Archive for November, 2007

The Darden Honor Code

Take home exams are standard at Darden, thanks to the University of Virginia Honor System. To limit fraud, the Honor System provides a harsh single sanction penalty for violations and requires students to sign an honor pledge on every exam. Before discussing the Darden/UVA system in more detail, let’s first introduce three levers for academic fraud management:

Lever Description Examples
Prevention Limiting ones ability to commit a fraud Proctored exams
Detection Identifying when a fraud has been committed
Limits ones desire to commit a fraud
Computerized plagiarism detection
Penalization Imposing sanctions to maintain academic credibility
Limits ones desire to commit a fraud
Failing grade

What’s interesting is how institutions have gravitated towards different levers. The University of Michigan’s undergraduate program has focused on the detection method for assignments. Since the mid ’90s, students have submitted essays (and computer programs) online. These submissions are compared against all previous submissions and a broader internet search. Even though the existence of this detection system is highly publicized, several students are caught plagiarizing every year. I can distinctly remember one student received a failing grade for submitting two lines of plagiarized computer code buried in a program of over 10,000 lines. From my own experience, honest students appreciate the fair objectivity of a good detection system.

Most universities utilize the prevention method when administrating exams. Usually exams are proctored by professors and student assistants. In some cases paper and pens are provided for the exam to prevent students from cheating with crib sheets. By their implicit nature, these prevention techniques lead to a distrustful environment and generate a fair amount of student anxiety. Ultimately, fraud prevention interferes with the learning process.

The Darden honor system is exclusively focused on the penalization method. Given the strong message sent to students by the single sanction system (expulsion), prevention and detection are virtually unnecessary. Students and professors benefit from mutual trust and a healthy cooperative learning environment. Additionally, students are free of the anxiety created by prevention and detection methods and professors do not have to spend time managing fraud.

So why doesn’t every institution rely on penalization? In my opinion there are two reasons:

  1. Culture is a hard thing to change. The University of Virginia stands behind the Honor System because it has worked since 1842. For another university to adopt this system would require a significant adjustment. For example, students who expected to receive a failing grade if caught cheating would actually be expelled. Also, the faculty may be comfortable with and unwilling to abandon the prevention and detection methods they have used for several years.
  2. Not everyone is comfortable with a single sanction system. While expulsion may seem fair for a student that copied a friend’s final exam answers, the fairness of expulsion for “lesser” acts is sometimes questioned. I think people get stuck here by focusing on the act of fraud rather then the underling dishonesty. If there are no gradients in honesty (i.e. half-honest), then there probably shouldn’t be any gradients in punishment.

Personally, in an environment of trust, a take home exam is certainly more appealing then a proctored exam.

Tips for Visiting Darden

These are some tips for prospective students preparing to visit Darden. Given the unique teaching method at Darden, the class visit will probably be the most important part of your trip to Charlottesville. If you still need to register for a class visit, there are instructions on the Darden admissions webpage.

The following tips are based on my own experience visiting Darden and my experience hosting perspective students (about 5 students to date).

Use your student host as a resource – You will be paired with a first year student host for your class visit. Since most student hosts applied to several schools and were accepted to multiple MBA programs, they can provide some advice on how to choose between schools. Don’t be shy about asking your host which other MBA programs they considered and why they choose Darden. Some of us have really great stories on why we came to Darden.

Class visits are non-evaluative – As a student host, I can confirm that your class visit is not evaluative. Of course, if a prospective student does something completely outrageous (use your imagination), word could get back to admissions. But I’ve never heard of this happening. Having non-evaluative class visits allows prospective students to more naturally and openly engage with Darden students.

Participate in the section norms – Each Darden section has its own way of introducing guests. In my section we ask guests to introduce themselves (name, job, where you live) and tell an embarrassing story. Another section asks guests to select a piece of paper from a cup and then answer the question on the slip. Whatever the section tradition, participating will give you a flavor for Darden.

Class discussion is not a good indicator of student aptitude – Before coming to class, students work through the case individually and then with their learning team. The purpose of the class discussion is to validate individual analysis and resolve any confusion on the concepts. Students generally come to class with less than a 100% understanding of the case, as it is generally more efficient to tackle 80-90% of case issues in learning team and then rely on the class discussion to reach the 100% level. Therefore it’s expected that many students will come to class with questions on the case and concepts; this is efficiency not aptitude.

Be cautious about participating in case discussion – Learning how to productively participate in the case method takes time. Over the last three months, my section has evolved in how we discuss cases and some individuals have entirely changed the way they engage in the class discussion. If you have a question or something to add to the case, it’s probably safer to bring it up with your host after class.

Operations Field Trip

Last week the first year Darden class visited local factories. We were divided into 8 groups and each group traveled to a different facility. I visited the Hershey’s factory in Stuart’s Draft, VA, which is about 40 minutes away from Charlottesville. Although I have been in several industrial plants, this was my first visit to a food processing facility.

The purpose of this field trip was to bring to life some of the operations concepts we have studied over the last few weeks. Even though Darden almost exclusively uses the case method, our professors wanted to make sure we understood the real world application of operations concepts. Also, this visit provided a point of credibility for many Darden students who had never been in a factory.

This operations field trip was a good learning opportunity for Darden students, which seem to have less manufacturing experience on average then students at more technically focused MBA programs.  Given my automotive background and upbringing in Detroit Michigan, the skills and experiences of the student body at the University of Michigan (Ross) would have been similar to my own profile. However, I chose Darden because the student body complimented rather than matched my skills and experiences.

Fit is very important and Darden is a good fit for me based on the demeanor and interests of the student body.  However, with regards to background, fit should be about finding an MBA program that compliments rather than matches ones skills and experiences. By seeking a student body with increased diversity in functional experience and undergraduate education, ones opportunities for cross student learning will be significantly improved. Personally, Darden’s comparatively low ratio of undergraduate engineers is a good compliment to my engineering background.