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Posts Tagged ‘cheating

Somehow this, AI Is Making It Extremely Easy for Students to Cheat, is still news. That is because some of us have been schooled to think a certain way.

The AI in question is Wolfram|Alpha, a tool that can help students solve mathematics problems, amongst many others. Traditionalists might consider this cheating because students let the tool do the heavy lifting.

My response is this: What is a tool for if not to make a task more efficient and/or effective?

Some of us might be old enough to recall when math teachers did not want students to use calculators because they feared students would become lazy. Two hundred years ago, some people worried about students preferring to wrote on paper (see tweet below). Travel back further in time and being able to read on your own was cheating because you did not need a lecturer to read for you.

Technology has been feared and reviled through the ages because it represents change (click the image below for full size). The changes are in mindsets, attitudes, and behaviours. People like the idea of change, but not the processes of change itself.

What schools call cheating the rest of the world calls cooperating or collaborating. For example, you cannot consult your neighbour during a typical written exam. However, you can — and might be expected to — consult colleagues around you at work.

The creator of Wolfram|Alpha reportedly designed the tool to pull users through such a shift in thinking:

“Mechanical math,” Wolfram argues, “is a very low level of precise thinking.” Instead, Wolfram believes that we should be emphasizing computational thinking—something he describes as “trying to formulate your thoughts so that you can explain them to a sufficiently smart computer.” This has also been called computer-based math. Essentially, knowing algebra in today’s technology-saturated world won’t get you very far, but knowing how to ask a computer to do your algebra will. If students are making this shift, in his mind, they’re just ahead of the curve.

Wolfram|Alpha could be a more significant development than Google or YouTube. All help us when we have a problem that we can boil down to questions. Google and YouTube are broad spectrum in that they give us many returns. Wolfram|Alpha is more razor focused and cuts to the chase by providing specific answers.

Wolfram|Alpha does not take away our need to think. It helps us focus on better ways to think, e.g., strategic decision-making, instead of mundane mechanics. Wolfram|Alpha does what technology does best and allows us to think to our best.

Once upon a time, being educated meant learning from a limited pool of experts and a relatively shallow body of knowledge. We had to recall and recite to prove that the information had been transmitted and was embedded as replicated knowledge.

I reflected on this a few days ago: From 5000 BCE to 2007, the estimated amount of information stored by the human race was 300 exabytes; in 2013, that data had grown to 1,200 exabytes. In just six years (2007-2013), the human race created four times as much information as several thousand years before. That “once upon a time” now reads like a fairy tale because the amount of information we have collectively generated makes this old school thinking impractical.

We need to learn how to leverage on the technology of today and tomorrow. This starts with unschooling ourselves that technology is always bad and makes us lazy or stupid. That is the lazy and stupid thinking that perpetuates fear and ignorance.

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Victorian mindmapped man. by LukePDQ, on Flickr
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A teacher laments that we have a problem when she finds out that a student cheated on a class assignment. I agree with that teacher, but not in the way you might expect.

The complaint and the rest of the story is told at Teachers Put to the Test by Digital Cheats. (Many thanks to @hychan_edu for sharing this.)

While the article says that the problem lies with students (the erosion of values that comes with ease of access to information), I think that is only half the story. The missing half is the problem that lies with teachers.

If you set questions that a student can Google answers to, the problem is yours. You set the wrong type of question. If a student would use Google in real life, why would s/he hesitate in the classroom context?

If you set a complex question that a student can get a complex answer to thanks to an answer mill AND you have no idea that this happens, you have a problem. But in this case I agree that the student has a problem too.

You cannot just blame the cases of cheating on the ease of access students have to resources and to each other. This is the world we live in. As technology evolves, behaviours change and so do some values. One teacher acknowledged this:

What the educator needs to do is adapt to the age of technology and change the question… Maybe what (students) are learning should change. Maybe how they’re learning should change. Now the challenge to me is to match that technology and say what I’m doing needs to change.

Not maybe. Definitely!

I think the deeper problem lies with the mindsets of teachers and students.

I think some teachers do not recognize that they are setting bad questions and/or not keeping with the times.

There will be an erosion of student values if teachers do not go beyond talk to walk. Talk example: Plagiarism is wrong and this is why. Walk example: I caught you cheating and this is what is going to happen. Another walk example: I was tempted to plagiarize but this is what I did instead and why I did it.

I am not absolving kids of the blame. I am saying that they are a product of their environment and their nurturing. We, as adults, shape both.

The other interesting thing about the article was right at the end. The author mentioned that the root of the cheating could also be attributed to the need to do well in tests:

Anderman, the Ohio State researcher, said one thing has been proven to cut down on cheating, but installing it would require a sharp cultural change in an educational system that is placing ever more importance on test results.

“The bottom line in our research is pretty simple,” he said. “Where teachers are really emphasizing the test, you’re more likely to get cheating. When teachers are emphasizing the learning more than the test, you get less cheating.”

Recently I read an article on SlashGear titled Cheating is Institutional. Like most articles on cheating, its emphasis is on student cheating.

I have a ready reply: Are teachers cheating their students? Or I thought I did because that was a magazine article I wrote last year. But since I was not given a final PDF version, I am providing my own sans magazine layout [cheating].

The author of the SlashGear article pointed out that students cheat because it was an easier way out. I don’t think this always is the case when you consider some of effort some of them put into cheating!

Furthermore, most students are in rehash and remix mode. They have not have taught to see the lines that divide plagiarism, fair use, acknowledgment, citation, etc. This is where the SlashGear author and I converge in our thinking: If we as educators don’t model and teach these concepts, we actually cheat our students.


RSS feeds delivered these useful resources. I am putting them online as I also use my blog as idea cloud that I can revisit.

Online teaching tips

Do students cheat more in online classes? Maybe not.

Student “learning styles” theory is bunk

After reading Larry Magid’s article on the NECC yesterday, I decided to see what else he had written. One article titled Kids cheating with tech but are schools cheating kids? caught my eye.

He started by revealing some statistics on how kids were using cell phones to cheat in school. He then went on to ask if schools were cheating students by not allowing them to use technologies that would help them now and in their future. He even wondered out loud if phones could be used in tests.

This, of course, resonated with me. But rather than say what I always say, I’ll quote a librarian that Magid cited:

“We can’t teach 21st century literacy and assess with 19th century methodology. We have to look at what we really need students to be able to do when they leave us” and we must ask, “What is my student learning outside of school and how can I get them just as engaged?”

To the point. Nail on the head. Bull’s eye.

I think that in future when I talk to teachers and principals or when I conduct workshops, I’ll ask them: Are you cheating your kids?

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