HOWTO fight cheating by promoting authentic learning

Discuss

55 Responses to “HOWTO fight cheating by promoting authentic learning”

  1. Rob Hobson says:

    You know, it’s funny: I was re-reading Stalky and Co t’other day and this brings me back to that section where the sadistic Latin master bemoans “reading solely for marks”.

    I wonder if this will ever be a realistic aim. I look back now and am inexpressibly grateful for the education, which cost rather more than my parents could afford, that I received. And what a burden it seemed at the time. Even literature, my favourite subject by a factor of twelve gazillion, didn’t really get a chance. I couldn’t possibly love Lear or Austen the way I do now, because I had to read them.

    Still, let’s live in hope.

  2. liquidstar says:

    If I had to do it all over again;  (*shudders)  I d cheat like a bastard.  I need to learn more about cheating.

    • penguinchris says:

      Yeah, I think if I had to do it all over again there would be a lot more cheating involved too. Even though I was one of the “smart kids”, it took me a long time to realize that the “smart kids” who also got top grades were all cheating. I was mostly honest in high school and college, and so never excelled academically (on paper), though I was well above average ;)

      I’m not sure if most people realize that the people at the top of the class (including those studious Asians) are all cheating beyond belief, with very few exceptions.

  3. jdollak says:

     In 5th grade, my social studies class – for the entire year – was a memorization of US states and capitals, Canadian provinces and capitals, then the rest of the nations and capitals for the rest of the world.  I quickly learned that it was worth cheating for the class.  There was no other content to learn.

    • Mister44 says:

       The state capitals are easy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNUDDaEOvuY

      The only test I ever cheated on was memorizing the counties of Kansas. I had a business card sized  map that I got from a lady running for office at a county fair. I thought it was neat, and 2 years later it was perfect to get that test out of the way. I was an A student so no one found it fishy.

  4. hakuin says:

    parents who demand standardized testing and “measurable” rote learning also instill a culture of cheating in their children at home.  Count on it.

  5. David Yoon says:

    One of my favorite teachers taught Calculus at Fountain Valley High School, early ’90′s. Forgot his name: Burke? Burkel?

    Anyway: he would always present new math concepts in the context of “if you learn this thing, then you can do this cool thing later down the line.” He sat down among us at our level, hand drawing on an ancient OHP (look it up, kids) while wondering out loud what potential applications of formulas could be. If there were a tedious part of Calculus, he would openly sympathize: yeah factorials are weird, but let’s power through it so we can get to matrices, which are actually really cool.

    He offered us coffee, brought in donuts now and then, and would kindly commiserate about the bleary mental haze of early Monday mornings. He would even ask our input on what we’d like to see on our tests and finals with a supercool “you know, just to get these school administration bean counters off my back” attitude.

    He taught with the assumption that we’d all get A’s anyway—and with that formality aside we were able to relax and focus on learning. I’m pretty sure we all wound up getting A’s without even realizing it.

  6. Daneel says:

    My A-level Physics teacher definitely taught to the the exam. At the time it felt to me that we’d missed a lot from the curriculum, but everything that came up in the exams, we’d covered.

    I think this sort of thing is at least partially why my university had open-book finals (at least it was used as the justification – to test our understanding of the subject, rather than seeing if we could memorize the required method for the exam questions – but I suspect it was really because it lead to us all getting better marks).

    More positively…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2012/feb/16/why-i-go-to-other-lectures?newsfeed=true

  7. My kids go to a school where the staff pretty much ignores the standardized tests. They still take them, but they don’t do any preparation and quickly move on after the test is over.

    They have the highest science test scores in the state, good reading & writing scores, and OK (and rapidly improving) math scores. Moreover, the scores get relatively better in the later grades & with kids who have been in the program longer. Perhaps one of the secrets to high standardized test scores is (gasp) learning, rather than teaching to the test.

  8. bengee says:

    Most schools teach fake skills for jobs and lives that don’t exist; why would anyone be upset that the students would fake their participation?

    Cheating in apprenticeships is much rarer.

    • I love (to hate) the story about how school bells are modeled after factory shift bells. They still have school bells, right?

      • Mister44 says:

         Don’t worry – we barely have any factory jobs left. :o/

      • snowmentality says:

         They have electronic beeps played over the intercom.

        The high school I went to still had physical bells in the hallways, but they weren’t used. Occasionally something would go wrong and they’d start ringing at a completely random time.

      • thezarray says:

        Wouldn’t they just make one kind of bell because it’s cheaper to do it that way? Like there’s just one bell factory selling bells across the country?

        My (combined) elementary/middle school used a modified PA+phone system so that the ‘bell’ was that wobbly kind of tele ring from the big desk business phones. So one time someone hit the wrong button and a bit of a phone conversation was broadcast across the school; it was probably only like 3 seconds of something terribly mundane but I distinctly remember everyone was all rilled up for the rest of the day and the teacher had such an uphill climb.

        My highschool on the other hand had a mono-tone bleep that reminded me of a massively slowed down runner’s start, and some others that were supposed to have some meaning but were so rarely used they just ended up making the PA announcements anyways.
        Both places were built/remodeled in the 90′s 

  9. If you want to breed cheating, just make school funding a function of performance on standardized tests, and the administration will make sure cheating happens, no help from the students at all.

    Whoops! That’s exactly how it’s done, isn’t it? No wonder our schools are in trouble.
    https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=cheating+on+standardized+tests

  10. DewiMorgan says:

    Forcing people to learn skills they have no interest and aptitude in promotes cheating just as much as, or more than, testing them on what they learned at the end.

    I’ve a friend in the University of Texas, Austin. Language is a requirement for her sociology degree. She has little interest or aptitude in learning other languages. But, she doesn’t cheat, so she has failed that year three times.

    She has a deep interest in and knowledge of sociological issues. But what the HELL does Latin or French or Spanish have to do with sociology?

    But it’s worse than that: people are being presented with rote facts without being taught how to learn those facts.

    And any subject which is taught by rote is guaranteed to be replaced by a pocket-sided gizmo by the time you graduate. Calculators; Google; translating phones.

    If people were allowed to learn the things that deeply interested them, then they would end up being better educated on the stuff that bores them, just by osmosis, because learning would be fun, than they currently are by being forced to learn stuff they don’t want.

    • autark says:

      language teaching is almost always horrible… the science of grammar, verbs presented as lists of conjugations, odd presentations of vocabulary as “regular”, “irregular” and gender forms that have almost no pattern… nobody learned their first language this way!

      I also thought I had no aptitude for languages when I was in school, then I learned how to acquire languages only by listening and now I love learning new words.  Focus on cognates and learn words from the ground up, the way a child does, and you’ll be speaking in no time.  If schools would focus on this technique and come back to grammar and rules *after* the student is comfortable speaking the language, mastery would come a lot easier for many more people (just like it does for most native speakers).

      • Marja Erwin says:

        I love languages. But I have a lot of trouble with languages. I’m not that great with my first language, English, and I’ve put an immense amount of effort into trying to learn other languages, and have never really succeeded.

        I fear sometimes the schools demand what some of us can’t give. So they demand certain handwriting techniques, and two-handed typing techniques, and I don’t have the coordination for either, and I got berated and graded down and so on for this. And I’m glad they teach foreign languages, because they’re so fascinating, but not all of us are wired to learn languages so easily, and I wish they would teach earlier so more people could still learn them.

    • kairos says:

      echo(autark)

      Everyone has an ‘aptitude’ for learning languages, it’s a basic human skill; people all over the world pick up second and third languages out of necessity and without formal training all the time. It’s a peculiarly American notion that ‘foreign language learning’ requires a special (and more than somewhat suspiciously useless and un-American) natural gift.

      The fact is, academic language-learning is just shitty, broadly inasmuch as the assembly-line model of ‘education’ does the most damage to skills and practices which are otherwise the most natural, intuitive, and enjoyable. Tell your friend to torrent Rosetta Stone and find some Italian sociology student interested in learning English online. She’ll be up to speed in no time. (and Italian is a wonderfully fun language to speak, too)

      PS – How could learning other languages NOT be related to sociology? Societies construct themselves in constant, diverse linguistic interaction determined in all sorts of heterogeneous ways by their historical and conceptual background. The entire world isn’t secretly thinking in English and using weird other languages when speaking just to annoy Americans. Except the Czechs, whom I am convinced are all secret polyglots with a very perverse national sense of humor.

      • Marja Erwin says:

        No matter how much effort I’ve put in, I’ve only learned one language, and that one with difficulty. So to say that learning more languages is a basic human skill feels pretty damn dehumanizing.

        Not all of us can do the things the schools take for granted, or took for granted when I was in school. I wish I could speak more languages. I wish I could read facial expressions. I wish I could run a mile without my asthma choking me. I can’t.

        • kairos says:

          Excuse me, I honestly apologize for the turn of phrase. Archaehuman? Or perhaps we could reserve ‘anthropic’ for the neurotypical strand of epiphylogenetics. Though on the other hand, I could go with calling the autist – and other neuroalternates, among whom I count myself for various reasons – ‘abhuman’ or ‘parahuman’ or something similar and not mean it as an insult, as I’ve been making a quite brutal effort lately to eradicate anthropocentrism from my thought.

          PS – Definitely could’ve fooled me, though – at least the work put into English was clearly well-spent.

          • kairos says:

            PPS – Have you ever worked with constructed languages at all? I was toying the other day with the idea that constructing a language-system adapted to the differences in autistic cognition, through collaboration between autists and language-oriented non-autists, could form the basis for a sort of community-level, non-pathologizing ‘treatment’ [sic] for the various challenges posed by cognitive divergence, at least for those with enough integrative closure (‘higher function’) to currently attempt language-learning.

          • Marja Erwin says:

             I don’t know if I’m Aspie or not, I just have a lot in common with some Aspies I’ve known. I messed about with Laadan at one point – trying to translate things into the language – but there were certain ideas that didn’t fit into the language.

        • Dee says:

          Don’t know about the other things, but the language learning ain’t your fault, nor your brain’s.

          Since when were grammar drills, vocab lists and stilted dialogue the way any human brain is built to learn language?

          You seem to have learned your first language well enough.  You can speak, you can type, you can understand and respond.

          So why does academia insist on trying – and failing so very often – to teach new languages with methods and materials that don’t work because they don’t fit the human brain?

          You could try Birkenbihl’s Method as exemplified by SpeakEZLanguages.com and PimsleurApproach.com.

          …But why not engage with a person or a community, or better yet, travel to a place where speaking and understanding your new target language is facilitated in the same way any child learns a first mother tongue?

          Bon Voyage!

          • Marja Erwin says:

            Many of the languages which interest me are either historical ones or constructed/grown languages, with few speakers either way. Also, I’m really nervous around other people.

        • penguinchris says:

           Just wanted to say that I’m in the same boat; I love languages but find them very difficult to learn. I was top of the class in German in high school, but how I’m not sure. I only have a basic familiarity with German, and largely don’t understand it when it’s spoken or if I read it. Same with French (from middle school), Thai (from personal experience and study), and Japanese (from Japanese films and anime). I like to pretend that I have ability in those languages, but really it’s only an above-average familiarity at best.

          I also have a hard time with facial expressions (among other non-verbal communications) and consider myself to have mild Asperger’s. However, I consider my command of English to be quite good – though I tend to speak in simple terms because I usually can’t think of particularly eloquent vocabulary off the top of my head. I learned English the usual way, but gained my better command of it through reading loads of books and watching well-written TV and movies (British TV and movies are particularly good for this purpose).

          I think for those like us, immersion is the only way to really learn a language. I had the chance for immersion in Thailand, but was not forced to use the language frequently, because the people I normally dealt with spoke English and I didn’t really talk to strangers (as I tend not to here in the US – I don’t do small talk).

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Forcing people to learn skills they have no interest and aptitude in promotes cheating just as much as, or more than, testing them on what they learned at the end.

      The majority of the human race has an acute aversion to learning math.

      • surreality says:

        I like to think that’s because math is poorly taught in America, or because people need to learn it in a variety of different ways… but who knows.

        • penguinchris says:

           I’m not sure either, but I think it’s more than it being taught poorly (which it surely is). I love math – and when I put my mind to it can figure it out and use it for whatever purpose I need – but I still have an aversion to it and was never able to really master it.

      • Paul Renault says:

        “The majority of the human race has an acute aversion to learning math. ”

        Yes, and they’ll be the first to die when the apocalypse comes…

        • ncinerate says:

           Because math skills are so important in a post-apocalyptic world?

          Personally, I’d rather hang out post-apocalypse with a “math-ignorant” farmer rather than a financial analyst who’s a whiz with numbers.

          Numbers are great, but food and water are a bit more important in the grand scheme of things :).

          Of course, that would require an apocalypse to actually happen, which I place on my “fearful of happening in my lifetime” list somewhere a bit below “no more grand slam breakfast at dennys”.

      • Sekino says:

        Throughout my school years, I scored 90′s in languages and biology, high 80′s in physics and chemistry… and ended up with a 40% in math (which brought my entire average way down, not that I gave a crap).

        Many teachers expressed puzzlement at my being very apt and avidly interested in physics/chem while being such a dunce in math. Hello?? Aimlessly calculating rows after rows of  equations, or parroting multiplication tables is awful. With physics, at least, we were counting something and it was FUN.

  11. catdance says:

    Years back, , I volunteered to lead a Junior Great Books group for 4th graders.  I was completely shocked at the inability of “bright” kids to form any kind of independent ideas about what they’d read, discuss ideas, or even explain why they liked a particular story.  They insisted on knowing “the answer” and having done with it.  I thought at the time that our future was in trouble.

  12. TimRowledge says:

    But really learning is soooo hard
    But really teaching is soooo hard
    But setting exams to test real understanding is of a difficulty level such that an indeterminate percentage of exam setters are incapable of doing the task adequately. Discuss
    But we want all our children to be above average
    But we need a tool that can be used to crush teachers, unions and future subjects. Err, we meant “Quality Education For a Prosperous Future!”

  13. MRKiscaden says:

    I agree with the authors insights, but he does not touch on a serious problem in US higher education: A College degree is treated as little more than a certification to employers. It is not what you learned that matters, only that you passed and you can be taught.

    What a student learns in college is rarely useful in the job market, yet employers use college education and GPA as benchmarks for entry-level applicants.

    Which makes it nearly impossible to emphasize authentic learning. “When are we ever going to need this?” The honest answer is: You’re not.

    It is not just the education system that needs to change, but also the employers.

    The net result is a situation where the benefits of cheating outweigh the risks. 

  14. Russell Letson says:

    It’s hard to disagree with the proposition that education isn’t about test scores or grades and that the classroom would be a better place if everyone started from that position. And the pressure to attain arbitrary-seeming goals is probably one of the drivers of cheating. But.

    I spent most of two decades teaching undergrad college English courses precisely aimed at “mastery goals associated with learning for its own sake and continuing improvement”–that is, I taught the research paper. The explicit point of the course was to master basic library-research and synthesis skills and to learn the conventions of the academic paper. This course was *all about* acquiring skills and techniques, was carefully structured to walk students through the conventional process, and should not have been all that hard to manage, even though it did involve two related skill sets (research/synthesis/organization of material and writing/presentation).

    Nevertheless, every term some students tried to plagiarize their way through the paper, for the usual reasons. Some were ill-prepared (trans.: they should not have passed first-term composition and/or were reading at, say, sixth-grade level). Others left all the work to the last minute (hard to do in a course that required producing the prep work and drafts over a six-week stretch). A few were too knackered from their 20- 30-hour-a-week jobs or hung-over from partying. Some really didn’t want to be in school in the first place and were not going to cooperate, period. And some suffered that “I’ll never have to do a term paper when I’m an investment banker” syndrome that reduced college to a series of ticket-punches on the way to a job that would get them that Beemer. (I’ve been out of the classroom for 25 years, so the brand-name on the material sign of success has probably changed.)

    The plagiarists and non-cooperatives were not a majority, but they were always there, and their presence meant that the course had to be designed as much around plagiarism prevention/avoidance as the positive matters of finding, vetting, organizing, and writing up the answer(s) to a modest question.

    My take-away: In the university, at least, part of the problem of cheating has more to do with the attitudes of the students than with the practices of the teachers who face rooms full of kids (it’s rarely the “non-traditionals”) who would rather be learning a trade or out raising hell. I keep thinking of the stories about unruly apprentices in the middle ages. Some things don’t change much.

    • asterios9 says:

      Two things I learned by working as a Writing Across the Curriculum consultant: 

      1) Making the students submit a draft and basing part of the grade on how well they respond to comments makes plagiarism more inconvenient, in the very least.  Even if they start with someone else’s material they’ve still got to rework it.

      2) Students have no idea how easy it is to google a phrase that looks plagiarized and find the original source.  None whatsoever.  Those who got nailed usually took their punishment quietly, but if I had to do it again I’d emphasize up front how likely it is that one will get caught and how pathetic it will be.

    • kairos says:

      [...] and their presence meant that the course had to be designed as much around plagiarism prevention/avoidance as the positive matters of finding, vetting, organizing, and writing up the answer(s) to a modest question.

      This may be an ill-received question, but – why, other than any risks associated with failing to enforce university/department policy?

      As an undergrad, all my worst bouts of absenteeism, procrastination, and academic dishonesty – never plagiarism, of course, but lying to get exemptions or extensions, and so forth – were driven by the pervasive ill effects of designing courses around maintaining the attention, effort, and compliance of the lowest common denominator: plagiarizers and otherwise. And I know for certain that this is and was not at all uncommon, particularly in the humanities, where 70+% of the students in a given course were non-humanities students filling a graduation requirement, and typical faculty quality was >>> than typical student quality. To the point, even, that I would be surprised if separating out and estimating the contribution of such demotivation to student misbehavior and deception were a tractable problem in most cases.

      So why bother? I fully understand and sympathize with how insulting and deplorable plagiarism is, but the scope of its impact is undeniably limited – no one’s being ripped off or prevented from learning, other than the idiot himself – and aggressive prevention in particular has a host of associated spillover harms that impact faculty and interested, competent, non-dickhead students, by themselves and in their ability to naturally and productively interact with each other. What would the harm be of just…ignoring it unless it jumps out at you, and then failing them hard?

      • Russell Letson says:

        I bothered partly because that’s what I was being paid to do: to bother over whether the grade and credits on the transcripts meant more than “showed up most of the time and didn’t try to murder the teacher” or “produced a facsimile of the promised mastery by means that do not bear close examination.” And partly because I disliked being snookered and disliked even more allowing some young snot to think he or she had snookered me. And beyond my concern for my tender ego, there’s the fact that allowing cheating to go unacknowledged encourages more cheating. (And most plagiarism does jump out at you. Most of what I saw showed pretty primitive technique.)

        And it’s wasn’t just academic honesty that was being encouraged by my course design–it was academic competence. A non-trivial proportion of my students really seemed to not understand the difference between copying and paraphrasing, really didn’t understand the point of documentation, and didn’t know how to present evidence in a way that made it clear who was saying what and where a reader could go to read more. They had only the most tenuous idea of where the materials in their books came from, how they might navigate the, um, web of research and commentary in the middle of which they were sitting. So plagiarism-prevention can be seen as a side effect of a properly designed research paper course.

    • ncinerate says:

      I’ll tell you what my “research paper” undergrad-level class was like in today’s world:

      I had the entire semester to create one 15 page research paper, based on whatever topic I liked (as long as it was cleared with the instructor). That was the main assignment worth almost the entire grade for the class, with the only other assignment being a small amount of writing required on a book (The House on Mango Street).

      I looked at the course outline, submitted my research topic immediately and finished up the silly book report assignment in the first couple days of class.

      Upon receipt of the “OK” to do my research paper on my selected topic, I immediately set to work. Later that afternoon I was finished with my 15 page paper. It took virtually no effort to do. I was able to find a mountain of scientific journals and books to quote from and back up my project with a simple google book search/the college library online system. I never even had to leave my desk. For example, I’d search a basic idea or topic through google book search and up would pop results from books on the subject, with previews of the page the particular words/quote were on. As long as the section of the book appeared to be on-topic and concise I was able to rip a quote straight out, use the book information to create a quick APA citation, and I was done. In some cases I didn’t even have to read or find the journal – I’d see how a different journal/article/book was using an original source to synthesize information, and I’d rip their citation and utilize it in my own work, knowing that someone else had already vetted the resource and determined it to fall in line with the material they were typing about in a research paper similar to my own. I utilized this to make my paper massively researched with minimal effort. No plagiarism was required, I just wrote my main topic paragraph with a handful of key points (based on a subject I already knew something about), then went and found quotes/journals that agreed with my points and slapped the references in.

      I waited two months to actually turn the paper in, to avoid any accusation of cheating etc (they don’t expect you to have finished your entire semester-long  research paper in an afternoon). It actually took me longer to read and write a book report for that silly book than it did for me to finish the main culminating assignment. In-class participation etc was not required, it was only to help you hone your paper and learn how to do the various research required. The instructor stamped the paper as A+ work and I went about my business.

      It was an absolutely laughable class.

      • Marja Erwin says:

        And then there are times when you decide on your topic but can’t find enough sources on that topic. So you go through all the primary sources, and they don’t say much, and you try to give them more context, but that still doesn’t say much…

      • Russell Letson says:

        ncinerate: My first reaction to your post is that the class, or at least the paper assignment you describe, would be ill-suited to the students I had a generation ago and that still inhabit the university. Your solution to the assignment may be “modern” in its use of resources*, but I don’t see your adeptness as at all typical of the students my wife teaches–the prose of your post and your comfort with data-wrangling suggests that the course was not designed for you. The point is not how quickly you were able to gin up a paper that satisfied the course requirements but how effectively the course requirements would be at walking a less-experienced student through the process. And I wonder at what stage you will or perhaps already have smacked up against a project that requires more than cutting, pasting, adapting, and formatting.

        * I have lived and worked through the research-resource transition wrought by computers and the internet, and the physical and mental overhead have indeed been enormously reduced–I rarely need to go to a library (there’s a university library a five-minute walk from my door) to find what I need for journalism. I would still need library resources for academic or more specialized projects, though–and many of them would actually be print. And while the clip-and-adapt process that worked for your term paper might be sufficient for some kinds of journalism, it wouldn’t fly in an assignment that mixed primary and secondary sources and that required analysis and commentary as well as review-of-literature reporting.

        • ncinerate says:

           I suppose you are right. What -I- personally experience in the classroom may not be absolutely indicative of what other students around me experience. I found the whole process silly, as almost all of the in-class content focused on research techniques that have been outdated for decades (hence the reason I did the work on my own and ignored class entirely). In effect, the less experienced students with poor data wrangling skills you are talking about were being walked through a process of research paper writing that was significantly more difficult. I suppose it’s one way to get the paper written, but it is far from efficient in today’s “connected” world.

          As it sat, I was absolutely able to turn out the paper you describe at the end of your comment. My term research paper was chock full of mixed primary and secondary sources, with analysis and commentary, with literature review providing the glue that stuck it all together. All of that is made incredibly simple thanks to the resources we have available to us today, if only the student knows how to utilize those resources.

          In the same way, I wrote my wife’s master thesis and almost all of her masters-level papers. She was incredibly stressed about the masters program she was involved in due to work and pregnancy, so I took her work on independently. None of it was particularly difficult for the reasons I’ve outlined.  The masters thesis was a particularly good example of the kind of writing you claim cannot be done with this process. It heavily relied on critical evaluation of literature on the topic that related to the problem I was writing about. I utilized my “resources” to provide a strong foundation of methodical research and focused the entire paper on the single problem being discussed. Everything was fairly simply padded out to fit the requirements and I followed the format required by her university. That took me longer than an afternoon, but not by any wide margin. Many of the students worked on their thesis over the course of the entire program, while mine was finished within the first two weeks of class.

  15. Dee says:

    Wow, lots of response. Glad to see it. And it is right on.

    I’ve had three transformative experiences in real learning:

    First was with my junior high history teacher, who found that I cheated on a quiz. He knew it and I knew it. Prior to that I was his best student. He didn’t treat me any differently than any other student. He did sit down with me and sincerely told me he was disappointed in me and knew I could and would do better. He also had a real conversation with me, not a lecture, about what I’d done and why and my and his real goals for real learning. This completely changed the way I saw and behaved in teacher-student relationships. It also completely re-ignited my love of real learning.

    Second was the opportunity to have Stephen R. Covey (yes, that one) as a college professor. What ever the popular esthete vogue for bashing him as a trite peddler of rose colored collages, his teaching and his defense of us, his students, transformed me. We were not only expected to master the course material, we were expected to *teach* it with mastery to other students. When he was attacked and challenged and accused of “grade inflation” or “skewing the curve” and “dumbing down” his courses to make himself look good, his response was not to defend himself, or go on the offensive. His response was defending us, his students, by offering – and delivering on the offer – to put any random group of us up against any other students in our field, any agreed upon objective exam or other fair measure of our mastery of knowledge and skills in the field. It not only worked, but it also profoundly changed the way I have viewed and approached learning and education since.

    The last was learning about trust and honor from this quote: “It is greater to be trusted that to be loved.” And this story or maxim from Karl Maeser: “My young friends, I have been asked what I mean by word of honor. I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls — walls of stone ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground — there is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first!”

    Now the challenge becomes instilling these lessons, this respect for real learning, these convictions in and eliciting these attitudes from my children, my students.

  16. eviladrian says:

    My wife works for an unnamed education provider and often works the booth at those “career expo” events.
    Kids will come up and say “How long is this course and how much money will I earn when I graduate?”
    You think they care about the satisfaction of mastery?

    • Sekino says:

       They don’t care because they don’t get any indication that ‘satisfaction of mastery’ matters.

      In most cases, we push our kids to stay in school and get degrees, even though they are no longer guarantees of a safe future, because we have no practical alternative. They treat degrees as mere coupons to trade against money because that’s what degrees have become for the majority of workers.  Of course they don’t want to spend years of effort and learning if it means they’ll live hand to mouth and end up working in a totally unrelated field to make ends meet.

      If we had a job market and employers that overwhelmingly rewarded genuine knowledge, creativity and insight,  then it would make more sense for students to invest in those qualities.

  17. RedShirt77 says:

    50 % of adult work is communicating, 25% of adult work is copying and looking things up.  15 % is creative thinking and writing original work and 5% math

    In school they teach you to be quite , never copy, memorize everything, act normal, write trite crap, and hate math.

    I love education but our priorities have been fucked for a while now and with online resources are moving towards the absurd.

  18. thecleaninglady says:

    Given that schools focus on measuring performance with grades and children are there often against their will, forced to memorize things they don’t care about, in an economic system of reward and punishment (by grades), in my book cheating is a smart, successful strategy of achieving one’s goals in such a hostile environment. 

    Schools kill creativity and curiosity and destroy talent in the interest of producing obedient citizens who take whatever’s in the books for truth, don’t question authority and are highly trained in selling themselves out for the goodies (grades, and later money).

    The practice of turning children into prisoners, calling it “normal” and blaming the kids who don’t make good prisoners, is sickening. 

    Call me radical, I fully support unschooling. Look it up.

  19. pjcamp says:

    “Cheating will only go down when students are told that they are in education to accomplish the satisfaction of mastery”

    Yeah. You tell them that. That’ll show them.

    I teach a physics lab where assignments are at least as much reflective on the growth of their thought processes as on the physics itself and grades depend to a large extent on how much change they experience between their starting and ending states.

    About half my students are handing in 20% of their assignments and one student, cross registered from a neighboring campus, didn’t even bother to get a local computer account so he could SEE the assignments until three weeks into the semester.

    Oh, and I have a cheating case from a year and a half ago (wherein the student was caught because she wrote on her test paper “We have the same professor. Don’t copy me verbatim) that has yet to come to a hearing and, if I have to guess, never will. The administration doesn’t want to deal with it.

    The solution to everything is easy when viewed by people who don’t have to actually deal with the problem day after day. Just change their attitude! Isn’t that obvious? Good thing we have a sci fi author to point that out else we might have missed it.

    • bja009 says:

      I went to a university with an honor code. Professors were barred from proctoring exams – they couldn’t even be in the room during a quiz.

      Cheating was almost nonexistent. (There was occasional plagiarism, but there are some good tools for rooting that out and giving those students failing grades.)

      And here’s the thing – we never got a lecture about ‘learning for learning’s sake’ or ‘the satisfaction of mastery’. That was implied by the culture of the university, and it worked, *even in the business school*.

      What I’m saying is, the problem isn’t with your students, it’s with your culture. (But that’s hard to change! Yes. Yes it is. But it also works.)

      • pjcamp says:

        And when was that?

        Every college has an honor code. You can’t be accredited without one. Cheating was rare when I was an undergraduate as well. It was rare in the classes I TA’d in graduate school. It was rare in my first job, at a tier 4 college.

        Then I took a number of years off in a research position before returning to teaching at a top 75 liberal arts college. Now it is not rare.

        When I was a student, no one would dream of not handing in an assignment on time, even if they were unable to complete it fully. Last semester, I taught an upper division class in which the majority of the class did not hand in a single assignment the entire semester.

        I’ve used the same concept inventory to pre and post test my introductory classes since I started teaching in the early 90′s. Back then, I could pretty reliably get 60% gains. Now, in a good year, I get 20%, using essentially the same research based techniques to teach the same material.

        Other people at other institutions tell me they are seeing similar changes in their student population. My personal impression (for which I have no data other than personal observation) is that all of these effects scale with the number of years a student has spent under No Child Left Behind in K-12.

        That doesn’t especially surprise me. My job, when I was a research scientist, involved the study of cognitive development in middle school science. I spent a lot of time observing middle school classrooms. One of the things I observed is that the entire school came to a screeching halt in March, and until the end of April (when the tests came), every day was spent in test prep. They were drilled in strategies for gaming standardized tests, like an SAT prep class. They had pep rallies about how great they were going to do. When the test was over, so was school. There’s obviously nothing more you can do that is useful so every day is field day, trips to the zoo, ice cream Tuesday, whatever.

        My wife teaches music in K-5 and has observed content teachers feeding kids answers (by saying things like “are you sure you want to choose that?). Last year, our local school district had a cheating scandal that resulted in the firing of over 170 teachers. With that many teachers involved, I’m pretty confident that they were subject to pressure from higher up and are basically scapegoats. 170 people don’t spontaneously and independently come up with the same conspiracy.

        It is no longer possible to give a child an F in K-12. Too many people’s jobs are on the line. And too many parents are intent on resume building. I’ve observed children being given opportunities to hand in assignments months late, to get a do-over on a test just because they asked (or their mommy did), to do an “extra credit report (cribbed from Wikipedia)” to make up for all the assignments they didn’t do, anything and everything to pull out a grade.

        You want to call it a culture? Ok, I’m game. But it is a global culture, not a local one. We have taught a generation of children that the only thing that matters is passing the test and getting the grade. Why? Because we’ve determined that this is the basis on which teachers will be allowed to keep their jobs. Because parents have determined that little Suzie’s life will be blighted forever unless the mean teacher participates in pumping up her resume so she can get into the best college and become a famous doctor.

        Are you surprised that kids cheat and cut corners? This is what they’ve been taught to do their entire lives. They’ve been taught that school is just a bunch of hoops to jump through and it is the jumping through that is important, not the learning. They’ve been taught that passing the test is the ONLY important thing. They’ve been taught that procrastination has no consequences and there’s always a chance to pull it out at the end.

        NCLB is now 11 years old. That means my students this year have been learning those lessons for almost their entire academic careers. You think that’s going to change by sticking a couple of proctors in a room? The thing about culture is that it is a very large ship and will not turn on a dime. We’ve spent 11 year building this culture. It is going to take at least as long to unbuild it.

        And I don’t want to blame it all on NCLB either. Most of my class, especially in large lectures, spent the bulk of their time on their phones and computers at the same time as being in class. Clifford Nass, at Stanford, has shown that such habitual media multitasking results in degraded performance on all the tasks as well as long term degradation in the ability to handle complex abstract reasoning. I don’t have control over that culture either.

        I’m not a writer, to any significant degree. I would never dream of instructing Cory on the finer points of how to write a novel. And it burns my butt that people who are not in the school environment  themselves seem to think that because they went to school 20 years ago, they are experts on how to teach. If you haven’t done it (a lot), you’re not.

        Exhortations to “change the culture” (with a self-satisfied smirk at how one has brilliantly pointed out the solution to the clueless teachers) are useless. How? Provide specifics. Do some research. Read Michael Cole on cultural psychology. You may come away a great deal less sanguine about the merits of your own brilliance. Cultural influence on psyhcology is mostly subconscious and extraordinarily resistant to manipulation.

        So you want to put procotrs in the room. How many will you need to insure that a 300 person test doesn’t have students texting answers to each other? That’s hard to see. And even if you have, have you changed the culture into one in which students don’t want to cheat, or one in which the existence of cheating is accepted and one should expect surveillance?  And is a surveillance state a “healthy school culture” and “authentic learning?” I don’t think so.

        • Festus says:

           Many thoughtful points here. I recognize the tone of cynicism, but I note that teachers like you are also the ones who refuse to quit or give up on principles.  Don’t give up! Bill Cronon (incoming president of the American Historical Society) wrote a great article some years ago about recognizing how low his classes rated on university student priorities. They simply were more driven by hormones and excitement and the rest of their lives. He stopped taking it personally and started enjoying the small victories. I try to do the same.

  20. Daemonworks says:

    This assumes that people actually go to school to learn. Sadly, most people view school as just a hoop to jump through.

  21. olrac57 says:

    I’ve been dissatisfied with the distance-ed master’s program (fully online) I’m currently pursuing (through a public university that is on many Top 100 lists). I brought up my concerns to the head of the program. He asked, “What are your expectations of our program?”
    I replied that I should feel at the end of each semester that I have learned more by acquiring education through a university than if I had done it all on my own, using the internet, libraries, etc.
    He bluntly responded that my expectations of the program are unreasonable.

    So… um… What am I paying for exactly?

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