Tag Archives: Virtual High School

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 turnitin.com 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. http://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ww-graduate-studies

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


“Turnitin : Results : Plagiarism Report.”Web. 04 June 2015. http://turnitin.com/assets/en_us/media/plagiarism_report.php

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Challenges of Facilitating Online Discussion

exchange-of-ideas-222789_640The most important function of an online facilitator is making comments on discussions. Discussions are not like a checkmark on a paper. Online teachers need to be thoughtful in responses. It is important to engage with students, but not every student all the time. Online educators need to provide them with opportunities to work things out together. The role of the online teacher is to guide the conversations gently by engaging with students and bringing in antidote, and should end posts with thought provoking questions. Another technique is to summarize many posts while choosing some elements of everyone’s posts. This little step celebrates good writing and lets the student know he/she has made impactful statements in his/her discussions.

Of the “roles” of a facilitator (pedagogical, social, managerial and technical) the social roll, I feel, is most important. The student needs to feel like the work is essential to the learning process. If there is a social expectation, then the student will be motivated to do the assignment more than just turning in a paper. The online teacher is not the conveyor of information or “guide on the side”. He/she is the guide to the information. Teachers should not try to be the “expert” as much as a co-learner, one that assimilates information in real time from the perspective of a student. There may be no right answer.

I imagine that at some point discussions could have problems. For example, perhaps at some point the discussion goes the wrong way. Students might try to take advantage and test out the teacher and make general comments based on the discussion but not incorporate the reading. If students miss the point, and try to get out of doing the readings, they might not get the full experience.

In the online article, “Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges”, Errol Sull offers some great tips to help me with my anxieties for working the discussions. These include:

Challenge Solution
conflict in the discussion be an active presence
personal attack or bullying active intervention, single out only positive comments, contact via PM or email
students who do not contribute to discussions pick some of their positive posts to include in summaries or news items, PM or email
plagiarizing other students’ work contact student PM or email, do not leave unnoticed
off track discussions constantly monitor discussions, acknowledge “students’ zeal and excitement” (Sull, 2012) but remind them they are to master the topic
students offering weak posts choose weak posts and show how they can be expanded

I’m excited to teach online next year. I feel like I am going to be reading all discussions, responding to everyone’s posts, and letting VHS consume my life because I really want to be impactful with my teaching. I’m sure that with time I will learn how to regulate that. As with everything we do, experience matters.


Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges, September 2012. Retrieved on May 20th, 2015 from  Facultyfocus.com:

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Are (Online) Teachers in the Classroom Even Necessary?

teacher-403004_640Mike Kalin describes the Khan Academy trend in an NPR radio commentary. He describes the transformation of teaching with the advent of these online teaching tools. He states that teachers are no longer the most important conveyors of content. While online learning may seem dry to someone who has never done it, online experiences can be more engaging than listening to a lecture for 45 minutes. In this electronic realm, teachers act as a curator or facilitator to nurture a classroom environment.

Real teachers are still needed to help students navigate the river of online information. More importantly, teachers try to exemplify the civic virtues we hope to instill. These are curiosity, empathy and integrity. When I think of teachers’ primary roles, I think of the connections I make with students every day.

Technology has not undermined teaching. We need to transform our teaching in order to transform the lives of our students. We can not ignore the potential benefits of online learning, nor can we forget the importance of a real person to keep the experience alive.

How do we educate our children for economic reasons and cultural reasons? In Changing Education Paradigms, Ken Robinson (RSA, 2008) gives an interesting look at the educational system as it has been and what it could potentially include. Some of the concepts described include that ADHD has risen in parallel with increase in standardized testing and the arts are the victim of this. The arts are an aesthetic experience. Anaesthetic, meaning shutting off your senses is what the prescription ADHD drugs are doing. Schools are organized by the industrialized world. It’s about conformity and standardization. Divergent thinking isn’t creativity but an essential capacity for creativity — being able to see multiple answers in multiple ways.

It Takes a Community…

People close to me know I’m not a fan of automated toll booths and self checkouts. I still pay cash on the MassPike, and I will wait in line at the supermarket rather than use the machines. I worry we will lose opportunities for human connections, as subtle as they are. A VHS course won’t automatically teach itself. Kids will always need human connection and role models. As we move toward more and more online learning in schools we need to remember that the human educator is still essential, a valued component to teaching and learning. We can not forget that humans require human connection. As the saying goes, “It takes a community to raise a child.” When we fear new ways of teaching, we need to remember that human connections are essential in raising a child.

Are Teachers in Brick-and-Mortar Schools Even Necessary? 90.0 wbur Boston’s NPR news station, Jan 2014

Robinson, Ken. RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms – 2008  https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=21&v=zDZFcDGpL4U


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I will Never Learn – Examining My Online Teaching Journey


Being a blended teacher for over 15 years, I have been teaching my classes as if they were online classes, always being present as a facilitator to aid in learning. More and more I am able to provide independent studies or second versions of courses. Often these can be offered while another section is meeting or independently in another location. My journey as an online educator has been fueled by my service as a Site Coordinator through VHS Collaborative and having completed the certificate professional development program offered through VHS.

I am presently undergoing the Online Teaching Methodologies (OTM) for VHS, which is a capstone or “student teacher” experience for Online teaching though VHS. I have the opportunity to co-teach a specific content area. I have elected to co-teach Computer Science Honors. This will help me understand the specifics to teaching online.


In an article put out by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) in 2012, it indicated that 27 states have virtual schools. Our school belongs to the VHS Collaborative, a service whereby students take online elective courses in a variety of disciplines. This allows for students to select courses not offered at our regional high school. My students who go through the VHS experience are very grateful for the opportunity. The number of participants increases every year. Online learning is not going away. Training to teach online is the smartest thing I could have done professionally.


vhspicMany criticize online learning as a mode of disconnect, where teachers and students are like machines. In a survey conducted by VHS Collaborative, teachers were asked about their feelings about online learning. “What do you find most striking about the difference between teaching online and face-to-face?”

“…I actually feel like I get to know my students sooner than in traditional teaching.”

Often teachers in a traditional face-to-face classroom will do icebreaker assignments, but sometimes shy students may not speak up; and class time limits make the activity rushed. When students can post lengthy introductions, or when they respond to assignments in a thoughtful way, we begin to learn more about the personalities of our students. It is important to pay attention to our students.

There are some overlaps in characteristics between the virtual and face-to-face teacher and student. A virtual teacher or student needs to be motivated and thorough, I’m thinking almost OCD. A teacher needs to be thorough with responses to student’s discussions. If the students are going to get the most of their VHS class, they are going to need reinforcement from the adult in the room. Every kid needs an “attaboy”.

Here’s a quote from another teacher interview:

“Online teachers have no choice but to be prepared, organized, methodical, and meticulous in their online lesson planning. Similarly, they have no choice but to be accessible, empathetic, timely, and sincere in their online communications.”

These are qualities that start with the teacher. Becoming a teacher, I think this is what you sign up for. My biggest concern is if when I begin teaching online, will it consume my life so much as I begin to neglect other areas. There is no bell. I feel that with my OCD-like personality, I may over do it and get lost in the shuffle. Only time will tell.

Will I ever learn? I’ve taken over 15 online courses while completing my certification in Instructional Technology and online teaching. I’m a creative person who can’t sit still. I need to be constantly tinkering with things. I feel that helps me as a virtual student. I am a self-starter, independent and self-determined. I’m consistently trying to better myself. I am loyal to my priorities, although I’m often stretched thin. I volunteer for everything; I say no to almost no one. Lately, I’ve tried to reign it in. But here I am. Again I am seeking the opportunity to learn how to teach online course which I am certain will mean more work for me. I guess I will never learn.

Read more Fast Facts About Online Learning – NACOL 2012


Quotes provided by VHS Collaborative

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