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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cheating is a Skill: Redefining Cheating & Thoughts on Learner-Centered Assessment #RHIZO14

I think I can justify putting time & thoughts on the first topic for Rhizomatic Learning MOOC.

Cheating as Learning.

This week, my focus on my comprehensive exam review is all about on Learner-Centered Assessment. 

**Side Note: I realized it's a good thing I joined this MOOC course (even if I'm a week late) because the "host" of this MOOC party is the person who "coined" the word MOOC itself. Don't know how that helps with my comprehensive exam but, I like the feeling I'm globally involved.

My thoughts on Cheating As Learning.

Last year, I joined a MOOC in Coursera on "Video Games and Learning" and there was a topic on "Learning as Cheating the Game". This implied that players who "cheat" in the games they play, also needs to learn how to cheat the game in the first place. When we cheat, we also learn. Or rather.. when we "learn" something (like a new strategy, or a new technique), we are "cheating" the game.

In that MOOC, there was a professor who made a practice to "encourage" her students to "cheat the class". She makes her students form into groups and asked them to talk on "How can you cheat this class?"

What the students came up with were reading strategies, identifying common questions professors will asks, what aspects they should be prepared for, focusing early on things for the final paper.

Cheating. for me. is basically. a skill...

(much like academic procrastination for me is also a skill, it was my undergraduate thesis but I won't discuss that here... I've move on with that part of my life :P)

In one of the MOOCs I also took last year via Coursera, a MOOC on Social Psychology. There was a topic that words are actually just constructs to organize things. Words are just ways to "categorize" our thinking. (which leads to prejudice, but I won't talk about that here either).

My point is just that, we need to define "Cheating" as well as there are also different definitions for "Academic Success".

Cheating As Learning.

Students, find it "unfair" when other students cheat and yet they get the same "results". But when we think of the construct "unfair", it just basically means... "Man, I hope I was that person." These students who "cheat" knew something that couldn't be read in the text books. Hustlers, I could refer them. In high school, I used to sit beside a "hustler" and I was the student who barely had experience cheating in exams. But to my luck, there was this one math exam that I really really had no idea about (probably calculus). In that certain exam... HE had the answers!!! (dunno how he got it, but he's got connections)... Of course I was very very nervous because in principle, I was doing a "bad" thing.. I was being a BAD student. But I was one of those people very thankful to have "cheated". I needed to cheat.. to pass the exam.

I am not saying I encourage students to cheat during exams BUT...
It's really a matter of defining the word "cheating". 

This would be a good thesis topic eh?

If we define cheating as "copying answers from somewhere else" then it goes back then to the assessment practices, WHY do students cheat?

There I was, a good student who typically studies instead of "asking seatmates" for answers. But I succumb to cheating. Hustler students are not selfish of sharing answers because they've been there in the situation where you don't know the answer but need to pass. I was lucky to be sitting beside a hustler, instead of a really bright student. Most bright students don't like sharing their answers because for them "you should have studied well" and it is unfair for them because they poured "hard work" in studying, so why would they just "give" the answers away? And most bright students, don't share answers because they don't want to take the "risk" of getting caught. They weren't used to this practice. They didn't have the "skill" to be a cheater.

I was the middle student. Wasn't a hustler, neither was I the very bright student.
I have yet to thank that hustler for that moment. It was a student experience that I still cherish until now.

It's not breaking the rules unless you're caught right? hmmm...

But if teachers allow it, then it's a whole different story.

Thus the practice of "open book or notes" type exams, "group" exams, "take home" exams.

Open book exams for example, "technically" that is totally CHEATING! That's why students love it when exams are open notes, or take home or collaboration.. it's unconventional and for them it's "breaking the rules" - it's cheating.

So let's go further on Learner-Centered Assessment practices (Please bare with me, I have to blog about LC too because I also have to focus on this to prepare for my comprehensive examination - so this is my way of "cheating" the exam).

Why do students, cheat? 
Assuming we define cheating as "breaking the rules the teacher imposes".

Then it now boils down to the responsibility of the teacher.
How does the teacher decides the rules? and
How does the teacher choose and design the assessment?

**Side Note: This reminds me of the time a classmate who asked a seatmate for paper and the professor shouted at her "That's Cheating!!" - to think the exam hasn't even started yet!! AND SHE was our BEST performing classmate! Why would she cheat??

Take a chill pill and watch out for you b/p.

This is why as educators we need to learn about Learner-Centered Assessment Practices.

Why do students cheat? - You have to think of the circumstances that you put them into. Every behavior has an explanation. It could be because students don't find the value or relevance of the assessment you are giving them, or it also mean you are imposing a set of rules that is too rigid.

According to Weimer's Learner-Centered Teaching book, one of the purposes of evaluation should promote learning. The other purpose is that it should also provide opportunities for students to develop the skill on self & peer assessment.

So when you give evaluations/assessments, first ask yourself "What is my purpose?"

Teacher-Centered practices have had a habit to use tests as punishments. I know I've had teachers like that. When you've pissed off the teacher or if the class is noisy, the teacher gets mad and gives the class a surprise quiz.

What is your purpose?

The next thing you should also think about when making an assessment is that, "Is my assessment aligned with my goal?" 

YOU DO have a goal right?

Understanding by Design is one of the practices you can use in designing learning units. It lets educators establish goals. And all your activities, lessons AND assessment, aligns with the goal. It is your guide. You don't ask students to submit picture cut outs and put them in a collage just for the sake of having an output. Of course not unless, your "goal" is developing motor skills and learning how to cut and paste (for pre-school teachers I assume).

Going back to Learner-Teaching Assessment, focus your assessments in the learning process and REDUCE student's stress and anxiety related to evaluation experiences. Weimer also states not to use evaluation for "hidden agendas" and to provide more formative feedback. Involve students also in the assessment process by giving them the opportunity to self-assess themselves and assess other peers. These are Learner-Centered practices on assessments.

So when you make rules, do you give demerit to students who come to class without paper? Is your GOAL "teaching students to be responsible by bringing their own paper"? Do you give "plus" points to students with legible hand writing? is your class a penmanship class? These are important notes we should reflect on when it comes to assessments.

This goes to my next point about grades... students are highly motivate by grades. My "cheating" experience in high school was motivated because I did not want to fail. Students cheat if they are pressured to pass. Why do grades matter so much? It's because when teachers give too much emphasis on grades instead of learning.

There are a lot of other Learner-Centered Assessment practices.. (which I should be reading more on right now..) So I have to end my blog post abruptly like this. Lol Sorry. But I pretty much make sense right?

*RHIZO14 is the hashtag for the "Rhizomatic Learning" MOOC provided by Dave Cormier via P2PU (Peer 2 Peer University)

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