Monday, January 20, 2014

Cheating, Learning, Being - Week 1 summation

The cone of silence ;-)
In most cMOOCs I attempt to go back and respond to fellow participant's posts after something has provoked some thoughts.  If I am less busy, I tend to blog more, if I am more busy, I tend to leave more comments.  I guess this semester I am sort of in-between ;-)

In any case, from week 1 of the #rhizo14 MOOC here are some things that have piqued my interest:

From Jenny comes to the following quote:
For me, learning isn’t so much about what we do – cheating or otherwise – but more about who we are and who we become – and as such is associated with ethical and moral dimensions. Does living in a digitally networked world, a world of rhizomatic learners change what we commonly understand to be the basic moral principles that govern behaviour between learners?
This was quite interesting, and something that made the gears in my head turn. If I had to discuss learning, especially the learning that happens in MOOCs, I would say that learning is about transformation rather than reciting facts.  Jenny phrased it quite well!  The whole ethical and moral dimension, on the other hand I wasn't expecting and it brought me back to one of my MBA courses, business ethics to be more specific, and some previous undergraduate philosophy courses which I really didn't appreciate until I was well into my 3rd masters degree ;-) So, the big question, is this: are there basic moral principles that govern our behavior? Or is all morality and ethics something that is societal and it depends from society to society and from group to group?  This is train of thought connected with something Chadi wrote (as part of his blog):
I do not agree with Dave on the fact that cheating is weapon for succeeding and that cheating is the same thing as rule breaking. I believe that there is a great difference between cheating and rule breaking as a weapon. Cheating, in my sense, has this surreptitious aspect.. When somebody cheats, he does not want that to be known by others.. He feels that he is doing something bad, not because he is breaking the rules, but because he is doing something bad or something wrong !! When this somebody breaks some rules knowing that what he is doing is not bad, he will not be doing it secretly. Cheating is bad, because it is done clandestinely ! When you break rules for the sake of the society or the whole universe, you will do it so openly that you want every body to know about it!
Well, first I guess that I would have to disagree that someone doesn't want to be known when he cheats.  Some people just "get off" on the thrill of getting caught, so they might want some people to know in order to increase the difficulty of the task (if we think about it in game terms). But, even if we assume that they want to keep it a secret because of some sort of shame, I think it's important to keep in mind that cheating is defined by those in power, and in this case the instructor of the course, or the instructional designer(s) who designed the course. If a course A is collaborative in nature, and is designed with that affordance in mind, but Student X comes from a culture where if you don't know, you don't admit it, and you work harder at "getting it" on your own.  That cultural mind set is in opposition of the class mindset, and as such, even if the student collaborates, he may not admit to others that he collaborated because they are not part of that learning environment and they may not understand that certain behaviors are quite alright within those contexts.

As a side note to this rule-based discussion, if certain rules are preventing meaningful learning from taking place, those rules need re-examining. For instance, if we take a look at a education at a macro level, in a recent program directors meeting I went to, the issue of advanced standing came up (i.e. if you are in a doctoral program and you come into it with an MA or MS in the discipline, should you be able to way x-many credits).  There were a few who were for advanced standing, and others who were against because they felt that students were double-dipping and counting MA work toward their PhD.  That said, with many colleagues that I've discussed the issue, they seem to feel like the sanctity of any PhD or EdD program lies with the number of credits required rather than the student output.  As such, we have an arms race to show that we require more than others. 

Have a look at Harvard's new PhD in Education program (requirements here) for example. Minimum 16 courses, Lab, Structured Reading Time (as if we're not adults and can't possibly do exam prep on our own), a general comprehensive exam and a qualifying paper before you are even allowed to submit a proposal. Now, I may be naive, but I thought that people undertook doctoral students so that they could learn how to research, and be vetted independent researchers. This entire circus, seems to me, like a misunderstanding of what the doctoral degree embodies. Tying this back into our own practice at my own school, why not let doctoral students figure out their own paths and ways through this, after all, this is what they will have to do in real life. This reliance on the credit hour as validation seems wrong - and if we were being honest, we wouldn't try to "cheat" the system by counting our MA credits as part of PhD work, we would be honest about the fact that education is a continuous stream of learning, and that we ought to design learning experience and learning environments with that, and educational outcomes, in mind. No cheating - just sensible thinking.

Tying into this, in a somewhat roundabout way, I came across a post by George Siemens, on learning as vulnerability (which is odd since I subscribe to his blog), here is an excerpt:
Learning is vulnerability. When we learn, we make ourselves vulnerable. When we engage in learning, we communicate that we want to grow, to become better, to improve ourselves. When I first started blogging, I had a sense of fear with every post (“did that sound stupid?”), loss of sleep soul-searching when a critical comment was posted, and envy when peers posted something brilliant (“wow, why didn’t I think of that?”). When a student posts an opinion in a discussion forum or when someone offers a controversial opinion – these are vulnerability-inducing expressions.
This was an interesting read, I encourage you to go read the whole thing (it's only a few paragraphs). I'd also like to add that teaching is also potentially a vulnerability - the expectation that we have that our professors or instructors are all knowing is something potentially crippling. We have people who are the sage on the stage because it potentially cuts people off.  If one monopolizes (filibuster?) the airtime in any given face to face class, then they can't be shown to not know and lose face in front of the class.  Sure, that's potentially one way to look at it, but I can see the professor on a pedestal being a setup for broken expectations.  No one person is the font of knowledge for any given topic.  Everyone prepares for their lectures, and refreshes their minds of what they read. Heck, they even read new things to infuse their lectures with up-to-date materials.  That said, it's OK to say "I don't know" and figure out ways in which students and teachers can cooperate to solve issues, rather than say "let me look it up" and provide the answer neatly wrapped up.

From my own perspective (George's post was about Doctoral students), it's not the going back to school that concerns me as a potential doctoral student, after all, I don't think I've left school, after my last masters I've been neck-deep in MOOCs! What concerns me is the long process of getting there and the potential capriciousness of certain advisors.  I've heard the horror stories from colleagues about advisors.  Couple that with the example of Harvard (and schools like it that just try to pack in everything and the kitchen sink), and students feel that they've made an intellectual investment (if not also a financial one), and if they come up with such an advisor, do they stick up for their beliefs, and risk extending an already long doctoral process? Or do they see which way the wind blows and just go with it. If you've already spent 3 years preparing to get a dissertation proposal stage, do you want to give up on all that coursework.  This is why I like the European model: you have a topic, you do your literature review, and you propose your topic to potential advisors.  They like it, you're in.  Done.  Sure, there are far more limited spaces for PhDs in European schools, but this just brings us back to think about the point of the PhD.

Coming back to the idea of cheating, from Cathleen's blog, we find that TurnItIn considers remixing and mash-ups unoriginal (via Clint Lalonde).  This is a major facepalm moment.  Scare tactics from a vendor whose business model is predicated on propagating the cheating boogie man.  I saw their presentation when I was working at my library job a number of years ago and I disliked their presentation and business model, i.e. profiting from student's work in the system to check for plagiarism while they were collecting massive amounts of student data.  It's their job to look for for boogie men everywhere because that's how they peddle their wares.  This aspect of attribution is really ironic because it reminds me of my own experience with wikipedia.  I was editing the entry for the village I grew up in when I lived and Greece and the wikipedia folks removed my edits because of lack of sources. Apparently my own first hand accounts from my own lived experience were not good enough, but oral history research is still valued in our fields.

Finally, one of the things that came up in this MOOC, as well as in readings that had been accumulating in Pocket, is that MOOCs have been seen as the savior for higher education.  I think the savior of higher education is not MOOCs, and have said this for quite some time.  MOOCs were not "invented" for this reason. The reason we have a crisis in higher education is because K-16 is now seen as compulsory, even though it's not legislated as such, and it's not really funded like we have in K-12, so people go into massive amounts of debt to get their degrees to get a job. But, the truth is that not every job requires a four year degree. Our universities are (were?) set-up for mentor-mentee relationships but with the rush to make degrees pre-requisites for jobs, the amounts of students entering is outpacing the available resources, making the existing model not feasible.  Really thinking about the point of higher education and adjusting accordingly will be a way to save higher education, not MOOC and exploitative adjunct lecturer hiring practices that make for an academic elite (those tenured and doing business as usual) and the academic under-class (those adjuncts paid poorly to teach as many courses as they may be assigned).

With that, we end week 1.  Any thoughts?


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