Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Virtual Education: Is Collaboration akin to Plagiarism?

An earlier conversation involved the question: Is student cheating easier to do in an online education system than in the regular brick and mortar classroom? The rationale for this question is the suggestion that if you can't see the students in an online environment then how do you know that someone else other than the registered student isn't doing the work for them?

It is a good question. In an online environment there needs to be checks and balances. However, is collaboration by students in an online environment always wrong? I would say no depending on what your expectations are for certain assignments that you assign them.
One thing that should be made clear at the start of the assignment is whether or not this assignment offers the opportunity to collaborate with other students. If it does then there should be a mechanism where students may declare that they are working with specific students as their collaborators for that assignment. Also, the students should identify a group leader who will direct the tasks of the group. It should be communicated very clearly what role each participant will play in the group and what skills they have that will enable them to make relevant contributions to the task. The roles described must bring value to the assigned task. Within the group, a digital journal should be kept detailing the contributions made by each student with the understanding that part of their individual assessment will focus on the real and relevant contributions made by them. The collaboration task should be a timed event with the understanding that when time runs out, they will be exited by the task so that no further work can be done on it. Having a count down clock displayed on their desktop would be an effective way to help students track time on task.
The nature of the collaboration task is extremely important. It should not be a task that requires students to simply "cut and paste" information from the Internet. It should be a task that focuses on the the upper levels of thinking( analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and enable students to be innovative as a team. The use of simulations that emphasize the collaborative skills to solve a particular problem is one example where each individual can use his or her specific skills and feel that they have made a valuable contribution to the group and to the solution of the task. Another such task can be one that involves simply confronting the group with a problem that requires skill in mathematics, natural science, physics, geography..etc. As a suggestion, consider a task in which a group is confronted with the decision of climbing Mt Everest or K2. In the planning and decision making for the success of such a mission, we can see elements of mathematics, natural science, physics, geography and even videography that would come to bare on the task. It could also be related to students that the skills each student brings to the collaboration is crucial to the success of the task.
In an online environment, we can incorporate all the tools, multimedia and others, to make the task challenging. Use of such things as YouTube footage, HD graphics and even 3D graphics that can be manipulated  360 degrees of specific mountain areas can capture the minds and hearts of students. The instructor's role in such a collaboration can be to monitor the collaboration and introduce variables into the task at different points to see how the students deal with the changes. For example a variable might be the introduction of a weather event at some point or the need to translate some message that the expedition ground guide might be trying to get across to the climbers.

When we specifically design online collaboration tasks that are clear in their description and challenging enough to have students feel that they are totally immersed in the task, you won't see students that will sit back and let the others do the work. They will feel that their contributions are valued and will see that their contributions led to the successful completion of the task.

I will leave you with a simple question: Is it possible to introduce temporary student collaboration in a quiz situation without compromising the integrity of the quiz?

Next entry deals with the ways different education groups discourage non-sanctioned collaboration in an online environment..

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