Why I Let My Students Cheat On Their Game Theory Exam

0

On test day for my Behavioral Ecology class at UCLA, I walked into the classroom bearing an impossibly difficult exam. Rather than being neatly arranged in alternate rows with pen or pencil in hand, my students sat in one tight group, with notes and books and laptops open and available. They were poised to share each other’s thoughts and to copy the best answers. As I distributed the tests, the students began to talk and write. All of this would normally be called cheating. But it was completely OK by me.


Who in their right mind would condone and encourage cheating among UCLA juniors and seniors? Perhaps someone with the idea that concepts in animal behavior can be taught by making their students live those concepts.

Animals and their behavior have been my passions since my Kentucky boyhood, and I strive to nurture this love for nature in my students. Who isn’t amazed and entertained by videos of crafty animals, like Betty the tool-making crow, bending wires into hooks to retrieve baskets containing delicious mealworms? (And then hiding her rewards from a lummox of a mate who never works, but is all too good at purloining the hard-won rewards of others?)

Nevertheless, I’m a realist. Almost none of my students will go on to be “me”—a university professor who makes a living observing animals. The vast majority take my classes as a prelude to medical, dental, pharmacy, or veterinary school. Still, I want my students to walk away with something more than, “Animals are cool.” I want them to leave my class thinking like behavioral ecologists.

Written By: Peter Nonacs
continue to source article at popsci.com

NO COMMENTS

  1. This was one of the best reads I’ve had for a while. It’s quite fascinating, really. Maybe it’s because my scientific background (little though it is) is in a social science, but I must wonder why those “lone wolves” didn’t join the others, or what “limits” the students did or did not cross while “cheating” (and why).

    • In reply to #2 by Dreamweaver:

      This was one of the best reads I’ve had for a while. It’s quite fascinating, really. Maybe it’s because my scientific background (little though it is) is in a social science, but I must wonder why those “lone wolves” didn’t join the others, or what “limits” the students did or did not cross while “c…

      I was thinking the same thing.

      Among the Lone Wolves, one scored higher than the Mob,

      This one (and the one who scored the same as the Mob) are of particular interest to me. There is a certain intellectual confidence that comes with the role. It’s a self-awareness that you will be fine or superior on your own. (The one who scored lower unfortunately seemingly did not have as much smarts as the other two and would have probably been picked off first —-if in the wild.) At times, it’s the avoidance of the irritation that comes from the intolerance of people who talk too much about obvious solutions. I wonder (I bet) that the lone wolf that scored highest listened to the banter of others and picked up the best gems of the conversation. Our ideas are collective ideas, building off other people’s research and effort. No one is blind to ideas; some people are just better at sorting out what is best from what is mediocre.

      In society, lone wolves are generally picked off by the mob. It seems to me that mediocre social skills win out. The unfortunate thing is (IMO): The superior lone wolf offers the best hope for advancement to the society, but the mob generally doesn’t see it that way.

      • QuestioningKat, speaking as a “lone wolf” here (not entirelly by choice, I suffer from severe social anxiety), I can say I usually do exactly what you mentioned of picking up from what others say, even if my reason for preferring to work alone comes from shyness and the belief that discussing with others makes me lose time (which is an important factor when the exam isn’t only made of multiple choice questions).

        • In reply to #5 by Dreamweaver:

          QuestioningKat, speaking as a “lone wolf” here (not entirelly by choice, I suffer from severe social anxiety), I can say I usually do exactly what you mentioned of picking up from what others say, even if my reason for preferring to work alone comes from shyness and the belief that discussing with o…

          Yes, I know what I’m talking about ;D

          My guess is that there are lots of lone wolves here. Several are also incognito as unmanageable cats.

          I grew up extremely shy – lots of social anxiety. I’ve overcome most of it over time and can be quite social if I need to be, but I still revert to the lone wolf. I can work extremely well in groups provided I have some alone time also. It used to bother me tremendously being a lone wolf, but now I prefer my own company.

          Comment 9

          From my experience and observation it is the Lone Wolf who brings forward ideas, strategies and solutions that move the group forward once those have been shown to be proven useful and emulated by the group. The group tends to be risk adverse and conservative- “tried and true”. Lone wolves tend to be innovators.

          I think this view is at the point of being common knowledge.(?) The “geeks” and the creatives (generally outcasts) are the ones that come up with the vast majority of ideas. Yet, the socially influential recognize a great idea, jump on board or overtake it (steal), sell it and get most of the money ( and even the credit.) (They might even consider themselves innovative — Dunning Kruger effect – and not realize that they simply are the first people to jump onto board with the idea – not the idea originator.) Consider someone in sales; if they are good at what they do, it is not uncommon for them to earn more money than someone with a Phd. Sad but true.

  2. For me, choosing to be the lone wolf is situational. In areas where I am confident in myself (maybe even over confident) I’d opt to trust myself and my abilities. However, if I was in a situation where I felt overmatched or when tested in a subject that i struggle in, I’d opt to be part of the “mob”.

    That is why evolution is so fascinating, the same organism presents different strategies when confronted with different situation. Even the slightest variability will manifest as advantage or disadvantage. Look at the kid who did better than the mob: he/she “won”…. look at the kid who did worse: he/she “lost”…

    Cool topic!

  3. The question is do you want students to demonstrate they can think for themselves or collaborate as a group?

    Life is full of both kinds of opportunity.

    An exam is normally a test of the individual’s propositional knowledge whether we like it or not. If you want to test the way a group functions then there are other ways to do it than merely copying answers off each other. The only thinking they are likely to do is to make a judgement of representativeness on who is likely to be the smart arse with the correct answer. Though I have to say there is little understanding of how groups function, make judgements and arrive at decisions.

    The oddity to me about all education is that we apply particular metrics to people as students and wonder curse their underperformance as employees where the metric is different.

  4. From my experience and observation it is the Lone Wolf who brings forward ideas, strategies and solutions that move the group forward once those have been shown to be proven useful and emulated by the group. The group tends to be risk adverse and conservative- “tried and true”. Lone wolves tend to be innovators.
    The group on the other hand operates under the “lowest common denominator” principle and throws out solutions that don’t fall into the tried and true category. jcw

  5. Back in university, I had a great systems analysis prof, and on one of his finals, he did something similar to this. The last lecture before the final, he allowed us as a class to write the exam questions. He guided us in preparing the test questions on our own, knowing full well that a week later we’d be writing the answers to those very questions. One part of the course dealt with analyzing myths, so for my question I provided the text of the opening chapter in Genesis from the King James Bible that describes creation, and the question was to explain where God went wrong! He loved it. I totally aced that course, think I got 95. He even used my class notes for his own notes the following year, they were better than his. More importantly, we worked together to arrive at the best questions to test our analysis skills, and weeded out the ones that were mere time wasters and fodder, and in doing so, we were also doing some great systems analysis.

    Man, I really miss academia sometimes. I miss having intelligent critical discussions with intelligent critical people, without having to apologize for every critical insult by people who miss the point entirely by getting their defensive backs against the wall. I’m tired of so-called open-minded people who have no idea what the term even means. The world needs more profs like this guy and my old mentor at Trent.

    P.S. The answer, in short, was: God made creation in 5 days, then on the 6th day created all mammals and man, then left man in charge, with no instructions or manuals, and then took off for a very long seventh day of rest. Well God better his ass out of bed and back down to the factory floor, because it’s barely noon on Day 7 and man has already f’d up the environment and the workers can’t get along and the whole enterprise is going to hell in a hand basket (or at least this was what I thought before I read Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature). What kind of moron creates a business and allows the newly hired managers run the show with absolutely no training or even a clue what the organization is trying to accomplish?

    In case you’re wondering, I’m a systems analyst now.

Leave a Reply