Online Blogucation
26Sep/120

Flipping The Mooc?

140,000 students in a single course?  C'mon...there's no way!  Or is there?  A LOT of people have taken notice of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in the past few months.  And when I say people, I mean highly positioned, well respected, very powerful people in the education sector.  People like Presidents, CEOs, Provosts, etc., of places like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and many more have at least publicly inquired about MOOCs if not actually starting programs to invest in their own.

A respected colleague of mine who talks almost exclusively to C-level educators put it simply but effectively, "...the genie is out of the bottle."

Of course, this is exciting.  Anything to further the discussion around eLearning is wonderful from my perspective.  The ridiculous, antiquated, fallacious arguments about leaving teaching and learning alone are growing tiresome.  So anything that promotes the use of technology to enhance and augment learning is a powerful thing.  But with that in mind, and as an "early-adopter" much of the time, my next statement might surprise you.

We need to blow up the MOOC.

No, not blow up as in destroy.  Blow up as in, let's get to v2 as fast as humanly possible because v1 is NOT a good poster child for online education.  Why?  Simple.  Today's MOOC takes many of the worst elements of teaching, instruction, assessment, etc., and simply presents them over the Internet.  For instance:

Lectures - A big name in both the MOOC world as well as his discipline (aka, the smartest guy in ANY room) was describing the process he used to create his MOOC.  He said, "I was shocked when I started researching ways to disseminate information to find that lecturing is actually a really bad way to present information.  I have been lecturing for over 40 years and didn't know that..."  And yet, this great scholar and innovator did exactly that in his MOOC.  He simply recorded himself lecturing, put it on YouTube, and tied it to his MOOC.  Eric Mazur talks about a fantastic study he did at Harvard where students had their brains continually monitored for a week.  EVERY single student had similar brain patterns with regard to class (lecture) time.  Their brain waves were almost completely flat.  That's right - no activity.  The only other time in the week their brains were that inactive?  When watching tv.  Even when sleeping, the human brain is more active than during a lecture.  And yet the lecture is still the predominant means of "teaching" students today.  So, if MOOCs are to "change the world" for the better...we have to figure out how to incorporate much better ways of teaching and learning through them.

Learning - What is learning, really?  Isn't it the acquisition of information and then the assimilation of that information?  If we agree that it is, at its core, those two things, then I would bet we could also agree which of the two things is harder.  Dissemination of information is easy.  It can be done through a book, a lecture, etc.  The HARD part is actually making sense of it in a contextual, meaningful, connected way.  Yet for decades (if not centuries) educators have performed the easy part, while leaving the hard part to students.  (Actually to students who are alone, at home, with only a book...)  The flipped classroom, which is a remixed way of talking about what educational psychologists have known for decades, is finally starting to shine a light on the notion that the hard conversations should take place in class, while the dissemination activities happen at home.  MOOCs, as they exist today, do not even approach this.

Assessment - We can create objective tests that are manually graded and start to identify what a student does or does not understand.  In fact, a few MOOCs in the past month have finally started to do just that.  (This is why the very first MOOCs were not taken seriously - they really had little to no meaningful assessment.)  However, even with such heavy reliance on standardized assessments in our Universities today, most professors still agree that much of the way we know if our students do "get it" is through interaction, conversation, dialogue, and transference of ideas.  This can happen in discussions (before, during, and after class), as well as through ideas presented in papers, etc.  However, the only real way to even approach this in a MOOC is through peer review and peer assessment.  And that is a tough one for a lot of people.  For example, I recently took a Udacity MOOC on statistics.  I had opportunity to join a discussion group that I found purely by happenstance, with others from the class.  It was a study group of sorts.  However, after asynchronous discussions with about 10 peers, I soon realized that I was likely the most knowledgeable person in our group when it came to statistics.  (My mother and father are giggling right now...)  In other words, nobody had anything of value to bring to the table.  Social learning is indeed a powerful thing, but without what Vygotsky would call the "More Knowledgeable Other" in the group, it starts to break down quickly.  MOOCs could rely solely on high stakes, standardized, auto-graded tests, but again, that would simply perpetuate a bad practice from face to face teaching in the online realm.

There are others here, but I think you get my point.  The MOOC as it exists today, with millions of dollars being poured into figuring out how, when, and where to use it, needs a quick overhaul.  I am hopeful that it will happen sooner rather than later as (hopefully) it hasn't become an "institution" to anyone yet.  Hopefully nobody is so tied to the notion of something that didn't really even exist until less than a year ago that they can retool, reconfigure, and rethink the MOOC.  Because a MOOC has tremendous possibility.  Delivering global education at scale with ties to real-world competencies...that could be a game changer.  So let's make sure we get it right.  Let's flip the MOOC.

Good luck and good teaching.

25Jul/120

Mind the Gap

I was reading an interesting article the other day regarding 1st generation college students and their access to and understanding of technology. And it prompted me to think, that while most of my academic research deals with 1st generation students I have never taken the online student into consideration. So I decided to delve into this area for my 1st blog. According to a 2010 NCES survey almost 50% of students enrolled in higher education are considered to be 1st generation students; and as more and more of these students are enrolling into online as well as on ground programs it is imperative that colleges and universities address their unique circumstances (Hirudayaraj, 2011, p.2). Even though more 1st generation students are moving on to post-secondary education, they are still persisting at a lower rate than their multi-generation peers. In the article, Supporting First Generation Online Students it was indicated that;

Adding the “distance” component to the challenges faced by first generation learners decreases their potential to succeed in an online class or program. These students face additional challenges including access to reliable internet service, skills to utilize online support services and/or software, and social/psychological skills to navigate the higher education system (Garcia, 2007).

This is further noted by a report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that indicates that the statewide drop rate for 1st generation online learners is 25% while it is 18% for their on-ground peers. There are measures that colleges and universities can provide to increase the efficacy with which they retain at-risk online students, such as ensuring that their resources and staff are available online, and a vast majority do so (Garcia, 2007). But one of the forgotten challenges that face 1st generation students, is their inability to navigate the system (Garcia, 2007; Walpole, 2007). These students lack the requisite cultural capital that is necessary to navigate higher education (Oldfield, 2007). In essence these students need to learn how to learn and prosper in this environment.

The importance of this is that students, whether they are 1st generation or multi-generational college students can succeed and persist in the online environment. Tinto has indicated that if a student can make a connection with at least one individual on campus they are more likely to persist, and as an online student interacts in a virtual way with the campus this becomes even more imperative. The instructor of an online course becomes not only a mentor but a guide to higher education and technology for the student. I have had the experience of working with students who have never turned a computer on, had them in their school, or had internet experience; these were traditional college students. To conclude, as we live in a digital age it is easy to assume everyone is literate and fully capable in this realm and we can lose track of a large percentage of students. It is imperative that higher education institutions use all the resources at their disposal, whether it is data, support services, or faculty and staff to intervene and promote success for all students.

Anthony Rivas | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege

References

Garcia, M. (2007). Supporting first generation online students. Retrieved from http://www.onlinestudentsupport.org/Monograph/firstgen.php

Hirudayaraj, M. (2011). First-generation students in higher education: Issues of employability in a knowledge based economy. Online Journal for Workforce Education and Development 5,(3). Retrieved from http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1098&context=ojwed

Oldfield, K. (2007). Humble and hopeful: Welcoming first generation poor and working class students to college. About Campus, 11(6), 2-12.

Tinto , V. (2004, July). Student retention and graduation: Facing the truth, living with the consequences. The Pell Institute; Occasional paper, Retrieved from http://www.pellinstitute.org/tinto/TintoOccasionalPaperRetention.pdf.

Walpole, M. B. (2007). Economically and educationally challenged students in higher education: Access to outcomes. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 33(3), 1-113. doi:10.1002/aehe.3303

12Jul/120

Do you teach your subject? Or do you teach people?

x-ray of a brain

This is what you are teaching...

I've just gotten back from a whirlwind tour of the world again. In the past 4 months I've been in 3 countries and presented at 9 conferences, in addition to dozens of other consulting opportunities. During that time I have met with no less than 350 educators, mostly professors or department heads and I have begun asking them a few important questions that stem from something Dr. John Medina challenged me with when he spoke at our CiTE conference last April.

Dr. Medina, a brilliant cognitive scientist who has done nothing but study how the brain works for his entire career (I hope you've already read "Brain Rules" by now...), challenged us in several ways during the conference.  My personal favorite quote?  "As I was writing Brain Rules, it hit me [that] if you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to what the brain is naturally good at doing, you would design something like a classroom."

However, there is another piece of information that I haven't been able to shake after reading it and then, after he said it to me personally before he went on stage... He explained, "I consistently read articles by educators who explain how the brain works in terms of learning, cognition, memory, focus, etc.  And every time I wonder how I possibly missed the research that proves it!  Then, after some digging, I realize that I missed nothing.  You see, cognitive scientists and educators never talk.  We don't have conferences together, we don't share journals, and we don't typically exist in the same buildings on campus.  So, what they observe behaviorally and we observe through experimentation never meet." (This is a pretty close quote - I wrote it down immediately after he said it, although it may not be 100% accurate.)

Does this bother anyone else?  I have to admit, I have read DOZENS of articles by education psychologists, seasoned veterans of the classroom, and even those from trusted educational think-tanks without really questioning the validity or science behind them.  So, as I have gone around the world talking with educators lately, I have simply asked them two questions:

  1. Do you read information about how the brain processes information, how the brain remembers, how the brain works, etc., in regard to learning?
  2. Does your school give you any kind of professional development around how people learn so as to enhance your teaching?

I'm sure you already see where I'm going...

With only a single exception, the answer has been "no" every time.  Typically, I hear that people are too busy keeping up with "their field" to worry about student learning.  However second place has to be that while everyone wants professional development, there are too few places giving it and nobody has the funds to pay for it.

So, for the past several months I have spent some time seeking out brain research.  No, I haven't gotten a subscription to Brain Science Quarterly.  But I have sought out some articles and interviews with some of the worlds leading thinkers and researchers with regard to how the brain works.  (It's also helped that I had 28 hours of on-demand documentaries while going to Australia.  Thank you United airlines...)

To that end, I wish to give you a few resources.  Why a few?  If you watch "Brain Games - Pay Attention" you will know exactly why.  This fantastic introduction to attention and the brain was created by National Geographic video.  It's only 1 hour long, but when you view "the brain" through a filter of the STUDENT brain, it becomes an even more fascinating study regarding how we teach.

What is great about the video is that they quote outstanding research scientists like Dan Simon and Daniel T. Levin who wrote, "Change Blindness."  This is a great article about just how little we can truly focus on and again, has some powerful implications for students of any age.

Then, I stumbled onto a BBC 5 show called, "Make Your Child Brilliant." And brilliant it was.  Even as a person who deals mostly with college students (although also with a 5 year old...) I could not help but be overwhelmed with excitement as Bernadette Tynan illustrated how to help students be creative, focused, and successful, regardless of the environment.  She shows how to take a normal, if not "weak" student and, using brain research and cognitive science applications turn them into a successful, "brilliant" student in an extremely short time.  It was also exciting to see how personalization, creativity, and curriculum integration were crucial to the strategies she employed.  (All things I speak about regularly...whew!)

So that's four great places to start.  (You didn't forget Medina's book yet, did you?  Again, the National Geographic video will help you understand why you might have.)  If you are looking for more, the cool thing is that every resource I just gave you should springboard into 5-20 more resources, etc., etc.

Just remember, you might know more than anyone else about 17th century poetry, the evolution of teeth, or business statistics, but you aren't teaching lit, science, or math.  You're teaching people.  You are teaching brains which have propensities, wants, needs, and abilities that we understand better than we ever have before.  So even if you can't afford the PD at your institution, try these.  They are pretty cheap and/or free.  All it will cost you is some brain power and a bit of time.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy

27Jun/121

What we can learn from peer-to-peer learning…

Recently, I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about "P2PU," a rather unfortunate-sounding abbreviation for Peer 2 Peer University. (Here's a link to the article.) But despite the abbreviation, there is a lot we can learn in online education from what the founders of P2PU are trying to accomplish.

The long and the short of peer-to-peer learning is that students can collaborate on learning in such a way so that each brings his or her expertise to bear in solving a problem or answering a question. For example, one person who studies sociology might team up with another person who studies mathematics, and between them, they have the requisite knowledge to teach themselves statistics for the social sciences.

At P2PU, and largely in the open-course environment, the idea is to have this kind of learning taking place without the confines of a traditional institution of higher education. I understand where they're coming from. Professors from traditional universities are branching out into MOOCs -- "massive open online courses." (There's a great article on these in Wired Magazine from a few months ago. You can find it here.) The professors who run such courses -- at schools such as MIT, Stanford, Princeton, and Michigan -- are struggling within their own institutions to determine how to provide some sort of useful credential for those who pass their courses, which in and of itself requires some bona fide way to assess all the students who participate in the course.

P2PU is attempting to solve the credentialing problem by offering badges for the completion of a course, much like the social badges many of us earn when reaching a new achievement in an online game. But don't take that as an indication that the work required for such a badge is trite; far from it, there is a lot of learning to be done to achieve badges such as "Critical Thinking" or "Javascript Expert." The challenge faced by P2PU is whether anyone will recognize those badges as legitimate indicators of knowledge and skills.

For those of us who do teach at traditional institutions of higher education, there is a lot to learn here. Social learning is becoming the canon of online education, and just within the last 12 to 18 months. It's the foundation of peer-to-peer learning, and open-universities like P2PU recognize that. MOOCs also recognize the value of a facilitating professor. And employers -- the vast majority of them still -- recognize the value of a college degree or certificate.

I don't see that any of these strategies or perspectives is right all by itself. But, taken together, we have the ingredients for a successful online program. If you have your own ideas on this topic, please comment -- I'd appreciate some peer-to-peer learning with this blog post!

23May/120

Proactive plagiarism prevention

goblin plagiarism gameMany of us don’t think about academic dishonesty until we are confronted with it. But why not be proactive and try to prevent academic dishonesty in the first place? Here are several proactive ways to prevent plagiarism or cheating, starting with when you’re planning your course, and then considering important communication to have with students.

Course Planning
To help reduce plagiarism or cheating, here are several avenues to think about when planning your course:

  • Plan for multiple small-stakes assignments, instead of one larger assignment worth a significant portion of the grade. This reduces the incentive to cheat and also makes it logistically harder for students to purchase papers or have someone else do the work for them.
  • Scaffold assignments to have multiple pieces of an assignment building throughout the semester. This helps you see the developing assignment and learn the student’s voice, so you are better able to determine a final product that doesn’t fit with the previous work.
  • Create new assignments each term. This reduces the chance that work can be resubmitted term after term.
  • Create unique assignments that students are less likely to be able to find directly on the internet. For example, Google your assignments- if you can find resources that directly address the topic, then your students can as well.
  • Finally, I won’t discuss exams in detail here, but this article is a good place to start for more information on how to prevent cheating in online exams.

Clearly communicate expectations to students
Another important way to set the stage is to proactively communicate your expectations to students. Here are some specific areas to focus on:

  • Make sure you have clearly written policies – AND penalties for what happens if those policies are not followed – in your course syllabus, and repeated other places in the class (such as announcements, introductory areas for the assignments or exams, etc.).
  • Educate your students on what plagiarism (or cheating) is, and what behaviors are or are not ok in your class. Some students don’t know when it’s ok to work with other students and when it’s not, and there may even be differences between their classes on this point. They may not know how to cite sources, or when to cite sources, why it’s not ok to cut and paste off the internet, etc. You could have an introductory discussion around plagiarism or academic integrity, or refer students to many relevant resources online. For example, a fun game to check out is the “Goblin Threat” plagiarism game by Lycoming College.
  • • Discuss your institution’s academic honesty policy with students. Here’s an interesting finding: “Students cheat. But they cheat less often at schools with an honor code and a peer culture that condemns dishonesty” (McCabe and Trevino). Other important aspects of this finding include the institution clearly communicating that academic integrity is a top institutional priority, and also students having a role in the judicial processes evaluating alleged infringements. You alone can’t change the institutional culture to make these things happen, but you can make sure to discuss any existing policy with your students and let them know that you expect it to be upheld. You could also do an assignment where students “sign” an academic integrity contract with you at the beginning of class.

Of course there is no guarantee that these efforts will prevent all attempts at academic dishonesty. However, they should help reduce the frequency. So try to work these items in the next time you revise your class, and post a comment on how it goes (or other thoughts on this topic)!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting

Sources referenced:

Krovitz G. 2007. Ways to prevent cheating in online exams. Educator’s Voice 8(6). Accessed online at http://www.ecollege.com/Newsletter/EducatorsVoice/EducatorsVoice-Vol8Iss6.learn

Lycoming College. Goblin Threat Plagiarism Game. http://www.lycoming.edu/library/instruction/tutorials/plagiarismGame.aspx?goback=.gde_52119_member_106954972

McCabe D. and L.K. Trevino. 2002. Honesty and honor codes. Academe January-February. Accessed online at: http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2002/JF/Feat/mcca.htm

9May/120

Inter-Institutional Collaboration Project

At the Pearson Cite conference several weeks ago I met with representatives from several colleges who were interested in piloting a Pearson CourseConnect Analytics Edition (CoCo AE) course. The Analytics Edition versions are currently intended for LearningStudio customers who are also using the Learning Outcome Manager (LOM) tool to manage and track student progress toward mastery on learning outcomes.

CoCo AE courses come with student learning outcomes pre-mapped to presentation content and assignments. This mapping also includes assessment rubrics which have both content and assignment type criteria. Pearson’s course authors wrote performance level descriptors for the assignment type rubrics which can be modified if desired. The course design team decided it would be best to allow individual instructors the ability to define their own performance level descriptors for content type criterion (see rubric example below from the American Government course).

Sample CoCo Analytics Edition American Government Outcome Rubric

Part one of the collaboration will be to get teaching faculty together from participating institutions to work on group authorship of the content type rubrics. We’ll create criteria banks by outcome that all faculty can choose from or adapt for their own instances of a course. Colleges will then run the selected CoCo AE course in their Winter/Spring 2013 terms. For the second collaboration component we intend to work on a data sharing project that will allow peer institutions to see anonymized data on aggregated student performance against commonly taught outcomes. Our hope is to present this project at Pearson Cite 2013 in Chicago.

Another possibility for this type of collaboration is the ability to provide institutions with a new option for the inter-institutional comparability requirements that often accompany professional program accreditor reaffirmations. Historically, the most common compliance method is a standardized assessment measure along with student surveys like CCSSEE or NSSE.

Imagine a future where you could define peer groups and then compare your students’ performance towards mastery on commonly defined learning outcomes against those of your peer institutions along with the very best even if they weren’t in your peer group. My hope is that part of that future involves more inter-institutional collaboration among faculty and content providers like Pearson to create stronger, more effective curriculum that can proves its effectiveness.

While comparison on its own is interesting, an extension would be to consider external benchmarking where an institution could identify peer(s) whose students tend to outperform those of the home institution. Jeffrey Alstete from the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development explains that the benchmarking strategy can be used to improve teaching and learning by studying processes and practices at institutions that excel and then adapting their methods to the context of the home institution (1995).

A key value of benchmarking is that all institutions involved in the study expect something in exchange for participating in the project; even those institutions who are recognized as best in class. (Management Consulting Partners, 2008). This is not a passive endeavor for any participant so, if you’re interested in benchmarking, it’s important to obtain support from senior leadership and to recognize that this effort will require a significant time investment.

Benchmarking is yet another strategy available to add to the assessment toolkit for higher education. We’re excited to engage with our partners to provide direct data on student mastery of learning outcomes and welcome your feedback on additional ways that we can support continuous improvement efforts on your campus.

Works Cited

Alstete, J. W. (1995). Benchmarking in Higher Education: Adapting Best Practices To Improve Quality. ERIC Digest. Retrieved May 7, 2012 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED402800.pdf.

Management Consulting Partners. (2008). Applying Benchmarking to Higher Education. 1 (2). Retrieved May 7, 2012 from http://www.mcpartnersllc.com/download/Applying%20Benchmarking.pdf

Brian Epp | Assessment and Analytics Group Manager | Pearson eCollege

12Apr/123

Live from Pearson Cite 2012!

This is Rob Kadel, your on-the-scene reporter, coming to you live from the site of Cite! This is the Pearson Cite 2012 Conference, being held at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes in Orland, April 10-13. Distinguished lecturers and speakers, presenters from some 65 Pearson Education Partners, 500 attendees, and 200 Pearson employees have gathered together for four days of discussions and collaborations on online learning. And we’re loving it.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cite opened with a special, fun treat – an iBand composed of several Pearson employees (yours truly included) playing a medley of songs all from our iPhone and iPad instruments. Silly, yes, but we enjoyed getting the crowd revved up for the conference.

The highlight that afternoon, of course, was an excellent keynote presentation by Dr. Mark Milliron, and author and educational technology consultant currently working with Western Governors University. Dr. Milliron discussed technology as a solution toward increase college enrollments and matriculation, especially among those living in low-income households who need education to break out of the cycle of poverty. But he also challenged us to go further in our thinking, to recognize that simply fitting new technology into an old mold of education may not be the most effective way to deliver learning. We need new ideas about the actual structure of the educational experience to take advantage of technological tools and reach the students who need education the most.

With concurrent sessions focused on everything from mobile learning to assessment and analytics, there was no shortage of discussions around the trends in online higher education. Student want information not only when they need it, but also where they need it. And institutions are getting into a groove now recognizing the potential for data not only to describe their current students, but to prescribe new directions for future cohorts. Dr. Marilee Bresciani’s keynote address on Wednesday took such discussions further to show us how outcomes-based assessment can help to identify where true creativity and critical thinking are taking place.

On Thursday morning, Dr. John Medina treated us to a keynote presentation entitled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Dr. Medina presented us with neurological research on how our brains actually process information as we learn and what the critical points are in instruction to ensure that students learn.

Dr. Medina Wows the Crowd at Pearson Cite 2012

Overall, it’s been a great conference and a great experience. I’m already looking forward to Pearson Cite 2013 in Chicago! (Look for additional information here in the coming months.) I hope to see you there!

--
Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Academic Training & Consulting Manager
Pearson

4Apr/120

Rinse Then Repeat: The Lost Secret to Preventing Plagiarism

Plagiarism.org defines plagiarism as an act of fraud. “It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.” As we read what is contained in this definition, it is evident why plagiarism is such a very huge issue. Acts of plagiarism can lead to expulsion, suspension and even job termination for some. These are very strong outcomes for something that can be committed by accident.

What else can be offered about plagiarism that has not already been said? How much more can instructors and administrators hold student’s feet to the fire of academic mandates that suggests, “Here are the rules, you must play by them lest we hammer thou into the ground.” This was the tone of my graduate school “writing workshop orientation;” a mandatory session that left me with the sense that I could potentially find myself in serious trouble for my writing without even knowing what I did wrong.

As I progressed through the ranks of student to higher education instructor (now since 2004) it became crystal clear that institutions come by their rigid posture against plagiarism honestly. From having to contend with the likes of paper millers such as Ed Dante (a pseudo name for The Shadow Scholar), to the department chair who orders faculty to leave their students alone when they are caught in the web of plagiarism and should rightfully be held to the school and department standards of conduct. Perhaps more can be done to actively assist students how not to plagiarize, innocently or otherwise.

At Pearson’s eTeaching Institute, we often hear faculty who take our Web-based courses on special topics related to designing and teaching online, express concerns about preventing cheating. In such cases, we advise a more proactive approach by asking future online instructors to consider, “how they can encourage honesty in coursework,” as a way to preempt academic dishonesty. We believe this and more is a good position to take. In addition, I propose that a shared sense of partnership between students, faculty and administration is a proactive step in the right direction to prevent plagiarism. After all, if we are going to maintain tight control with rigid anti-plagiarism mandates in place then, the least we can do is to move a bit closer in the direction of, “here are the rules, you must play by them AND I am going to help you.”

Plagiarism.org goes on to suggest that by giving proper authorship credit, we can avoid plagiarism. However, writing a good paper which avoids plagiarism involves much more than citing. If citing sources is all that is needed then why is the practice of plagiarism such a huge issue demanding large expenditures of academic energy and resources to prevent and detect and punish students for committing the act? Are students receiving enough “hands-on” resources and training to assist them with preventing plagiarism outside of doling out the building number, address or web site to the writing lab? Perhaps more of a sense of partnership with students is one way to help accomplish the goal.

Having evaluated many papers from undergraduate and graduate students over the past eight years; some replete with word-for-word transcripts from Wikipedia including links to the plagiarized content listed as the source, I decided to try tactics different from the usual, “don’t you dare.” The first task in all of this was to focus on that sense of partnership with my students, which I have hawked about previously. I decided to view plagiarism prevention as a shared responsibility that included some very positive and attainable steps students could take to prevent these acts. After all, if we are to hold them to the standards of our plagiarism deterrence tactics then, the least we can do is show them how not to plagiarize; and not necessarily in a one-time event or a syllabus policy or student handbook they may never read in the first place.

Could a more direct approach and (repeated) conversation be appropriate, followed by some very non-threatening steps on how to avoid plagiarism? Should we institutionalize methodologies that suggest to our charges that we recognize the temptation to take dishonest shortcuts then demonstrate that it is possible and relatively easy to avoid acts of plagiarism? After arriving at, “I need to do this without making a part-time job out of it,” I developed my mini-lecture, a cliff note of sorts, which included some very critical but important steps to avoiding plagiarism.

The first step in my brief tutorial to students is to make sure they understand what plagiarism is and its consequences. In our August 2010 Online Blogucation entry, my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Golightly noted that instructors should present clear and understandable statements about, “what plagiarism is, how it’s defined, and what the consequences for committing it are.” This is a first and critical step in the process of deterring plagiarism. I also believe that when delivered with a message of partnership, assistance and other measures that Jennifer discussed, we would likely assist more students from committing plagiarism. Next, I encourage students to:

Decide what their argument or premise of the paper will be. This may be assigned but sometimes not.
• Find time to read journal articles or other sources which supports the work. This is a requirement.
• Properly summarize and paraphrase sources. This does not mean changing a word here or there.
Quote sources sparingly using proper punctuation; another mandate.
• Deliberately cite sources within the body of the offering. This will give credibility to the work.
Reference sources by using a properly formatted works cited or reference page.
• Rinse then repeat. Perform these steps throughout the entire paper.

The session takes about fifteen minutes depending on Q & A and I wrap things up by reiterating my commitment to their academic success (as they should too) and that they should ask me for assistance when needed. Again, it takes much more than the steps above to write a good paper but it’s a start.

Practices to prevent plagiarism may seem harsh to students who find themselves caught in the snare of the deed. However, they are necessary and should be refined based on our experiences with the problem. Many institutions see the wisdom of ranking punishment based on the severity and number of offenses. Some schools employ student tutorials as a proactive measure. Others, keep a pile of lopped off heads in the back of the school. Not a first choice in my book.

Where needed, faculty and administrators should ramp-up their efforts to be partners in their students’ academic success to the extent that we present regular reminders and brief ‘how to sessions’ on avoiding plagiarism. Additionally, we should find creative and cost effective ways to assist students to make better decisions such as instilling a sense of partnership, more orientation and training aimed at preventing plagiarism before our students find themselves in really big trouble. The result could save valuable time for faculty and administrators then, schools can plant a nice flower bed where those heads are kept.

Do you have creative ideas about assisting students with preventing plagiarism? What do you think about an online student discussion forum with assignment endpoints addressing how not to plagiarize? What would be the benefit? Post your comments and suggestions in the space below.

Other Resources:
Best Practices to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Learning
Cheating

Ralph Kennedy, MSW
Academic Trainer & Consultant

14Mar/120

Who’s Got Game?

I’m usually pretty excited to get my hands on each year’s NMC Horizon Report. I love to see what people think may be the next big, new thing. In fact, if you ask my teammates, I’m sure they’d tell you that I’m the “new adopter” in the group; always willing to jump in and try things out, even those things might yet be half baked. In fact, I’m probably the ‘Mikey’ (remember Life cereal?) of the group. So when I downloaded my copy of the 2012 Higher Edition version of the report, I quickly turned to the contents page to see what the future of education holds. And, honestly, I wasn’t surprised. It seems that the list of things to change culture and education has stabilized. Nothing is quite brand-spakin’ new. Right now, the neonates on the scene are just growing. For instance, we’ve all seen and critiqued the iPad by now and the ‘new’ iPad is a simply the next version of a known quantity.

As I thought about this, I realized that what I really want to know is not what might be next in education, I want to know what new is being done now.

Let’s take one of this year’s emerging technologies that’s made a strong presence on the 2-to-3-year-out list for the last two years running: game-based learning. Many articles and blogs and research papers have been written over the last couple (ok, ten) years, including an interesting blog post by Justin Marquis on the merits of game-based learning in higher education. In the post, Justin summarizes and analyzes a TED talk by Jane McGonical where she asserts four ways gaming can help solve our world problems taking queues from World of Warcraft gamers. (Quick aside: Who are these World of Warcraft people anyway? I mean, who creates this world that is so engaging and thrilling that millions of hours are spent in it? Or, perhaps the better question is, what can we as educators learn from them?) Similarly, James Gee gives twelve ways games can teach. Ok, so we’ve heard a lot that game-based learning can be good teaching. But is it being done?

Yes, there are the ‘usual suspects’ (Evoke, Septris, 3D GameLab), but these all could fall into the ‘special cases’ or ‘special efforts ‘category. What I want to know is if game-based learning is making it into the regular flow of curriculum and course design. The Horizon report says “The average age of the American gamer is now 35-years-old” which means two things: 1) I’m older than I thought and 2) at 35 there have got to be a lot of gamers out there in education. I have to believe that at least some of the instructional designers and faculty working today fall into the range of 35 +/- 8 years or so.

Have you or a colleague played around (yes, pun intended) with applying game theory or any gaming elements to your course, curriculum, assessment or even program? What did you try? What was the response? Will game-based learning be a generational movement in education? Is there resistance to game-based learning at your institution? Why? Lack of time? Not convinced there are benefits? Join the conversation our our Pearson eCollege Academic Training & Consulting team Facebook page.

Luke Cable | Academic Trainer & Consultant

29Feb/120

Actionable data for improving student learning and inter-institutional comparability – Can we have both?

An article titled Searching for the Holy Grail of learning outcomes from Inside Higher Ed (IHE) caught my attention last week. The article discusses the elusive quest for data that illustrate the value add provided by a student’s progression through a degree program at a particular institution.

Because the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) purports to provide this value added score it is fast becoming the market standard and the author of the article goes on to cite a number of reasons why this coalescence should concern us.

First, here’s some background in case you’re not familiar with the CLA. The largest market for higher ed accountability is undergraduate general education where the focus is on things like a students’ ability to think critically, to read and write effectively, or to solve problems. As I summarized back in 2009, “we now have public accountability campaigns including the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), the University and College Accountability Network (U-CAN), and Transparency by Design which serve the public, private not for profit, and private for profit institution types respectively” (McKay Epp, 2009b).

Because the focus of the IHE article was on public institutions, the VSA is the accountability campaign that was highlighted. As background for those not familiar with the VSA, it

allows participating schools to choose among three assessment instruments that are administered to students with the goal being to indicate student proficiency in the areas of reading, writing, and critical thinking. One of these tests, The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), actually tests a sampling of entering freshmen and graduating seniors and correlates student scores to incoming student SAT or ACT scores in an attempt to show the value add provided by an institution over the course of a degree program. (McKay Epp, 2009a).

One of the most interesting critiques of the CLA in the article is the high correlation between it and the SAT. Olds states that “the amount of variance in student learning outcomes after controlling for SAT scores is incredibly small” (2012). The author goes on to say that “Most institutions’ value-added will simply be in the expected range and indistinguishable from each other. Hence, why bother with the CLA” (Olds, 2009).

While the author lists several alternatives to the CLA (which are worth reading), what I found most interesting was the discussion about the struggle that institutions have to find data that create actionable insights for improving student learning. For nearly four years I’ve been working with institutions to help them implement Pearson’s Learning Outcome Manager (LOM) which is a technology enhanced outcome management system.

LOM does an excellent job of providing actionable data to faculty and administrators on student performance against established learning outcomes for online and blended courses and programs. Because outcomes are associated to graded course assignments, it helps ensure that evaluators are seeing students’ best effort and when done well it minimizes additional workload for faculty. The challenge is that LOM generated data is so targeted to individual professors or to a particular course that its results can’t easily be used for inter-institutional comparability.

While I believe a majority of educators would agree that the most important reason to work in assessment is the desire to improve student learning, I also recognize that the demand for data on inter-institutional comparability will not go away. This article provides some interesting alternatives to standardized assessments such as the CLA which I think could work in tandem with data generated from systems like Pearson’s LOM to provide a win-win for the assessment community.

Works CitedMcKay Epp, B. (2009a). Implementing a Technology Enhanced Outcome Management Strategy on Campus that Produces Substantive Improvements in Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Learning. EDULEARN09, Barcelona. Retrieved from http://library.iated.org/ view/MCKAYEPP2009IMP

McKay Epp, B. (2009b). Improving Student Learning: Thoughts and Reflections. Educator's Voice, 10 (3). Retrieved from http://www.pearsonecollege.com/Newsletter/EducatorsVoice/EducatorsVoice-Vol10Iss3.learn

Olds, K. (2012). Searching for the Holy Grail of learning outcomes. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/globalhighered/searching-holy-grail-learning-outcomes

Brian Epp | Supervisor, Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege