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2013 July 30

What online education cannot teach

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 00:05
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In response to yesterday’s MOOC Roundup, one of my fellow faculty members sent me a pointer to an article by Jennifer M. Morton in The Chronicle of Higher Education that was just published today: Unequal Classrooms: What Online Education Cannot Teach.  I would have included the article in the roundup, if it had come out a little earlier.  Here is a paragraph from the middle of the article:

MOOCs would seem like a promising way to increase access to education for those who cannot afford the steep price of a liberal-arts education. And indeed, my students often end up sitting in crowded lecture halls being lectured at by a professor who doesn’t even know their names—as is the case for many students across the country. Many of my students also work, some full time, or have families of their own, and they struggle to fulfill the course requirements for graduation. However, the adoption of online education by large public universities threatens to harm the very students for whom a college education is an essential leg up into the middle class.

Prof. Morton makes a point that several other skeptics of MOOCs have made—that a big chunk of college is the interaction in the classroom (between students as well as between faculty and students), and that is mostly missing from MOOCs.  For students from poverty-stricken communities, college may be the only place to learn the “practical skills to navigate middle-class institutions”, and MOOCs deprive them of this learning.  The learning may not be an explicit part of the curriculum of the colleges, but it is implicit in the use of a college degree as a ticket into the middle class.

While I do not regard social mobility as a primary goal of college education, for many people that is the main justification for public universities.  It seems a bit unlikely that MOOC-based education will serve that purpose well, even if it manages to convey curricular content adequately (which has not yet been convincingly shown either).

2010 November 25

Comments on “The Shadow Scholar”

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 00:09
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The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article titled “The Shadow Scholar” , purportedly by a writer who makes his living selling papers for students to turn in as their own. This sort of cheating has a long history, but has gotten easier with the greater ease of communication and search that the Internet provides.  It is now very easy for a lazy student (with money) to find someone to do their work for them.  Because they can draw on unethical writers from all over the world, it is unlikely that they will accidentally purchase a document that the professor will recognize as having seen before.  (I suspect that most term paper services are even less ethical than the Shadow Scholar, who claims to have created custom documents for each client, and will resell the same paper repeatedly for any assignment that it comes close to matching.)

In my classes, I’ve never graded a paper that I thought had been purchased.  Most of the papers I read seem to be in the voice of the student submitting them, and usually have direct connection to things done in class, making them hard to fake from a distance.  I do have occasional problems with students plagiarizing from the Web, but even there the problem is more often one of inadequate citation than of deliberate attempt to deceive about authorship.

Many edubloggers have commented on the shadow-scholar article. For example, Mark Guzdial is concerned that

It’s even easier to cheat with code, since there are fewer degrees of freedom.  My guess is that cheating as he describes [it] is even more prevalent in computer science.

Cheating in beginning programming courses is certainly a common problem, but there are some good programs available for detecting submissions that are suspiciously similar to other submissions (from the same or previous years).  I know that the computer science department at our university routinely checks the submissions in the beginning programming classes, and flunks some students for cheating every year.  No matter how many times students are warned both of the high probability of being caught and of the serious consequences of getting caught, there are always idiots who think they are immune.  (They are usually the stupidest, most ego-centric students, so the University is better off catching them early and throwing them out.)

I found Katrin Becker’s comments interesting also:

There are also people I know personally who conveniently look the other way when students (especially their own) produce work that is suspiciously good. One colleague of mine has theorized that fully 1 in 5 faculty members got to where they are now through some form of plagiarism.
1 in 5.
The corporatization of Higher Ed is a significant influence. When everything becomes about money then everything acquires a price tag.

Personally, I doubt that there are that many plagiarists among the faculty, but I do agree that the attempt to make a college education into a commodity has resulted in loss of integrity among students.  Many feel that the large fees they pay for their education entitles them to good grades and a degree, independent of what they actually manage to do.  Many politicians support this view, rewarding universities for having high retention and large percentages of entering students graduating within 4 years.

Some students should not be retained, some should not graduate. Getting a degree from college should not just be a matter of putting in seat time and paying tuition for 4 years.  (Of course, graduating from high school or elementary school should also not just be a matter of putting in seat time, but I fear that battle was lost decades ago.)

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