Ryerson Student Faces Expulsion for Facebook Use

The big story in Toronto today is news that a student may face expulsion from Ryerson University for their use of Facebook.  In this instance, the student was an administrator of a Facebook group that students in a chemistry class used to assist one another with assignments.  It would appear that the group was not used to pass around answers (you don't need Facebook for that), but rather as virtual study hall where students could more easily pose questions to classmates.  While that sounds like the sort of thing we should be encouraging, the student was given a failing grade after the professor discovered the group and charged with academic misconduct that includes "any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment." I have a hard time distinguishing between collaborative student work in the library, study hall or the telephone and doing the same within a Facebook group.  Unauthorized sharing or duplication of answers is an obvious academic offence; using a platform like Facebook as a virtual study group – particularly where each student apparently received different questions – hardly seems like an offence worthy of expulsion.


  1. academic advantage
    “any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage”

    Wouldn’t studying your textbook or attending lectures count as deliberate activities to gain academic advantage?

  2. Louiis Simoneau says:

    This is beyond ridiculous. Ryerson should be embarassed. And re: Jardine’s comment, I have to agree that the wording of the rule is open to all kinds of misuse.

    If your description of what the student was doing is accurate, then the University should have leapt at the opportunity to incorporate this sort of thing into its classes. I think a Facebook group is actually a really useful way of running that kind of study group.

  3. Anonoymous says:

    Its certainly good marketing warning potential employers from hiring their graduates. I mean, what better way could there be to scream Luddite-U at the masses?

  4. Welcome to the loss of ephemeral speech
    THere have been a number of cases over the past year or so that fit this mould. An activity that formerly happened only in the real world and consisted primarily of speech between persons went on for years. This activity never left records of any kind.

    Now the activity moves online. The activity is substantially the same, and the speech content may actually be identical. But because we now have a written record of it, it’s a problem.

    Facebook is, for the moment, the nexus for this because it facilitates the same kind of open exchange you get when you stuff a bunch of people into a room. Whether it’s students exchanging ideas on how to approach a problem, or students muttering under their breath about the substitute teacher, when the speech moves from real world to online, it becomes permanent, recorded, searchable — and, it seems, actionable.

    Strictly speaking of course, if it is a problem now, it was likely a problem earlier. But now we have a record of it.

    Welcome to the loss of ephemeral speech.

  5. Dwight Williams says:

    Jardine’s got a fair concern there, I suspect.

  6. Jason Woertink says:

    Yeah but everyone is missing this line from the article “While Neale admits the professor stipulated the online homework questions were to be done independently,” This work was supposed to be done alone. Working in a library study group would have been wrong as well.

  7. Collective Consciousness
    The reality is that in the real world we are never alone. We use to work in teams and share our knowledge in order to solve problems. It is time that the \”academy\” world recognize we do not need to learn by heart anymore (computers will remember for us). Gathering information using any means to solve a problem is the skill to have right now. \”Sharing\” is the next step in human consciousness evolution. Welcome to a new era.
    Einstein once failed an exam because he was asked about a formula he didn’t remember. His answer was “Why I have to remember a formula when I can find it in any book of physics”. Today he would have said \”…when I can google it.\” For sure he was ahead of his time anyway.

  8. Jennifer Jilks says:

    retired educator
    re: I have a hard time distinguishing between collaborative student work in the library, study hall or the telephone and doing the same within a Facebook group.

    There IS a difference. Tutors and teachers, and study groups do not give answers.
    On-line groups, just like “essay writing services”, give answers. Good tutors and study groups assist students in arriving at an answer. It is a difference between the destination and the journey.

    The prof specifically said do it independently and we do not know why, but it may be for the purposes of assessing prior student knowledge, or the mastery of lessons, for assigning marks, or to help the student understand his/her failings, or to help the prof figure out what else should be included or missing in the curriculum or what needs to be retaught.

    Student assessment is different from student learning. [ link ]

  9. Geoff Wozniak says:

    I don’t have a problem with Facebook study groups (and trying to stop them is futile, at best), but this line from the article seems apropos:

    “But Neale admitted the invitation to the Facebook group may have been what landed them in trouble. It read: ‘If you request to join, please use the forms to discuss/post solutions to the chemistry assignments. Please input your solutions if they are not already posted.'”

    If it actually said that, then, well, I don’t feel too sympathetic.

  10. Professor
    [ link ]

  11. 1) This sort of thing shouldn\’t be deemed wrong… student do this kind of thing all the time on the internet and in person

    2) If all you\’re doing is getting your answers off the internet, you\’re gonna fail anyways because you really don\’t have any idea about what\’s going on. From personal experience, I find that having full solutions is handy because then I can figure out what I\’m doing wrong rather than just continue doing it wrong and failing the course

    3) Facebook is too damn insecure for something like that anyways. If anything, he should be charged for being a complete and utter moron for using Facebook to run this sort of operation. Should have used a random forum, with approval measures… it works wonders.

  12. R. Bassett Jr. says:

    A “solution” in math and chemestry isn’t the final answer to a problem. Showing all the steps required to obtain the final answer is what is meant by the use of the word “solution”, which is extremely helpful for those who aren’t quite understanding what’s going on.

    Often the hardest part of a math problem is knowing where to begin, so seeing all the steps toward the answer (refered to as a “solution”) helps the learner get an idea of where to begin and how the process works. Sharing solutions is a good idea, being a person who just copies such solutions down without learning anything is not. The latter should be the punishable offence, as the former is an integral process of learning and inovation.

  13. University academic offense provisions are notoriously bad for over-inclusive language. Many university calendar provisions [the law in universities] they are built to catch any behavior like study halls. The only reason that this hasn’t become a problem, as pointed out above, is because there was never a record of it.

    I find it ironic that in the age where universities pack massive classrooms with hundreds of students they keep antiquated provisions that could punish students for helping one another.

    Facebook is one particular incarnation of the necessary evolution of universities. The hilarious thing is that universities have spent literally millions of dollars on software to encourage online discussion. The software has never really been successful because most of it is poorly adapted enterprise software which is inappropriate for teaching.

    If professors were actually expected to deal personally with the confusion and questions of all their students (ie. teach) they would be quickly inundated. And then they would be fired for not publishing enough.

    I would condemn Ryerson, but this is something that is actually going on at other universities (at least 2 I know of). Somebody should point out to these universities that they could save a lot of money. And maybe even help students learn better.

  14. The people making decisions against Ryerson are idiots. They have as much common sense as the record industry did in 1999 when they failed to embrace for-pay downloads and led to the rise of Napster. I hope young students will consider this poor leadership and decide NOT to go to Ryerson next fall. Hit the school in the pocketbook and maybe they will listen.

  15. Jon Husband says:
    All the pertinent opinions have already been vetted above.

    All I can add is “wow”.

    What next .. will Ryerson ban any assemblies of more than one student (say in cafes or apartments) where there might be the possibility of said duos (or more) discussing problems, issues, answers, solutions ?

  16. high school, college, university “teach
    Administrators, & profs at Ryerson as well as “teachers” everywhere else are dullards when it comes to understanding how people learn best. While at the same time 80% of businesses understand how people learn best.

    Profs Dr. Johnson and Dr. Johnston (brothers) at the Univ Of Minnesota have 600 studies to prove that Peer Interdependent Learning is the best way for anyone to learn. PERIOD (FOR EVERYONE). What the kids at Ryerson were(are) doing is Peer Interdependent Learning. Pers always do are better job of helopingb their PEERS to learn than any so-called “Teacher”. Nobody teaches anybody anything. However people learn; – when are “teachers” going to use EVIDENCE BASED LEARNING instead of 1920’s approach to schooling. Schooling has nothing to do with learning – it has everything to do with marking.

    When is the gang at Ryerson going to get “the broom-handle out of the asses”!

    Hey Guys…this is horrible. As a soon-to-be grad (hopefully) from San Diego State…this is more of the old thinking that the ivory tower shoves down our throat.
Is it OUR fault that schools are so antiquated they don’t understand that Facebook is like a virtual study hall or dorm room or any other place we would all normally study?
Don’t let Chris take the fall on his own.
Go to and buy something from the CafePress store. The money will be donated to Chris. He can either use it for legal expenses or for a round of beers (which I think we can all agree he’ll need during/after this debacle).
Spread the world.

  18. Thinking Twice
    As a TA who has seen *real* plagiarism in action I think this charge was uncalled for. I’m hoping this is an isolated case of a professor discovering his/her own inadequateness and taking it out on the nearest target…Otherwise this smacks of hypocrisy, given that Ryerson largely owes its good reputation to new/old media industry connections.

  19. Monica S
    In the real world, we are encouraged to seek the advice of and consult with our peers, managers and other industry professionals. Shouldn’t schools prepare our students for the real world? Ultimately, collaboration, discussion and consultation is to the benefit of the individual and the company for which they will work. An individual in a workplace who is not team minded, cuts themself off from others, and does not share, is not contributing to the overall success of their employer. It’s scary to think that schools don’t encourage students to seek advice and consult. Imagine dealing with a doctor who doesn’t care for anyone else’s opinion, and thinks only he/she has the answer?

  20. If, for some reason, the professor really wanted the students to work on this independently, any public school teacher could have told him that the only way that would happen is if the students were required to work on the assignment while the professor watched (more like an exam setting, really). With all the means of communicating these days, blindly hoping that students won’t talk among themselves about anything and everything seems a bit out of touch with reality.

  21. Cheated by Ryerson Professors says:

    I attended Ryerson’s Aerospace Engineering program between 1995-1999. None of this surprises me. I have never seen a collection of professionals with poorer judgment than many of the professors I had to submit to through those years.
    Don’t get me wrong, there were a few very excellent professors, unfortunately they were in the vast minority.
    I am now a highly valued and well paid engineering professional – but I cannot give Ryerson an ounce of credit for that, and I wouldn’t dream of ever donating money to the university. Many of those professors did everything possible to prevent me from succeeding, rather than empowering and encouraging me as good teachers should.
    Kudos to Avenir for taking on those who have inordinate power and poor judgment while occupying the inappropriate position of a teaching professional! I wish I had the courage to stand up to them when I was there. Were I in the same situation today I would launch a lawsuit for professional misconduct – and I have absolutely no doubt that I would win.
    Good for him. I wish him every success in toppling the self-righteous egomaniacs who call themselves professors at Ryerson, and I hope he goes on to an accomplished career in his professional life to follow.