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.
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
As we embrace this back to school season, I find myself thinking about the classroom, our students and the many expectations we place on their education and what they will be able to know and do as a result of it. Along these lines, I came across a recent series published by NPR featuring several renowned guest speakers giving profound Ted Talks on education and specifically on building a better classroom.
In a recent interview with NPR, Sir Ken Robinson, world renowned expert on education and innovation, argues that building a better classroom requires that we first look at education and its fundamental design. He argues, for instance, that education suffocates creativity. I’ll highlight three critical points he makes in his talk and then invite you to share your comments.
Education has a tall order
Sir Ken Robinson establishes the critical importance and vested interest we have in education by noting that it is charged with being the mechanism by which we are to prepare students for a future “we can’t yet grasp.” He provides the jarring thought that a student beginning school in this year will retire in 2065, a time we have no clue how to imagine or predict.
This point is echoed by what we see across research and news sources. The reality is that while education is tasked with the tall order of preparing our students for the unforeseen near and distant future, college / university majors and degree offerings are facing monumental and unprecedented changes in demand and applicability in the job market. For instance, what was recently considered a clear path to a predictably successful career, a degree in architecture, is now statistically reported as being in the Top 5 of the 13 most “useless majors,” having the highest degree of unemployment, nearly 14% among recent graduates (Carnevale, Cheah, and Strohl, 2012).
From this idea of education preparing students for a future we do not yet know, Sir Ken Robinson goes on to correlate this reality with the profound importance of supporting and not stifling creativity in the education process.
Education must prioritize Creativity
Sir Ken Robinson exhorts: “Creativity is as important in education as literacy. And it should be treated with the same status.” He goes on to explain that creativity and literacy are not opposites, as he alludes they are often treated in education. He contends that not only are they both critical parts of what education must teach, but that they are actually complementary capacities, with literacy (as the ability to communicate, interpret language and make meaning) encompassed in the many capacities that flow from our creativity.
This theme resonates with the response to the question on the value of a Liberal Arts education in this economy, espoused by Christina Hull Paxson, President of Brown University; in her statement that such education is “Essential”, and that “Liberal arts educations produce innovative, creative and adaptable leaders. (Bloomberg, 2012).”
Education must safely permit mistakes
Sir Ken Robinson describes this as an issue of mistruth in the education process, whereby students making mistakes is seen as the worst thing they can make in the process of learning and creativity. He clarifies that he certainly does not equate making mistakes with being creative, but he establishes the reality that an attitudinal sentiment that is never prepared to be wrong will also never come up with anything original. Rather than allowing for mistakes in the learning and creative process, he argues, both schools and even our workplaces actually stigmatize mistakes. The end result is that we educate people out of their creative capacity.
Perhaps saying that education has a tall order is an understatement. The challenges that face us in education are both complex and deep-seated, rooted in a system originally designed to respond to an Industrial era, a time from which we have since greatly evolved. If you can find 30 minutes in your schedule or even in your commute, listen to the full story here:
How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity?
Comments? Thoughts? Please share them below.
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Bloomberg. (2012). Big Questions, Brief Replies. New York City: Bloomberg Business Week.
Carnevale, C. B. Cheah, and J. Strohl. (2012). Hard times: College majors, unemployment and earnings. Washington, DC.: Georgetown Univeristy Center for Education and the Workforce.
Robinson, S. K. (2012, June 22). How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity? (A. Stewart, Interviewer)
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
So I decided to write this post as a comic.
Interested in trying this out for yourself? This comic strip was created using Comic Life (the free trial version, although it is less than $30 to purchase!).
Check out this website as an amazing first (and possibly only) place you need to visit: Comics in the Classroom: 100 Tips, Tools, and Resources for Teachers.
And as more food for thought, here are two blog posts in the Chronicle of Higher Education about using comics in the classroom: Comics in the classroom and beyond, and Using a graphic illustrator in higher education: Comic Life.
– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting
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:
- Do you read information about how the brain processes information, how the brain remembers, how the brain works, etc., in regard to learning?
- 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
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.
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!
I've been at my job with (Pearson) eCollege for 10 years this October. I've seen trends come and go. I've watched bells and whistles become staples while staples disappear from existence. Some things change while others stay the same. But during my tenure with the company, in addition to the 17 years of teaching in higher education for which I've never stopped, I am also tired.
I'm tired of defending the same points to people who don't really care about the answers. I'm tired of trying to show people what it's like to move a mile, just to get them to move an inch. I'm tired of the assumptions based solely on "gut" feel or (worse yet) on tradition. You know the fallacy - "We've always done it this way, so we should continue..." I actually heard the head of one of the largest eLearning institutions in the world start a keynote address with this: "We all know that face to face is the best option. But when that isn't possible, here are the best ways to use eLearning."
Huh? Forget the studies that show how online is BETTER in some instances than on-ground. Forget the research which shows how online, with greater transparency and accountability is a better method for getting students through outcomes-based assessment. Forget that data, which can transform education into a personalized learning environment allowing exponentially more students to pass, succeed, and thrive, only comes when we digitize content, delivery, and assessment. And by all means forget that online education is changing the paradigm of learning from those who cannot (be accepted, matriculate, complete, etc), to those who can (pass, graduate, accel). Forget all of that. Let's just keep doing what we're doing that is and has been failing for decades...
...or not! Instead, why not focus on what we can accomplish if education embraces technology like almost every other facet of our world. What would happen if we really opened ourselves up to delivering incredible content, authentic assessments, and practical tasks to help students work, live, and thrive. Imagine.
Imagine a student sitting on a bus. Maybe a flying bus. (Ok, maybe not - did you know we have pictures of "future" vehicles flying dating back to the 1700's?) But this student is looking at her tablet device. She's a pre-med student going through A&P. So, she clicks on her device, powered by the sun of course, and goes into a lesson on the heart. Immediately a 3-Dimensional heart starts slowly turning above her device. This heart can be turned by her, examined by her, and even sliced open to reveal its contents. Of course, with her ear bud in, she can hear the instructor going through the sections as she views them. Or, she can watch a real heart pumping in a video based on various contexts like during exercise, when in distress, or while sleeping. When her bus arrives, she simply clicks off the tablet and heads to work.
Another group of students is studying statistics. There is a problem that asks them to discern numbers within a given culture. They are in a late night study session in their school's commons area. One of them suggests they step into a room where one wall is made entirely of an HD monitor. A student touches the monitor which switches on. He logs into an account and sends a video conference request to a friend in another country. Immediately the wall is transformed into a window for another classroom 10,000 miles away. Now two student groups on two continents start working the problem together. They share ideas, data, and learning methodologies as they also connect on a personal level. They simply use their fingers to draw facts and figures on the wall - many of which are translated into another language, all of which are dually usable by both groups. The session lasts for 45 minutes when both groups decide to take their new understandings and craft a solution. The wall becomes a wall again.
An instructor begins class. Students login to their devices (mobile, pc, etc) to hear her speaking, but only seeing blackness. Soon though, the blackness becomes gray. Her talking continues as she describes the geothermal tunnels she is walking through. She is trying to research potential problems with the Earth's crust through a research grant, but what better opportunity to illustrate her findings with the next generation of scientist? The entire class experience occurs through the camera attached to her helmet, with the students able to ask direct and poignant questions along the way.
A class of 400 is broken into groups of 15. The instructor begins the simultaneous lecture / webcast, "Welcome to History 215. You have been placed in groups and have been given a packet which includes journal articles, websites, riddles, and puzzles. Your job is to find out who Nymon Lester is and stop him from harming our school. This 55 year old has more power than you can imagine and is using it to destroy something valuable to everyone hearing my voice. You only have 48 hours. GO!" Immediately students scatter as they devise strategies, assign roles and tasks, and establish norms for their immersive group experience. The course will be over in 2 days and only one group will win.
Finally, we find a woman in her early 50's. She has gone back to school after raising a family, but she doesn't remember much. She needs help. So, as she opens her Algebra eBook during the lecture, she watches the instructor start to piece together a problem on the eBoard. Soon, he asks the students to try it on their own. When she tries to do a similar problem, she gets stuck on step 2 and the book pulls in some content from a remedial math course to show her a video, give her a simpler problem, and help her get to a place where she can succeed. By the end of the lesson, she is caught up. Her digital course remembers what she struggled with and will remind her the next time she logs on to cement the learning, but she is not nearly as far behind as she could be.
Do you see it? More importantly, are you preparing for it? Because it's coming. Every technology described here is being worked on somewhere and even a few exist today. Oh, and don't forget the administrator who can call all of it up on her computer, create a report of the institution's teaching and learning efficacy, and email that to three accountability groups for quick perusal.
So my friends, when you get tired of the fight, remember these things. If you hear the fallacious arguments from those in power, just nod and smile. They will retire. Or, when the change is finally too great, they'll simply leave. In the meantime, keep setting up the foundations of education to prepare for this reality. It's coming. And it's going to be more than amazing...it's going to be transformative.
Good luck and good teaching.
Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy
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.
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
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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.
Best Practices to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Learning
Ralph Kennedy, MSW
Academic Trainer & Consultant