Technology Catches Student in a Fib

We all know that technology makes it easier for some students who are tempted by academic dishonesty. I just recently used a little-known feature of MS-Word to cast doubt on a fairly standard — and fairly lame — student excuse.

Fifteen minutes before an assignment is due, I get an e-mail from a student who says he is too sick to make it to class. This happens all the time, but this particular message is a little fishy: instead of simply e-mailing the paper as an attachment and apologizing, the student lauches into excuses: he won’t be able to get a doctor’s note, he says, because he doesn’t have insurance. As for the paper itself, the student says he’ll give it to his roommate, who is “un-reliable at best.” I suspect that the paper hasn’t yet been written, and that “The Tale of the Unreliable Roommate” is intended to explain why the paper will not appear in my box until Monday. And, of course, his message indicates that he expects me to send him a personal e-mail that summarizes the material that he missed in class (see: “I Was Absent — Did I Miss Anything Important?“).

Unfortunately for the student (who probably thinks he’s free to start his weekend now), I reply within seconds: “If you can e-mail it now & get me a hard copy ASAP that will be acceptable.” The document arrives three hours later.

Another misfortune for the student: MS-Word has a feature (File | Properties | Statistics) that will display when a document was created and how long the author has worked on it. The screen capture suggests that the student started the paper at 12:30, just a half hour before it was due. The e-mail arrived 14 minutes later, apparently after he realised he wouldn’t make the deadline. Despite the sudden illness, he managed to work on the paper for another 70 minutes over the next few hours.

It really ticks me off to be disrespected in this manner. I consulted with several faculty members, each of whom said I had no choice but to refuse the late paper. Fortunately, this assignment is only worth 5 points, and the student, who has otherwise been perfectly fine, will have plenty of time to redeem himself.

Dennis G. Jerz
Technology Catches Student in a FibLiteracy Weblog)