Friday, July 18, 2008

Crossing the Coursework Line

I'm taking a course. Another one. Being no fool, I opted for a lighter term this time around. I figured with a new baby, I couldn't handle an intensive high pressure course this term. So I chose to do my first business case this term. Three months to do a project that is supposed to take around 60 hours to complete. No assignments. No quizzes. No final exam. Just a project. I even arranged to start it early, so that I wouldn't have to work at it for the first month after the baby was born. It's due on September 12. I'm about 75% done already. All that's left is to write two reports. They're difficult, but I should be able to handle that. I've got almost two months. And I know what I'm doing, for the most part.

The business case is basically a test of how well a student knows the materials that he or she studied in levels one through three of the program. We have to do a bunch of year-end entries in Accpac (Batch 2), perform some adjusting and correcting entries (Batch 3), input a current and future tax entry (Batch 4), prepare some schedules in relation to our entries, prepare some internal financial statements, prepare a few spreadsheets, and complete three reports with supporting exhibits. Really, the reports are the toughest part for me. But I write fairly well, so as long as I can figure out the correct recommendations, I should be okay writing the reports.

Since this is distance education, we can't really work in groups and collaborate. But the association recognizes the importance of collaboration. So one of our resources is the Student Lounge. It's an online forum where we can post questions to and receive feedback from fellow students. It can be pretty helpful, but can also deteriorate to a case of the blind leading the blind. So you really have to know your stuff when you visit the forum, or you can be easily misled.

We also have an online course tutor. We can ask questions of the tutor and get clarification on a number of points. The tutor will not premark our project and will only give guidance. Different tutors in different classes tend to operate in different ways. In this class, the tutor is refusing to answer any questions in any kind of remotely useful manner. So the students are relying on one another more than is the norm. Makes it harder, but we cope.

The final resource available for collaboration is a student mailbox, where we can email one another privately. This works well if we need to speak to a specific student, or if we want to work in a group with friends we've made along the way but don't want to share our detailed answers with the entire class. This way, we can collaborate in greater detail. But it's understood that none of us steal each other's work. No plagiarism. No copying. It's against the rules, and can get us kicked out of the program.

Every so often, a student decides to take advantage of the available resources. It's not the first time this has happened to me. I'm sure it will not be the last.


She posts in the student lounge. She is wondering if she has prepared Batch 3 correctly. She posts her batch total and asks if others in the class could compare. Her batch total is incorrect. It is off by over $100,000. I post my batch total and let her know that I think she is off, and I tell her at least one thing that I think she probably missed.

She private messages me. She attaches a printout of all of her entries for Batch 3 and asks me to check them and let her know where she is out. By doing this, she is pushing the boundaries. I do not know her. We have never worked together. To the best of my knowledge, we have not taken other courses together. I am a classmate. I have my own work to do. She is basically asking me to premark her project. I can't do that.

I give a quick look at her entries for Batch 3. There are only five or six entries, so it doesn't take very long. I respond by telling her that I can see several errors. And I let her know where those errors appear to be. I provide a bit of guidance, to point her in the right direction. But I do not share my answers, and I don't give details on how she should correct her entries. She figures things out with the guidance I have provided. She emails me and lets me know that she corrected her entries and that our totals now match.

She then private messages me again. This time, she attaches a printout of all of her entries for Batch 4, as well as her supporting spreadsheet for current and future tax calculations. She asks me to check her entries as well as her spreadsheet and let her know if it's right.

She has now completely crossed the line. She is no longer looking for a check figure. Really, she wants me to complete her assignment for her. Perhaps I should just email her my completed project so that she can put her name on it, hmmm?

I look at her Batch 4 entries. There are only two entries, so it doesn't take very long. Her entries differ significantly from mine. I respond to her. I tell her that our entries are very different from one another, but that I really do not have time to check her work for her and let her know why our entries are out by so much. I tell her that she should probably review her prior courses or maybe ask the tutor for some help. And I leave it at that.

After I hit "send", I look at her spreadsheet for my own curiosity. I discover that her net income amount, which is the starting point for the spreadsheet, is out by around $110,000. There are other errors, too. But this is the main problem. And I realize that, since her Batch 3 total matches mine and she hasn't posted Batch 4 yet, she must have made mistakes in Batch 2 that resulted in the huge difference in net income. Batch 2 has around thirty entries, if a student has done it succinctly.

I do not email her back to let her know that this is the primary issue. I'm sure you can see why. I do not email her back because she is taking advantage of my good nature and continuing to ask me to premark her work. If I email her back, where will it end? If I review her Batch 4 spreadsheet and let her know that her net income is off and that she must have made errors in Batch 2, then she'll email me her Batch 2 and ask me to check all of the detailed entries and supporting schedules. And if I do that, then next she'll email me her financial statements and ask if they're right. And by the time all is said and done, I'll end up preparing her cash flow statement for her. And I can't do that. It would be wrong. Not to mention that it would eat up a significant amount of time that I do not have.

As you know, I do not have a lot of time at my disposal just now. That's why I got a head start on the class when I had more time on hand. And my time management strategy has worked; that is the reason my project is now 75% complete. I didn't do it so that I'd have more time to complete the work of other students for them. I did it so that I'd have more time with my family, at a period of time when I really need family time.

The business case is supposed to test each student on how well he or she knows the materials taken in levels one through three. It is not supposed to test each student on how well I know the materials taken in levels one through three. I know the materials quite well. We all know that, based on my grades to date.

I'm happy to provide input. I'm happy to guide a student who's a bit lost. I don't want anyone to fail this project if I can help by providing a bit of direction. But I will not premark a paper. I will not email a summary of all of my work so that it can be copied. I will not do her work for her. Ultimately, she must do her own work and complete her own project.

We all have our line in the sand. That is mine.

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