Monday, December 3, 2007

Seeking loopholes in online classes

The latest issue of Innovate Online has an interesting article on how online students are spending a tremendous amount of energy trying to game online course systems: The Loophole Generation It suggests that students spend more time and energy trying to avoid the work than it would take to just do the work in the first place.

I was reading, and smiling a fair bit when I came across this little gem on the various strategies being used. This one in particular struck a chord:

The Cheater may use a wide variety of techniques used to avoid work. He or she may copy entire assignments from another classmate, submit work posted as examples by the professor as his or her own, contribute little to no work to group projects, have someone else help with an online test, or purchase an entire paper from an online retailer. These students are fully aware of what they are doing. Even with university honor codes and instructor-developed online codes of ethics, this behavior persists.

This immediately brought back some memories of my time in graduate school some twenty-five years ago. I had a statistics course where the professor graded using Z-scores. Most of the tests were taken out of class on our own time. The professor knew that we would not help our classmates, because doing so only hurt our own grades. You have to love that collaborative learning!

Anyway, our mainframe computer files were in one big course directory and exposed to the rest of the class. If your classmates were the least bit computer savvy they could see the code you wrote to solve exam problems. I can't remember how exactly, but I figured out that some classmates were stealing my programs. Normally I wouldn't have cared, but in this situation with the grading normalized, someone stealing your stuff only hurt your own grade. I solved the problem by deliberately embedding errors in my code after solving the problems and printing the results.

I'm sure some of my classmates are still wondering how I did well on tests when they did so poorly. If you are a former classmate, and reading this today, I'm sorry! I didn't make the rules.

Anyway, the students of today aren't any different than the students of yesterday. All that's changed are the rules of the game. If we'd stop focusing on assessment, and start concentrating on learning there'd be a lot less of this gamesmanship.


Bud said...

I agree, but how do you know if someone has learned? How do you know if you've taught them well?

The problem is that these questions are pretty powerful. If not through assessment, how do you answer them.

Kevin Gamble said...

I don't have any problem with assessment. I have a problem when it becomes the primary focus-- where it becomes more important than the learning. If it is used to assess what the students have learned, to make adjustments in the instruction, to identify possible gaps in understanding it's fine.

I do think that assessments should be independent and not conducted by the same person(s) responsible for facilitating the learning.

Bud said...

Interesting point on who should be doing the assessing because profs definitely have a bias (I'm one).

Another issue with assessment is that it is also tied to reward and punishment (grading). As counterintuitive as it sounds, if you can disentangle assessment from grading, you get a more honest picture. Our end of the year general assessment is like that.

Kevin Gamble said...

Agreed completely!