August 20, 2012

Would You Plagiarize Even If It Didn't Count for a Grade or Credit?

PCCC will be introducing Turnitin.com this academic year as a way to help student learn about proper citation of sources, and as a way for faculty to more easily and accurately detect plagiarism in student work. So, I found it interesting that an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education says that there have been "Dozens of Plagiarism Incidents Reported in Coursera's Free Online Courses by students even though the courses carry no credit.

Students cheating even when the stakes are low? What are we to conclude?

Eric S. Rabkin, a U. of Michigan professor who teaches a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), posted to his 39,000 students that he wanted them to stop plagiarizing. The people at Coursera (who offer the course) are reviewing the issue and will consider adding plagiarism-detection software in the future.

What is interesting is that in the Coursera humanities courses that have complaints, the complaining has come from other students. The courses use peer grading and each student is asked to grade and offer comments on fellow students.

I am happy that a student says "I just graded my second batch of peer essays and was saddened to find one of them was lifted from Wikipedia" because it means that he is being educated about plagiarism from the other side of the desk, and that he does not approve of it. But I am also surprised that he is surprised that it occurs. The article goes on to say that many students (in the online discussion) "expressed surprise that their peers would resort to fraudulent behavior in a noncredit course."

Is that what they find surprising - not the plagiarism but it occurring in a non-credit course? (Students who complete a course can get a certificate showing that but the courses do not count for credit at any university.)

Coursera is a company that partners with some top universities to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free but without credit. Learning for the sake of learning.

Of course, as soon as MOOCs came into being, faculty were immediately skeptical (most still are) and one question asked was "Who will monitor and grade the work of thousands of students?"  Quality control is certainly an issue, as it has been for decades in online courses of any size.

We will see what changes occur. Perhaps, students will be able to take MOOCs from a source outside their college, but will be tested and evaluated on what they have learned by their own college and awarded credit based on that evaluation.

Plagiarism is a very old academic issue. Academic integrity in online courses has been an issue for about 40 years. MOOCs have inherited those issues, but are so new that they have not had to really address them as of yet.

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