A model programme?

A higher education story getting some air time in Ireland concerns a student in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) who, it is alleged, was guilty of plagiarism in that he had improperly got hold of and used in an assignment an ‘instructor’s manual’ for his programme. This latter document was available to lecturers only.

This particular incident has raised all sorts of issues about plagiarism, about the institute’s security systems, about its willingness in the first instance to ignore the plagiarism and allow the student to proceed, and so forth. There are probably all sorts of internal issues at work there, and I don’t wish to comment on any of this here.

But one thing did catch my eye. According to a report in the Galway City Tribune, this is what happened:

‘The student obtained a copy of the instructor’s manual used by lecturers only, which provides model answers to questions contained in continuous assignments handed out as part of a post-graduate degree course, and used this nefariously-obtained material in a case study presentation.’

The bit I find tricky here is the reference to ‘model answers’. I don’t actually know what the programme was, though it appears to be in the institute’s business school. But on the whole I have a real problem with the idea that, at third level, we should be working with ‘model answers’. Of course I should withhold judgement, because perhaps the answers were statistical or the like; but overall I would expect students to be encouraged to open their minds and to aim for originality, rather than produce answers anticipated or prescribed by those designing the programme. But perhaps I am missing something. I may pursue this angle of the story a little further.

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19 Comments on “A model programme?”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Perhaps I have misunderstood but we don’t know what the lecturer was expecting. The fact that the manual with model answers exists and that a student got his hands on it doesn’t mean that thats what the lecturer was expecting? Maybe he wasn’t relying on it or just used it as guidance.
    I teach a course where there is both a students’ and an instructors’ manual. The publisher will not knowingly supply the latter to students but, who knows, maybe they could get their hands on it somehow.

  2. Jilly Says:

    There was an almost identical case at the University of Central Florida last month, this time definitely in the Business department. I must say I was also rather shocked at the idea not only that there would be a use of ‘model answers’ at university level, but also that the lecturer would be using (in effect) a proprietary module, in which he taught the textbook, set the exam questions in it, and marked according to its model answers. There must be some disciplinary difference here, because in the humanities this would never be regarded as acceptable: it’s my job to devise my own modules, and I set the exam paper!

    • Andrew Says:

      Yes, the case in UCF seems very similar to the recent events in GMIT. For those interested, here’s a video of UCF Professor Richard Quinn confronting the class accused of cheating and presenting statistical evidence to support his allegations – http://youtu.be/rbzJTTDO9f4

  3. Al Says:

    Maybe it is ment to mean something like moodle or blackboard where a student got ‘over the counter’ in to the lecturer side and saw other materials.
    Perhaps it wasnt a model answer in the sense of a published book, but more a guidance document???

  4. Vincent Says:

    What sort of idiot was going to PASS OFF AS THEIR OWN materiel that they lifted from the instructor. The person they are handing over for perusal the completed argument. None I suspect.
    This report, well if I was the student I would be saddling my horse and heading off to the Four Gold Mines.

  5. I doubt very much that this concerns a model answer. It may have been a draft of something on which the lecturer was working.

    Two points:
    While I don’t think that we’ve yet descended to the level of “learn the answer”, students have told me that in certain courses, in certain disciplines, in certain colleges argument is not encouraged. Anecdotal? Dismiss it? Perhaps but there’s a consistency over the years.

    Secondly, you might well ask why a student would plagiarise so obviously? Well, in my limited experience it would be wrong to overestimate the intelligence of a plagiarist.

  6. James Says:

    I think some of the comments here are being a little unfair and overly critical. Not one person has mentioned the importance of analysing exam results and the need for lecturers to head back into the halls to discuss those results with students, to show them where and why marks were lost, etc. If there is no dissection of results then where’s the learning potiential of the exam?

    Often first year students are unsure of the amount of detail required for marks and/or tend to meander through an answer to fill up space. The fact that there are ‘model answers’ in an instructors manual shouldn’t surprise us since they allow the instructor to provide a ‘sample’ answer to students after the exam. This can serve as a useful exercise in demonstrating the level of detail expected, how course content was relevant to the question, how the marking scheme worked etc.

    • James,
      That’s a fair point. However, the problem with this approach – like the problem with stating “learning objectives” – is that students may try to “learn” and produce something similar. This may get them a pass but would rule out honours of which they might be capable had they not been scared off discussion/creativity by the notion of THE answer.

      • James Says:


        I agree with much of what has been said and your points above. My argument is simply that I think people here are over-analysing the story. The existence of ‘model answers’ is about as surprising and insidious as the presence of worked examples, diagrams, and sample questions in text books. They may be valuable in assisting learning (or in the case of the lecturer, in providing ideas for questions).

        Secondly, to be blunt, all the creativity/discussions in the world won’t prove to me that a student understands Newton’s Third Law. In other words, sometimes ‘model answers’ are pretty close to what you’d expect/hope/want a student to produce because you’re trying to test an understanding of course material and alternative interpretations are probably just plain wrong.

        For me the issue isn’t that ‘model answers’ exist. The real questions are a. why did a lecturer not ask his/her own question on the exam?
        b. was the marking scheme rigidly set to be in line with model answer?

    • Al Says:

      The article refers to Masters Students…
      A little different? or not?

      Current Irish education suffers under the tyranny of the exam!
      It obscures and minimizes the long term potential of the learning,

      • James Says:


        I agree that examinations have become too much about regurgitating information rather than demonstrating an understanding of that information. What I’m saying is that a ‘model answer’ is part and parcel of any course regardless of the level. The issue, as I see it, isn’t that the ‘model answer’ existed but that a lecturer chose to use the ‘model question’ on an exam. If you’re going to ask a discussion-type question, you need a marking scheme that’s flexible enough to adapt to the students’ answers and reward those who demonstrate that they’ve thought about it. Since we don’t know what the question was, what the model answer was, the marking scheme employed and whether the lecturer adapted the scheme to account for variations away from the ‘model answer’ I fail to see how anyone can be critical merely on the basis that a ‘model answer’ existed at all!

  7. Al Says:

    “a ‘model answer’ is part and parcel of any course regardless of the level.”

    If one accepts the progression model, the learners ability to conduct original research should be emerging at degree level, developed at masters and should, ideally, be a transferable skill at PhD level.

    A model answer environment is a retrograde development

    • James Says:


      You seem to be under the impression that because a ‘model answer’ exists in an instructor text that it implies a course, assessment, and learning environment that does not allow creativity or original thinking. A ‘model answer’ is just an example of ‘how one might answer the question’ and it was in an instructors handbook rather than distributed to a class.

      Model answers are valuable. If you disagree perhaps you can suggest how one might teach a subject like maths without worked examples of problems or ‘sample answers’?

  8. Perry Share Says:

    You gotta love that word ‘nefarious’, used not once but twice in the Galway City Tribunearticle! According to a melange of uncredited internet sources, this word means ‘flagitious, heinous, infamous, vile, villainous, atrocious, execrable, exceedingly wicked &c’. I presume the latter of these is only in the negative sense! Flagitious – now there’s an epithet to hurl at a nefarious student! Anyway y’all, have an ‘exceedingly wicked’ Christmas and watch out for the yellow snow 🙂

  9. Al Says:

    You speculate as to my impressions.
    Model answers are important to model questions, but, I would query how important or how relevant the question is…
    Now I could ask you to develop this point further in the same way that you have asked me, but I’d honestly think that I’d be wasting your time…
    Using the example of maths, (not my specialty) examples of questions or problems and the use of a mathematical solutions are important to the development of the students knowledge and understanding of the inherent logic.
    At the end of this post is the award descriptor for a level 9 qualification. Identifying the competence statement: “Act in a wide and often unpredictable variety of professional levels and ill defined contexts”; shows that the level expected is one where model questions and answers fail to challenge of develop the competence as the is insufficient unpredictability of ill definition.

    Here is the award descriptor for the Level award

    Title Masters Degree
    This is a multi-purpose award-type. The knowledge, skill and competence acquired are relevant to personal development, participation in society and community, employment, and access to additional education and training.
    Knowledge – breadth
    A systematic understanding of knowledge at, or informed by, the forefront of a field of learning
    Knowledge – kind
    A critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights, generally informed by the forefront of a field of learning
    Know-how and skill – range
    Demonstrate a range of standard and specialised research or equivalent tools and techniques of enquiry
    Know-how and skill – selectivity
    Select from complex and advanced skills across a field of learning; develop new skills to a high level, including novel and emerging techniques
    Competence – context
    Act in a wide and often unpredictable variety of professional levels and ill defined contexts

  10. Al Says:

    One further point…
    It would be my opinion that the use of instructional texts raise many questions about modern lecturing.

    There is the obvious commodification and the potential dumbing down or excessive standardisation of curriculum where challenges to students are limited by the lack of unpredictability and lack of ill definition.

    There is also the danger to the Lecturer of dependency upon third party materials be they lecturing or examinational.

    This dependency has many facets:

    While there is the short term potential improvement from using such material, in the long term is the Lecturers
    -ability to generate their own material,
    -ability to apply the subject in specific application to their module/course or student population,
    -ability to learn from this whole process;
    hindered or retarded by using these third party facilities.

    Obviously, getting landed with a new course two weeks before it starts puts one in the pressure zone and in such circumstances using third party resources makes sense.

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