Cheating In Online Courses—What Does It Mean?
Digital utopians, take note:
“Students taking free online courses offered by the startup company Coursera have reported dozens of incidents of plagiarism, even though the courses bear no academic credit. This week a professor leading one of the so-called Massive Open Online Courses posted a plea to his 39,000 students to stop plagiarizing, and Coursera’s leaders say they will review the issue and consider adding plagiarism-detection software in the future.
In recent weeks, students in at least three Coursera humanities courses have complained of plagiarized assignments by other students. The courses use peer grading, so each student is asked to grade and offer comments on the work of fellow students.
‘I just graded my second batch of peer essays and was saddened to find one of them was lifted from Wikipedia,’ wrote one student in the discussion forums for the course, ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction.’
Many students in the discussion expressed surprise that their peers would resort to fraudulent behavior in a noncredit course. Students who complete a course can get a certificate attesting to that accomplishment, but so far the courses do not count for credit at any university.
Still, some students argued that even in noncredit situations, stamping out plagiarism is important. “This cheating hurts everyone who is trying to take part in this class and learn with integrity,” wrote one student in the discussion forums.
. . . A professor teaching a Coursera course about the history of the Internet, Charles Severance, wrote to his students this month about plagiarism as well, after several students reported in the forums that they had seen it in assignments they graded.
‘If you see/suspect plagiarism—be kind and keep any of your comments about plagiarism short and to the point—do not criticize or flame the person—make sure your comments will help someone learn,’ he told them.
‘If we really are trying to teach the world, including people from other cultures, we have to take a responsibility to educate people about plagiarism, not just vaporize people for it,’ said Mr. Severance, who is also a clinical associate professor of information at Michigan, in an interview on Wednesday.” Read more here.
Part of me thinks that this is just the necessary growing pains of a new medium—online teaching—and that these kinks will be worked out with time. And part of me thinks that “trying to teach the world” is simply too fanciful a goal for this medium, and that we should be realistic about the inherent limits of this model (for example, I suspect that having students grade other students will always be problematic). What do you think?