Is it really cheating?

When I was a young student we had to do our school work mostly independently.  It kind-of matched to the workplace where people mostly contributed individually.  I remember in university one of my computer science professors would say “I don’t care how you get the assignments done but I will get you on teamwork concept on blackboardthe test”.  His point was that if you don’t do or understand the work that you turn in you will not be able to pass the final which was worth 50% of the grade.  I think things have changed where we value collaboration, reuse, and innovation more than just following the rules, doing it yourself, or doing it ‘my way’.  I certainly value a balance of this from those that are part of my team.  But, what do students in our schools today experience? 

I was speaking with some teachers the other day and the English department head asked about using a tool Turnitin.  This tool ensures that “[s]tudent work is instantly checked for potential plagiarism using pattern recognition algorithms.  An Originality Report is generated in a matter of seconds.”  It will also provide “rich feedback” on assignments that students hand in.  She is struggling with assigning homework to her students that involves writing as she is concerned about how easy it is to use work from the Internet as their own.  I responded that Turnitin is a powerful tool but asked whether it is mostly a band aide to a problem and perhaps there are ways to think differently about cheating?  It comes down to a question of what is important for students to learn which relates to what is assessed.  There are provincial curricular requirements and exams for English so the test is certainly something that teachers are faced with preparing students to do well on.

This may shock you but the world actually values cheating.  Innovation is all about using the work of others as input into generating incremental or revolutionarily new ideas.  One could argue that there are rarely original ideas anymore, rather just mash ups of existing ideas, to create something newer.  What if English students were allowed ‘to cheat’ on essay writing?  What if they were assessed on the process they used to source materials perhaps with a requirement to incorporate a diverse set of sources.  They could be expected to integrate diverse material into a finished document.  Perhaps some of their sources had to come from building connections to original authors through social media.  They would work in a small team where each person is expected to write iStock_000008393347XSmall(assemble) their essay from a different perspective (time, historical figure, take a side, etc.) to ensure effort from all.  The students could learn about efficiency through reusing work and applying it to a specific context.  Perhaps students would have to demonstrate their understanding of what they produced through 1-1 meetings with their teacher and a public presentation to the class.  We expect employees in modern work places to not reinvent the wheel unless that is the only option.  We want employees to leverage others work, with appropriate credit where due of course and with understanding of the outcome.

What does it mean to ‘learn English’?  There are the words and their meaning, grammar and other technicalities.  There is the skill of conveying ideas in writing, making it interesting, bringing something to life through words, building characters, writing for an audience and purpose, etc.  Why not leverage an app to learn words, grammar, form, sentence structure, etc. and free the teacher to facilitate projects involving flickr - langwitches - information fluency - 5603842003research and summary, audiences, writing with persuasion, writing short (or long) novels, etc.  Design learning that involves group and individual work, original thought, and public speaking.  Teach kids to communicate in various mediums that are formal and informal, verbal and written, audio and visual, video, blogging, tweets, etc.  Allow students some freedom to choose their final media which might be written text, a video production, or creation of their story or essay in an environment like Mind Craft.  I know that these are all ways that many teachers already incorporate but perhaps it could become more pervasive?

My wife and I are planning a trip to Spain for 2016 and are actively learning Spanish.  We are not taking a class but rather are using an app, Duolingo.  We set our own daily targets and the Duolingo digital coach will gently remind us to put in the learning time.  As it teaches us to translate Spanish to English, English to Spanish, speak it, choose the right words, it builds our vocabulary, grammar skills, and it keeps score and tracks areas of weakness to reteach.  I also use Google “spanish to english” to translate words and phrases or grammatical constructs I’ve forgotten.  Perhaps this is cheating but if it helps me to learn Spanish easier, why not?  The goal is to acquire enough Spanish this way to be able to converse, read, and write it somewhat effortlessly.  That’s the desired outcome.  With all the technology available to students and teachers today shouldn’t learning a language and all that entails be quite different, perhaps easier and more tailored to student needs, than it has been for the past decades?  Perhaps what was once cheating could be referred to as resourcefulness.  Share your perspective and ideas here on ‘cheating’ and I’ll pass them along to others as the opportunity arises.


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