Monday, July 2, 2012

Can you cheat in a MOOC?

Attribution Some rights reserved by cogdogblog
The explosion of net-based learning and in particular so-called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) with thousands of students participating online for free has of course inspired many writers to warn against the dangers of cheating and plagiarism. Of course there are few control mechanisms in massive online courses and the whole concept is based very much on trust and mutual respect. However since MOOCs are voluntary, informal and do not lead to regular university credits the issue of cheating on such a course would seem rather irrelevant. Who are you cheating on such a course? What is the point of cheating?

This is the topic of a good blog post by Debbie Morrison, Cheating in a MOOC - an oxymoron. The point is that since MOOCs are all about informal learning and not about the pursuit of grades there is no hard currency worth cheating for.

"You can’t cheat in a MOOC. Well let me clarify, you can cheat while completing an auto-scored quiz or exam, or on an essay that might be peer reviewed, but it’s pointless. In this instance cheating does not serve any purpose. The courses are free, you can’t earn college credit, and are not part of a credential [at this point]. Furthermore MOOCs depend upon the learner being self-motivated, to learn for the sake of learning."

Cheating in such an environment is a bit like cheating in a hobby like bird watching. You can claim to have seen all sorts of rare species but the only way to gain real credibility is to be able to prove it, by showing photos or being able to describe in detail the distinguishing features of the bird you have seen. In bird watching it is essential that other people in the same geographical area also see the bird. You need evidence and witnesses.

In the most collaborative MOOCs (ie those run by Siemens, Downes, Cormier and co) there is constant interaction and whatever you post will be read and reviewed by other participants. If you cheat you will probably be revealed sooner or later. It may well be harder to cheat in this type of learning arena since it builds on reflection and debate rather than on clear-cut answers.

However, as soon as hard currency credentials are at stake some people will always be tempted to take short cuts. MOOCs are popular because participation is driven by internal motivation. Do we automatically pollute them if we introduce external motivators into the mix?

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