Redefine Cheating: MOOCs

Recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education,“MOOC Teachers How to Cheat in Online Courses, with Eye to Prevention” brings up the need to redefine cheating and why we need to redefine education. The article talks about an online course (a MOOC) being taught by a Wisconsin professor all about how to “redesign learning environments.”

Let’s hope that’s what he focuses on.

The very last paragraph of the article defines cheating as “It’s meeting at Starbucks and taking a quiz together, or texting a friend….”

Seriously? Isn’t this really collaboration? We need to redefine assessment. Is the quiz about getting a right answer or about thinking through a problem? If it’s a basic multiple choice test, then getting the “right” answers from a friend may be cheating, but working through the problems with another person shouldn’t be.

Our assessments are what is wrong — not the collaboration. Students are by nature social creatures. The world works on teamwork and cooperation. Let’s reward that. Let’s nurture that -not criminalize it by calling it “cheating.” If our assessments rely on basic factual recall or some other simple form of grading to make things easier on the grader, than perhaps THAT is the problem. Not the fact that students collaborate.

I’m taking a MOOC right now. It’s not for credit, so it has a different tone and importance, I grant you that. However, I want to learn the content. I don’t care about my grade on the weekly quizzes. In this set up, you get 3 chances at a quiz. The best score is recorded. Each time to you take it, you have an opportunity to see the explanation for the answers. It doesn’t take much to figure out how to get a perfect score. The first time I took one, I felt horrible for using the answers (given to me) to get a perfect score. Then I thought again. This was about ME learning the content. Not about a grade, not about credit, so I feel no guilt. The questions are straight from the lecture or reading. There is little thought needed to answer them, no critical thinking. Just basic factual recall.

If, however, any online course was designed to give a grade or credit based on this type of quiz, that would be ridiculous. That type of assessment is ridiculous and shouldn’t be used. It is up to the educators to use assessments that are more creative, rely less on the straight factual recall, and demonstrate the ability to think, analyze, problem solve, cooperate, create, translate, etc. Look at the higher thinking skills on Bloom’s taxonomy.

Don’t criticize the students for cheating when you’re basically telling them to.