“Who wants to buy tonight’s test?” And what would you do if you heard someone say this? Oh, and if your answer is, “Raise my hand and say ‘I'”, please stop reading and go lick a lamppost. I was faced with precisely this dilemma three to four weeks ago. When I heard that uttered, I was at one of the University of Toronto’s suburban campuses that I shall not name, but only state that my high school, the University of Toronto Schools, is often mistaken for said campus.
I was waiting for the elevator in a major corridor after finishing running my regular office hours for a course that I’m teaching. All of a sudden, I heard someone ask loudly and clearly, “Who wants to buy tonight’s test?” I turned around to see two dozen or so students congregated behind me; they were huddled in one of the many areas designed to promote collaborative work in a building creatively designated “Instructional Centre”. There were two people standing, one of whom was holding a stack of papers in the air. Just then, the elevator arrived and I got in, stunned into automaticity by what I had just heard. As the elevator descended, my mind went spinning about what the most appropriate action would be.
With such a large group, there was no way I could keep them all together if I went back and approached them. Even if that were possible, how would I discover who had made the offer? The most likely culprit would have been the guy in the white hoodie holding paper in the air, but would someone selling tests really be so stupid as to be cavalier about them or be caught with physical copies of the test? Maybe, with only a few hours looming before the test and a need to move merchandise.
Supposing I could catch someone distributing the test; what would the repercussions be? What would be unravelled? Certainly, anyone buying a copy of the test and the vendor would face some kind of repercussions — from their own department? The university? Criminal? And how did the test get out there in the first place? A corrupt TA? After witnessing the abysmal performance on multiple occasions of some of my TAs, all undergraduates, within the first three weeks of class (including one week in my absence), although I had it included “proofreading quizzes” as a TA duty in their contracts1, I let them off the hook for this precise reason. I’d hate to see my union dues go towards the legal defence of a union member that was selling tests on the side. I would also hate to see all my time sucked up, given how hairy it was the last time I taught at this campus and had to deal with a dozen plagiarizers and cheaters.
What if it were higher up? What if the course instructor’s account had been hacked? Certainly, that person ought to be notified to at least put a temporary stop to the test distribution. But what if a poorly stored or chosen password was the culprit? Would that person’s job be on the line? I’d hate to be the reason someone lost his/her job because of sloppy IT practices since, oftentimes, it’s really the technology’s (or its designer’s) fault. Your system needs a non-dictionary-word-based password that mixes letter cases and includes numbers? You can be pretty sure someone’s going to write it down or reuse a password.
The elevators in the Instructional Centre are fairly slow, so at long last… Ding!2 The elevator doors opened and the most appropriate course of action, I decided, was to seek other views. Considering how few chances I’ve had to witness such an event at that campus and the fact that I’ve never seen it happen despite the huge opportunity I’ve had to see it at the downtown campus, I have a feeling that if I’m out at that campus again and I keep my ears peeled, it’s going to happen again. So… what would you do?
- Besides, given how at least one of my TAs has been performing, I’d be lucky if, at the beginning of the quiz itself, handed back my draft with the first sentence of each question proofread. More likely, I’d get back a copy of the quiz with one real correction buried amidst a bunch of new mistakes… and then translated into pig-Latin. [↩]
- Gratz! [↩]