Friday, May 14, 2010

Raising the Bar and Beating the Cheaters

This week, I had three separate and intense conversations with other teachers about students plagiarizing sources and copying each others' homework. It's rampant in my school. And what's most alarming to me is that it's not even covert. I see students openly swapping assignments with one another and talking about what's on a given teacher's test.

I am not getting all high and mighty here. Recently one of my student's openly plagiarized from IMDB on a video. The kids were assigned to critique a film they had watched independently. She read plagiarized stuff. When confronted with a zero, she asked me to "cut her some slack" because she had only plagiarized part of the script and besides she has asked a friend for help and he fed her plagiarized stuff. Unbelievable.

As far as I can tell, it's all about gaming the system. The energy is put into finding short cuts and defeating those who would control their lives. It becomes almost second nature (Sparks Notes for any book) and even good-natured. (Everyone does it, so it's ok).

While I hold out no possibility for ridding the educational system of slackers and cheaters (students or adults), I do think that project learning helps to make a lot of this nonsense irrelevant, by placing the focus back on learning something. I've now tried several different projects based on the principles of Apple's Challenge Based Learning. The following elements help to eliminate cheating:

* Set the bar high with a challenge (and keep it up there!)

* Put the students in control of the project.

* Let them set the goals

* Refrain from telling them they "can't" or "shouldn't" unless absolutely necessary.

* Encourage them to think outside of the box.

* Hold your breath and hold them to the goals they set for themselves.

Of course I still get some dead beats, but since the projects are multi-dimensional, cheating provides few short cuts. If they are interviewing experts, producing media, and making a presentation, who exactly are they going to cheat from? But they'll either become engaged or not....and gaming this system is just way too hard for a slacker. And for those who really got into it, the learning is very authentic.

"Mannheim Track Meet" Flickr CC Photo by heraldpost

1 comment:

Tracie said...

I know every teacher struggles with letting go of the reins a bit and letting students do independent projects, but then the plagarism has to be dealt with. It is, unfortunately, a cut-and-paste world. Sadly, I find that many of my students aren't doing this to get out of working. Many are doing this because they think that as long as they cite the source, it's perfectly acceptable to plagarize an entire paper. Copying homework just means that you were "working together," and they really believe that. Just recently, my students had a poster presentation on a disorder of the human body. As I was walking around reading their information, it was clear to me that many had not written the text themselves. Either the wording or the obvious blue underline hyperlinks still in the text were complete give aways. I ended up grading the projects that were obviously student work (even if the writing wasn't that good) much higher just to prove a point. I almost wonder if they realize that doing the cut and pasting allows them to learn nothing about their topic. I really think it's an institutional flaw in school itself. I get far more questions about "What can I do to raise my grade?" then "What can I do to understand this better."
I am excited about incorporating some challenge based projects into my curriculum next year. I really want to find a way to engage my students in learning in a way that is entirely their efforts and allows me to grade them are their competency in the subject matter, not their ability to shuffle paper or go through the motions of school.

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