Excellent cheating

Will Richardson recently revealed how many educators consider technology to be the devil:
Recently, in the middle of a presentation to about 500 teachers, one woman raised her hand and said something along the lines of "Look, I'm not the most technologically savvy, but I have to tell you that in a lot of ways I think all this technology is the devil. I mean my kids plagiarize stuff left and right, they don't learn how to spell because of spell check, and I just think we'd be better off without it." And a number of people applauded.
Jennifer Wagner wrote an antidote to the widespread demonizing of iPods in classroom education. Patrick Higgins provided context to the "Liverpool High School 1:1 laptop failure" reported in the New York Times. All these anti-technology teachers' fears of students cheating, plagiarizing and shortchanging their own educations -- are coming true.
These teachers are misreading their situations. They don't see how they appear to their students. These teachers don't realize the subtext of what they are saying when they give out assignments, oppose technologies and define problems with students "cheating".
Students have become sophisticated consumers of meaningful challenges. They welcome an authentic hurdle that makes them think, problem solve or experiment. It's obvious to them when a challenge is bogus, derivative or menial. The obstacle lacks meaning, significance or a narrative context. Students have a low tolerance for "going through the motions" because their technology-saturated lives are filled with real challenges and successes.
Students recognize "the game being played" in new situations. They figure out the rules of the game by messing around and then realize ways to win. They also know a "stupid game" when they see one. The rules don't make sense, the rewards are unfair and the tasks are absurd. The smart thing to do with a stupid game is cheat or bail - not play by the rules for no good reason.
Students expect grown-ups to provide great challenges and games to explore. They rely on older people to be clever, ingenious and slightly devious. Students want to be misled, set-up and ambushed. The challenges become more intriguing and engaging when they are far from obvious. Trying to cheat the game inspires designers to out-think the gamers, not frame the gamers as "missing the point" or "lacking aptitudes".
Teacher still assign research papers and oppose copying from the Web. Classroom instructors continue to give closed-book tests of perishable, short-term memory. Teachers still expect students to learn "because I said so" or "because it's required".
This sends a loud, subtext message to these sophisticated consumers of meaningful challenges. It's as-if the teacher is saying:
  1. This is a bogus challenge that's designed to diminish your curiosity and creativity. Please don't think about the pseudo-value of this challenge to you. Don't approach the useless exercise or flawed course design as the actual problem to solve. Don't see through this scam or find solutions among yourselves that I'll be clueless to comprehend.
  2. I'm pretending the web does not exist. I'm assuming you do not have successes every day where you easily find what you're looking for online. I expect you to experience information as a scarce resource that's difficult to find and disconnected from other sources. You are required to play along with me.
  3. This is a stupid game to play that deserves your contempt. I'm cheating you out of an authentic learning experience so please return the favor and cheat your way out of this stupid game.
  4. I'm a pathetic game designer. I have no idea how to add a narrative dimension to the challenges. I can only be blatantly obvious and boring. It's left to you to show me how to be devious, ingenious and clever in hopes I might learn what you know.
Cheating will be the ruin of bogus exercises. Cheating will force learning to become game like. Karl Kapp is showing us way to respond to these challenges posed by plagiarism, hacking and social networking by students. Learning will become a fulfilling adventure as it already is outside of classrooms.
Technorati tags: , ,


  1. I agree about the fact that educators need to acknowledge technology and adapt to how they pose assignments to students.

    However, there is a bigger problem that you have ignored: respecting copyright and intellectual property. Sadly, because of technology and the abundance of certain programs that allow information to be easily shared, many younger people (and older people too!) have lost the sense of the laws of our society. People feel that "since everyone does it" (e.g., downloading copyrighted music, movies, etc.), it's OK. This attitude goes towards plagiarism of work in the classroom.

    Here are a couple of anecdotes.

    Bell Canada used to have a TV advertisement for their high-speed internet. It showed three kids, probably 12 years old, talking about a report that was due for their history class. One of the kids panics, when he realizes it's due the next day, and he hasn't even started. The ad shows him going into his room, booting his computer, connecting to the internet, surfing the web, copying, pasting, and finally printing his beautiful paper on medieval history, with images from the web, etc. We get the impression that he spent a few hours...

    This ad passes the message that kids can knock off a report in one sitting, thanks to technology to access the information on the Internet. Clearly this is not how "research" is done ethically. Technology does not change the need to make a research plan, to do a synthesis, to cite sources properly, etc. Sadly, kids see these messages coming from companies such as Bell, and they don't realize it's not how things are supposed to be. Plagiarism is real, and it's defined very clearly by the rules of most learning institutions: presenting another person's work as your own.

    Another story that comes to mind is one of some university interns who worked for a summer at IBM, and then they turned around and put the software they wrote (as IBM interns) onto the Internet, for anyone to download. They had no regard to the rules of the "game" which they had signed up for when they accepted the internship. In other words, the software they wrote belonged to IBM. Somehow, they felt that since they had written the software (even though they got paid to do it by IBM), they had the right to distribute it, because IBM was just some "evil" entity and they were being exploited, just as consumers are exploited by "evil" record companies and Hollywood film distributors... Somewhere this message is being communicated to young people. They are learning to disrespect the rules of the "game"...

    Intellectual property rules are pretty clear, although educators need to do a better job in explaining them to students. I'm not saying I think that MPAA lawsuits are the right thing to do in society. But I have no sympathy for a dormitory full of university kids who get sued en masse, especially since their university informed them from day one that file sharing is not ethical and not allowed on campus - if they hadn't done that, the MPAA would be suing the university for having allowed it. These students choose to ignore the rules of this "game", just as they choose to ignore the university rules that impose sanctions on those who plagiarize.

    If anything, educators need to do a better job of reminding young people of the rules. Educators need to impose stronger sanctions to plagiarizers. Universities need to make it easier for educators to blow the whistle, with discipline committees as opposed to having the educator be the judge, jury and executioner. When an educator has to do all of that, it's easier to look the other way when there is plagiarism, or to just warn the student.

    Yes, educators need to rethink how they define assignments, to make them more interesting and to embrace the new technologies. But they also need to send a stronger message about what is plagiarism, and that it won't be tolerated. Technology has not changed the definition of plagiarism. It's has merely made it easier to commit, and also detect!

  2. Rules? Rules are all about who has power, not what is ethical. Is it ethical for a CEO to make 400 times more than the average worker? No, but it's the way the corporate game currently works. Is it ethical for corporations to rape our natural resources and deny future generations a clean environment in order to increase shareholder profit? Is it ethical for Disney to steal the intellectual property of "Steamboat Willy" and then coerce Congress into changing copyright law from 28 years to +90 years in order to protect "The Mouse"?

    To understand the history of copyright, I would first recommend reading Lessig's book, "Free Culture, How Big Media uses Technology and The Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity". A digital version of the book is available for FREE.

    Let me quote from Thomas Home-Dixon, who sums up the real imbalance in our economy and society (and it's not students file sharing):

    "For the vast majority of us who sell our labor in the marketplace, our economic insecurity and relative powerlessness impel us to play by the rules. And in capitalist democracy, playing by the rules means not starting fights over big issues like our society’s highly skewed distribution of wealth and power. Instead it means focusing on achieving short-term material gains - such as bettering our contracts with our employers. Put simply, our economic elites have learned, largely through their struggles with workers in the first half of the twentieth century, to protect their status by creating a system of incentives, and a dynamic of economic growth, that diverts political conflict into manageable, largely non-political channels. As long as the system delivers the goods - defined by capitalist democracy itself as a rising material standard of living and enough new jobs to absorb displaced labor - no one is really motivated to challenge its foundations."

  3. Thanks for the insightful comments! In terms of education, plagiarism and cheating are only an issue when we are learning by submitting assignments. It's not an issue:
    1) when we are learning by doing - it does not good for my learning to ride a bicycle to claim Joey's riding his bicycle is my own
    2) when we are learning by creating - I only find out how to get creative, to get out of ruts I fall into, etc -- by creating my own "art",
    not consuming or copying another's
    3) when we learn by deciding - I've got to make decisions to learn the consequences of bad decisions, over-simplified decisions, delayed decisions, etc
    - not by following the leader, complying with rules, doing what told, etc.
    4) when we learn by strategyzing - the problem is not as it appears and it's up to me to change the diagnosis, consider my own strengths and weaknesses, size up the opponent with my own frames of reference, etc. -
    - not by accepting others' diagnoses, conforming with cookie-cutter solutions, maintaining the status quo, etc

    The solution here is to stop asking for submittals that can be outsourced as if those are bogus exercises, stupid games, meaningless requirements and blatantly obvious puzzles. In that context, it does make sense to "forewarn' about getting policed, caught, vilified when violating IP rights, contractual obligations, property rights etc. However the emphasis needs to be placed on open sourced development models, networked resources, self expression and personal value realized from the experiences.