who are absent that day. But, why stop there?? What if a student was absent for a lecture? Well, then it’s not fair for them to be tested on something they missed… And on and on… If you get nitpicky about fair and unfair in every situation, it can spiral out of control.

    However, the issue of fairness aside, I don’t consider it cheating. So you and your friends memorized the answers; big deal. Many multiple choice/fill in the blank tests seem to be about testing a student’s ability to memorize rather than whether they actually learned something. (I’m speaking in generalizations; I know this is not always the case.) Your memorization may have been a bit more focused than your peers, but I don’t think it falls into the category of cheating. If the teacher let her tests out and never bothered to change them, then she must have considered this was a possibility. She obviously just didn’t care.

    I do think it’s unethical for many of the same reasons people have already stated above.

    The question of whether it’s wrong is an interesting one to me. I feel like it is wrong, but in the same way that going five MPH over the speed limit is wrong. Technically, you aren’t supposed to do it, but if you can get away with it, then why wouldn’t you? Is it safe to assume that if you had been caught, you would have stopped doing it (assuming she continued to use old exams after you’d gotten in trouble)?

    BTW, I brought this topic up with my colleagues today at lunch and it caused an full-out argument, complete with some melodramatic screaming. It was highly entertaining. 🙂

  30. Sharyn
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m having trouble seeing the difference between ethical, fair and right or wrong. Ethics is a way to figure out whether something is right or wrong. Fairness is a way of trying to set a common baseline. Of course life isn’t fair, and “wrong” is a moral absolute that my liberal mind just can’t embrace. So I will just vote this…that you are still thinking about it this many years later says that you think it was kind of problematic.

    By the way, I didn’t take European history… too scared. So I took Current Events with her & still preserved my GPA. Had I known there were old tests floating around, I may have made a different choice. And to this day, I regret not taking European history because I still don’t understand what was up with Gaul. But that’s what I get for being an antisocial nerd…

  31. Posted February 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Storm is dead-on. Paul, you made no effort to learn the material. You were trying to game the system. The fact that you and your cohorts scrubbed a few answers so the teacher wouldn’t suspect anything should tell you all you need to know. If you have to hide it, it’s probably cheating.

    As a side note, I wish I was the CEO of a big company so I could hire Storm to be my chief ethicist. He’s awesome.

  32. Robin (the Mini-Minion)
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Michael (#15) — Yes, it was cheating of a minor sort. Yes, the teacher is partially to blame for creating a situation in which doing so was that easy.

    Unfortunately, I can’t really say what I might have done in such a situation. While my older brother and I did take several of the same classes in high school, and he’s probably empirically a little smarter than I am, he was an awful student — bad note taker, uninterested in doing “busy work” homework and lab reports, and unlikely to keep old tests.

    When It’s Gaul is my Marcus Aurelius oratory tribute act. 😉

    Oh, and it would be “Socratic Secretions”.

    Spicy is a flavor. Pain is not a flavor. I had an experience very similar to Storm’s with the little red peppers, except that I was grazing on take-out in a dimly lit room and mistook the pepper for a peapod in the dark red sauce. It sucked.

  33. Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Is it cheating if I discover how to download the music samples from an artist’s website, or if I borrow a friend’s CD and rip the music from it? It’s not like you’re breaking into a music store and stealing it; the artists know the music is out there and they don’t release new albums every year. The question is, was the exam released to previous students under a Creative Commons license or a use-this-to-revise-what-you-got-wrong-but-don’t-share-it license?

    I suspect it’s the latter, which means it was cheating (but you’d get away with it because nobody distributed the license file with the exam), and in either case it was wrong in some way. But mostly I’m commenting because I think it’s neat that I recognise half the commenters’ names because I met those people on a boat.

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