Ryerson student faces expulsion for study group on Facebook

Andrew Wallace/Torstar News Service


First-year Ryerson computer engineering student Chris Avenir poses at his Mississauga home yesterday. Avenir is facing expulsion for taking part in a Facebook study group for one of his courses. More than 140 students swapped tips on homework questions that counted for 10 per cent of their mark.

Study groups may be a virtual trademark of the Ivory Tower — but a virtual study group has been slammed as cheating by Ryerson University.

First-year student Chris Avenir is fighting charges of academic misconduct for helping run an online chemistry study group via Facebook last term, where 146 classmates swapped tips on homework questions that counted for 10 per cent of their mark.

The computer engineering student has been charged with one count of academic misconduct for helping run the group — called Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions after the popular Ryerson basement study room engineering students dub The Dungeon — and another 146 counts, one for each classmate who used the site.

Avenir, 18, faces an expulsion hearing Tuesday before the engineering faculty appeals committee. If he loses that appeal, he can take his case to the university’s senate.

The incident has sent shock waves through student ranks, says Kim Neale, 26, the student union’s advocacy co-ordinator, who will represent Avenir at the hearing.

"All these students are scared shitless now about using Facebook to talk about schoolwork, when actually it’s no different than any study group working together on homework in a library," said Neale.

"That’s the worst part; it’s creating this culture of fear, where if I post a question about physics homework on my friend’s wall (a Facebook bulletin board) and ask if anyone has any ideas how to approach this — and my prof sees this, am I cheating?" said Neale, who has used Facebook study groups herself.

Ryerson officials have declined to comment while the case continues.

Students argue Facebook groups are simply the new study hall for the wired generation.

Avenir is still attending classes pending his hearing but admits the stress of the accusations is affecting his mid-term exam results.

"But if this kind of help is cheating, then so is tutoring and all the mentoring programs the university runs and the discussions we do in tutorials," he said.

school policy

  • Ryerson’s academic misconduct policy, which is being updated, defines academic misconduct as "any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment."

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