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.

6Sep/120

Building a Community of Success

It is probably safe to say that all of us have taken a brick and mortar class that stood out above all others and exemplified a positive learning environment. The class likely stands out to us because we felt that we belonged to a learning community, shared similar goals and interests with our peers, and felt supported in our learning goals. Research suggests that this carries over to the online environment as well, with greater student satisfaction when students have a sense of community (Outz, 2006; Philips & Peters, 1999; Rovai, 2002a; Swan, 2002; & Woods, 2002). This feeling keeps students motivated to go to class and to share their interests with their peers.

Do you remember the student who went to class and only engaged in discussions if required? This assessment allows an instructor to gauge comprehension and guide the student through their learning experience. Whereas traditional classroom discussions can easily be dominated by vocal students, allowing the quieter students to stay disconnected, the online environment can easily require all students to engage through required threaded discussions. Technology enables easy measurement of involvement that would not be practical in the traditional classroom, meaning all students are engaged with an equal opportunity to share their voice and can be assessed for understanding earlier in the learning process. This is extremely important because learning and development is a social and collaborative experience that all students should benefit from.

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do."
-Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977

So, while the benefits of interactivity and fostering learning communities are clear, getting there can be a challenge in an online environment. The first week of class is extremely critical for establishing a sense of connection within the course. During this week, students should be encouraged to engage with their peers and professors via threaded discussions and other social tools, sharing their work and life experiences to make connections. Some of the first assignments for the course should promote interaction when possible. This engagement should be encouraged throughout the duration of the course so students have a desire to succeed each and every week, and share in their successes with their learning community. Leverage reporting to identify those students not engaging and reach out to them, and to identify strong classes to model your programs from. The data helps identify the anomalies sooner and to react to them appropriately.

If students gain a sense of community early and see it is going to play a major role within the course then they will most likely embrace it and become part of a learning community who takes greater ownership of their collective learning experience. Leverage the tools to identify those courses not meeting standards and bring them up to par. If students begin to feel this theme from course to course then you will have a much stronger, more persistent student community.

References:

Drouin, M. (2008, Fall). The relationship between students’ perceived sense of community and satisfaction, achievement, and retention in an online course. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3), 267-284.

Bandura A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.

Ouzts, K. (2006). Sense of community in online courses. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7(3), 285-296.

Phillips, M. R., & Peters, M. J. (1999). Targeting rural students with distance learning courses: A comparative study of determinant attributes and satisfaction levels. Journal of Education for Business, 74(6), 351-356.

Woods, R. H. (2002). How much communication is enough in online courses? Exploring the relationship between frequency of instructor-initiated personal email and learners’ perceptions of and participation in online learning. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(4),377-394.

Deb Corso-Larson | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege

9Aug/120

What the Olympics can teach us about online learning…

In just a few days, the 2012 Olympic Games in London will come to a close. It makes me sad. I look forward to the winter or summer games every two years. There's something about athletes not competing for money but simply for the pride of their nations and the world that gets me right here. (You can't see me, but I'm pointing to my heart.) I also find it heartwarming to watch the closing ceremonies, when the athletes put national differences aside and all march into the stadium in one large group.

But, never fear, online learning is here! Maybe not as exciting as the Olympics, but still, it can be a lot of fun. And, really, there is a lot we can learn from the Olympics. Here are a few analogies to consider:

Something for everyone: I’ve met a few folks over the years who say they just don’t like the Olympics, or sports in general. And that’s okay; just like online learning, they’re not for everyone. But, I think an overwhelming majority can find something about the Olympic Games (summer or winter) that they like. Whether it’s the raw athleticism of the track and field events, the grace of the gymnastics, or the death-defying speeds of downhill skiing, there are plenty of “big” events. A lot of people love the odd anticipation and strategy that goes into curling. And, hey, who could forget those rousing tug-of-war matches from the 1900 to 1920 games? Or a great, competitive round of roque?

  • Online learning provides learners with opportunities to learn from a vast array of knowledge and experiences. Consider whether you, as an instructor, tie most learning to a textbook. That’s okay, but what else could you do to reach students, to make sure that there’s something for everyone? Remember that there myriad tools available online that can be easily incorporated into an online course to enhance learning experiences. Spend a few minutes checking out the resources from MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Teaching Online), to give just one example.

There is still a role for the experts: There are lots of reasons why we, the human race, enjoy the Olympics. I’ve named a few above. But probably one of the most fascinating reasons we tune in to various events is because we want to see who is the best of the best. Who is the “fastest woman in the world”? The dead-on accuracy in the archery and shooting events is captivating. The patience, strategy, and then the excitement of every soccer shot on goal brings thousands to their feet. (Maybe millions, if you include us nuts who jump up and start shouting at our televisions.)

  • There is a lot of automation in online learning. Scheduling assignments to be available only at certain times, embedding lectures or videos as teaching tools, and of course, autograding quizzes and tests. It is enough that some instructors have wanted to do their own 200-meter dash in the opposite direction of every online learning opportunity. “I don’t want some computer teaching my students for me!” they say. But worry not, my friends! If people only wanted to see how silicon chips could perform, we’d have nothing but robots in the Olympics. As I said, people want to see who is the best, and they do this largely because they want to know what is the pinnacle of the human spirit. I don’t think it’s really any different in teaching. While few of us may ever make some international equivalent of 10-meter platform diving gold medal, we still want to learn from those around us who are doing great things in our fields. We read (and contribute to!) academic journals. We attend conferences to listen to great presenters. We watch the TED Talks videos just to see what neat ideas and strategies are coming to all us educators.

Everyone still needs to do their own work: There have been a number of accusations of cheating at the Olympics over the years. If you follow the games regularly, you probably remember the 2002 hullaballoo in pairs figure skating when a French judge allegedly admitted to the chair of the International Skating Union (ISU) that she had been pressured by the head of the French skating program to show favoritism to Russian skaters Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze over Canadian pair Salé and Pelletier in the finals. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze took the gold despite a flawed final performance, while Salé and Pelletier originally took the silver. Due to the scandal, Salé and Pelletier were later awarded the gold and Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze kept their gold. And over the years, there have been many accusations of doping, the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and even hopping up on ephedrine (the main ingredient in many decongestants), which gives people an adrenaline-like boost.

  • The fact of the matter is that winning-at-any-cost has become, for many people, the goal of their entire engagement in anything. Whether in sports or in online learning, we should be focused on what we can do and what we can learn, to the best of our abilities. There is so much societal pressure to win, that many students have lost sight of the point of the exercise: to become better. There is a sad truth as well: there will always be people who will (try to) cheat. The challenge for us, as instructors, is both to find ways to identify and stop the cheating and to be creative in how we assess “success” so that traditional cheating methods (paper mills, having another student take your own exam, etc.) just don’t matter anymore. Many Olympic sports have had marred reputations over the years due to one scandal or another; but the outcome is not to just throw in the proverbial towel. Instead, they carry on, finding new ways to identify cheating and new methods in those subjectively judged sports to standardize measures of success. Again, it’ll never be perfect; but at least we can keep striving for perfection rather than simply giving up on the whole thing. In online learning, it’s the same.

These are just a few comparisons I’ve noticed. Do you have other observations or ideas along these lines? Feel free to post them in the comments section.

Oh, and one more analogy: Costas is still king. Well, that’s not really an analogy of anything. He is just king.

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

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

3Jul/120

The Data Commitment

Over the last decade Higher Education has become fascinated with data. The data we collect can provide insight into student achievement, faculty effectiveness, and many other topics. We have sophisticated business intelligence tools and technology to give us more data than we could have imagined a decade ago, but why do we collect data in the first place? While there may be many perspectives about the nuances, I think we can all agree that the purpose is to improve. But if we collect all this data and fail to act upon it then where is the value-add for those involved? We must focus on completing the assessment cycle from goal to actionable results, which can be leveraged to drive change to benefit our students and positively impact their learning experience.

Hatfield (2009) in describing this common breakdown in the process:

Many of the benefits of engaging in assessment are the results of focused discussion about student achievement of the program’s learning outcomes. Yet it is not uncommon for data to be collected only to be ignored thereafter. It is not until the data has been analyzed, discussed, and used as a basis for further program improvement that assessment has taken place (p.6).

There is a process that must occur beyond the collection of data that is often forgotten. This may mean focusing data collection efforts rather than spreading resources thin to gather more data than you know what to do with. Choose one or two short term goals that you know can be successfully completed, and will have impact on your students and stakeholders. Provide immediate value for the efforts of all involved and gain their buy in for future, long-term assessment goals.

As you approach data collection, remember your goal: driving change and improvement. The tools available to us are wonderful and make collection so much easier and robust. The data will give us insight that we couldn’t have achieved previously. However, it is up to us to use this data to drive improvements, as data doesn’t act upon itself!

References:
Hatfield, S. (2009). Assessing Your Program-Level Assessment Plan. The IDEA Center, IDEA Paper, 45. Retrieved from http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/IDEA_Paper_45.pdf

Deb Corso-Larson | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege

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!

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

21Mar/120

Head in The Cloud

Recently, I was working with one of Pearson’s latest and greatest new products, OpenClass. Here are a couple of talking points about OpenClass for consideration:

  • In The Cloud — Our cloud-based architecture gives us the unique ability to evolve rapidly and incrementally – without the need for large-scale upgrades or major upheavals in user experience. New releases are instant, with no need to schedule downtime or interrupt your service. But we also recognize that control and customization are important, so we'll always announce when new features are available and provide you with the option to test-drive them before ultimately rolling them out to your institution.
  • On The Go — OpenClass is already extending the experience of learning to mobile phones and tablets, and mobile functionality is improving every day. Dedicated apps for Apple iOS and Google Android are in development and we'll be opening up our mobile API's for institutions to advance and customize as they choose.

Okay, so that’s the commercial for OpenClass. Let’s talk about these two concepts — the cloud and mobile technology — as they relate to building courses in OpenClass and indeed how it will relate to many mobile-based solutions going forward.

Flash back briefly to a blog post I wrote in September 2011, “Why the iPad Didn’t Work for Me.” One of the features (or lack thereof) that I didn’t like was that in trying to build content in my courses, I couldn’t browse to files, such as images, and upload them to my course. That is, I had no equivalent of the “Finder” on my Mac or “Libraries” on my Windows 7 computer. So, when I wanted to insert an image, I had no way to actually grab it and put it in my content page.

Now, flash forward to today and the rapid expansion of the use of tablets. Recently, eMarketer wrote an article estimating of tablet usage through 2014. Here’s a chart of their results:

Chart of Growth in Tablet Usage Through 2014

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that our nation’s population will grow to 321 million by 2014. That means that approximately 28% of all men, women, and children in the U.S. will be using a tablet within two years. Staggering!

Why should we care? Apple revolutionized the use of the tablet when it did not include a file manager system in the iPad. Google’s Android OS is similar. If you want to access a file, you need to have it already on the Web somewhere — in other words, in The Cloud. There are literally thousands (maybe millions?) of apps that already do this. I can take a photo on my Droid and upload it to Flickr. I can shoot a video on my iPad, edit it with iMovie, and upload it to YouTube. I can apply really neat effects to a photo with Instagram and share it on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a bunch of other sites.

All of these services are in the cloud. In fact, if I wanted to have one of these files locally, I would first have to download it from the cloud. Very little of my mobile computing experience is actually transferred to my computer anymore, and I expect your experience is similar.

It is therefore appropriate that my learning management system would also be cloud-based, which brings me back to OpenClass. Recently I was writing a Share post in OpenClass. The Share tool is kind of a combination blog and twitter feed with lots of other bells and whistles that make it easy for students and instructors to share ideas with their class, across classes or other groups, or even across the entire institution. I noticed in the Visual Editor in Share I have the option to enter URLs for photos and videos. What’s the point of that?, I wondered. Why wouldn’t I just browse to the image on my hard drive?

Then it hit me: mobile…cloud… Ah, yes! I can create my Share post on my iPad, and I can use Share’s Visual Editor to paste in links to YouTube videos, images on Flickr, and so on. So, if I keep my content in the cloud, I can access it on my mobile device or my computer (or even on someone else’s computer), without any trouble. It’s in the cloud; it’s always there.

So, the more I move my learning materials to the cloud, the easier it will be for me to access them from mobile devices and share them with my students — more and more of whom will be accessing courses on their mobile devices. It’s an inevitable shift. How might you make the cloud work for you?

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