Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dealing With Non-Sanctioned Collaboration in Online Education

In the last post I suggested that online collaboration among students can be quite productive if the tasks presented to the students gave each person the opportunity to use their personal skills to make meaningful and real contributions to the team's task. How these tasks are designed are key to fostering the right perceptions of the students that what they are doing enriches their education.

Having stated the above does not mean that a course should have an over abundance of collaboration built into but instead should be one of a variety of measures that challenge and inspire students to give their best. The other measures should make use of the tools that are available on the web. They should not be the result of transferring  what is done in the brick and mortar classroom  into an online environment. This might be expedient and comfortable for those who have a background in the brick and mortar schools but it lacks imagination and students will be the first to say so.

Students, being as fallible as their teachers, are still going to put this type of lesson design to the test. Non-sanctioned collaboration is one of those tests that students will use to see if this system is for real or whether it just another experiment that people are not really serious about in which students are the guinea pigs. Therefore, an online education system needs to have built into it counter-measures that meet such challenges as non-sanctioned collaboration.

One example of an online school that uses counter-measures is the Virtual High School based in Bayfield, Ontario, Canada. To counter non-sanctioned collaboration, there are some preliminary understandings that educators have that Virtual high School(VHS) has stressed:

First, the responsibility for guarding against this type of challenge rests with the course designer, the department heads, the teachers and the administration of the school. It is a shared responsibility. The course designer has the responsibility of building a course that satisfies the expectations of education ministries, students and parents. The course designer should be guided by the vision of online education that sees students not just as learners of what there is but also architects of new knowledge and skills of what can be. The school does not ask students to purchase textbooks and its courses are not videotaped lessons. Instead, the course designers have designed the courses to be interactive, to make use of all the potential tools and multimedia available on the Internet in such away as to stimulate thoughtful engagement in what the students are learning. Designing high quality, interactive and thoughtful lessons using tools that students see as making use of the online environment is a first step towards taking away any inclination that a student may have towards taking short cuts.
Teachers have the responsibility of communicating with students often. Some teachers have used You Tube introductions to allow students to put a face to their teacher. If there appears to be a discrepancy in the work produced, it is understood by the student that a random interview using Skype can be required in which the department head or instructor can interview the student about the piece of work in question or in fact any assignment completed by the student.

Secondly, the nature of the course might emphasize such qualities as:
  • assignments that are weighted appropriately (too heavy and the pressure is too great, too little and they don't have value)
  • assignments that build on skills learned in previous assignments. This discourages the online tendency that some students have to "cherry pick" assignments. To do this in a course such as World History could be disastrous for a student due to the cause and effect nature of historical events.
  • assignments that require students to do self-reflection. The use of "what-if" scenarios using the tools of the Internet can lead to very thoughtful results. The use of online simulations where your decisions affect the outcome of the simulation also engage the student in a thoughtful and immersive experience. At the end of such an experience it is important to have post simulation discussion where the student has the opportunity to be innovative in suggesting updates or alternative scenarios to the one in the simulation.
  • assignments that require students to find and use unique and time sensitive resources to address a problem.
This school has also suggested some tell-tale signs for detecting collaboration. Some of these signs are:
  • exceptionally high marks
  • submitting assignments all at once or completing quizzes all at once
  • moving through the course very quickly
  • inconsistent writing style between correspondence with teacher and writing within assignments
  • not "showing work" and/or using methodology/terminology not yet used in the course.
  • discrepancy in marks between assignments, tests and exam.
These ideas are in addition to having a three level response to plagiarism by a student.
Is their system perfect? Of course not! However, they are still evolving their practices within an online environment. They do describe some of their ideas in their own YouTube channel

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