Cheating in the Online Classroom; Online learning and Plagiarism

Academic books-584999_1280honesty is really about personal integrity. I feel that if a person will be dishonest, they will be dishonest no matter the medium. In a f2f class or online, if a student is going to cheat, they will cheat. What is important is that the course has assignments that are integral part of learning. Content is important in keeping students engaged with their learning. In the article, Deterring Plagiarism, the author suggests that students need to know that the work they do will contributes to their learning (Procter). If the assignment is not engaging and does not generate a voice from the students, it may not be worth giving. By improving the quality of assignments, it will deter students from plagiarizing. That is not to mean that it’s the fault of the instructor when a student cheats. It means that when there is value in the assignments, when faced with the temptation to cheat, students will choose to perform their best.

Appropriate level of material

When designing an online course, it is important to think about the sequencing of course material. In computer science, the assignments build up as the semester advances, and the students will make connections and find success if the course is sequenced well. If the assignment is far advanced of current study, the student may seek a cheating solution due to fear of lowering a GPA. It will be clear if a student tries to use advanced methods and syntax if it was not covered in previous assignments. In a foreign language such as Spanish, the same is true for sequencing. It is easy to detect when a student tries to use an online translator. If it shows skills beyond the expected output, the instructor can begin to determine if the student is indeed cheating. For other disciplines, electronic tools are necessary for detecting plagiarism such as Turnitin.

The “Turn-it-inator”

I have never used Turnitin. I hope to soon. With programming languages, copying and pasting code is very possible as code needs to be in exact order to function. It would be foolish to say that if the program works, you must have copied the code from someone else; therefore there needs to be other ways to determine if a student is cheating. In programming, this can be dealt with by reading the comments written inside the code. If the comments are exact to another student’s comments, then there is a possibility that he/she has cheated. There still remains the possibility that the student can tweak the comments to his or her own words. This is where it can get really difficult. It wasn’t surprising to see that reports social- and content-sharing tools are highest in cheating. In computer science, I often see students copy and paste the programming problem into Yahoo Answers word-for-word but make it sound like they are tackling the program for personal reasons. Some simply say “This is for my class”. Answers are shared, then available for the next 100 people who search it. I think creating new problems each semester would help, but one would have to revamp the curriculum more than reasonably possible.

Proper citations

The effort needed to apply citations has always been a deterrent for using them. The student met with time pressures may choose the easy road and “forget” to apply a citation especially if the information, like author and date are not readily available. This expectation might also be relaxed in certain courses and if not addressed early on, could run rampant.

Sore Subject

girl-421458_1280Confronting students on plagiarism can be difficult. A teacher needs to tread lightly and ask the student what he/she thinks is going on. A conversation with the sponsoring school’s SC or the VHS adviser can be helpful. It is good not to be so much an enforcer by dedicating so much energy to trying to catch the offenders. But what should happen when we do determine that someone is plagiarizing? Should we give second chances?  I’m thinking this may be a testing ground for students to see what they can get away with.

Maybe being more strict would improve the quality of writing and citing other material. Or maybe we should enforce the idea that it is important to support your claims that you make in your own words and that if you do not support your claims with citations, you are not supporting your argument.

I also feel that many teachers do not follow through with proper citation teaching and enforcement. As a result, the atmosphere for copy-paste grows exponentially. Whenever I suggest to a student that he/she needs to cite their work, they easily become agitated and angry. It becomes a dark cloud filled with frustrations. Even after I explain the importance, have meaningful discussions around it, even the honors-level students criticize the fact that I’m enforcing it. I feel like if the enforcement and support had been consistent through earlier educational experiences, it wouldn’t be such an issue as I’m seeing in high school. Expectations need to be firm from the beginning.

It is important to note that private institutions often have a strict zero-tolerance policy. Students attending expensive schools feel tremendous pressure to do the right thing or risked being expelled from the HS the parents are paying for. I feel like in the public high schools, kids have an obligation to attend. Because school is a requirement, expelling seems out of the question. In this scenario, kids do not flinch at the idea that the worst that could happen to them is be given a warning.

Cheating in the Online Classroom

Venturing into the online teaching world, It will be difficult to detect academic dishonesty without f2f human contact. So to help, Procter suggests that teachers show interest in what students have to say. Ask real questions, use material from current class discussions, be creative with the assignments. In other words, be real. Integrity on the part of the teacher will aid in improving the integrity of the students. In recent research it was determined that there is no statistically significant difference in the level of plagiarism traditional and online institutions (Ison). While the today’s technology tools make it easier, the teacher is ultimately the one to make the difference.

Ison, David C. “Does the Online Environment Promote Plagiarism? A Comparative Study of Dissertations from Brick-and-Mortar versus Online Institutions.” ERAU Scholarly Commons. Department of Graduate Studies World Wide College of Aeronautics, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 10, No. 2, June 2014 n.d. Web. 4 June 2015.

“Deterring Plagiarism: Some Strategies.” Web. 04 June 2015

“Turnitin : Results : Plagiarism Report.”Web. 04 June 2015.

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