by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
cheating, collaboration

Is It Cheating Or Is It Collaboration?

from the sounds-like-collaboration dept

A few years back, we had an interesting discussion around the idea that many students might not view using modern technology to share answers as "cheating" so much as they would view it as wikipedia-like collaboration. I thought this was an interesting observation, since I'd never really thought of it that way. Someone who ought to remain anonymous alerts me to a discussion of a recent study on student "cheating" on exams via mobile phones and similar technology, which found, not only that lots of kids do it, but that they don't think it's wrong. In the comments to that post, there's a fascinating comment by Ryan Scott that again highlights the point about collaboration:
The premise of memorization is the problem here. What's far more important than memorizing some formulas is knowing where to find them and how to apply them.

In NO industry is collaboration considered cheating. Only in SCHOOL is this a problem. What are we teaching our kids?

I'm an employer. I want my employees reaching out and building networks of people that can help them. I struggle with this whole 'that's cheating' attitude. It's something I need to UNTEACH my employees. It does NOT matter to me if you know how to do something, it matters to me that you can figure out how to do it. Most businesses, especially information based, need employees who know how to find and apply information, not that have a repository of facts in their heads. We are creating everything new -- NO ONE knows how to do the things many companies deal with on a daily basis unless you are a clerk of some kind. We are figuring it all out on the fly. Building alliances, search skills, knowing where and how to find information -- all these are what's valuable.

The argument that school, memorization, and solitary work teaches you how to think is absolutely wrong. If we really want to teach people how to think, we should have a class called How To Think, not Ancient Greek History. You don't teach thinking skills by forcing 30 people to memorize the same names, dates, and events. You do it by teaching principles, and by teaching directly the actual skills the education system claims to want to create.

We need more 'How to Think', 'How to Collaborate', 'How to Negotiate', 'How to Resolve Conflict' and less 'Memorize a bunch of stuff for a test'

Plagiarism is an exception. Passing off someone else's work as your own is clearly wrong. But forcing kids to memorize facts and not giving them what's truly important -- that is to say thinking skills is the big problem here.

Thinking about plagiarism some more. I'm always telling my employees to research before writing -- cobble together a collection of other people's work and give me an opinion. Build on whats already out there, don't start from scratch.
Well said. Again, I don't think that "cheating" is the problem here. The problem is this focus on not teaching people how to work together to solve problems and assuming that everything needs to be done by the individual themselves. That's not how things work in the real world, and it does children a disservice to downplay collaboration and reinforce the idea that building off the works of others is somehow wrong. Standing on the shoulders of giants is important, or we're always reinventing the wheel.

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  1. icon
    Michael C (profile), 21 Jul 2009 @ 10:29am

    The facts are the building blocks

    Ryan Scott's comment seems to miss a big part of the point of education: without enough people building up a solid grasp of facts and basic concepts, collaboration in the working world will be useless. Even memorized facts, such as the structure of Greek government, or the developments that led Rome to collapse, help build an understanding of important concepts that can be applied in many aspects of life. So, it's a bit of a contradiction to say, "teaching facts is dumb, but teaching how to think is ok, and teaching how to collaborate is even better." Focusing on teaching people how to get answers from others, without making sure that others will have the answers, or without giving them enough background knowledge to identify answers that make sense, would send people out into the world only partially prepared. You can't stand on the shoulders of giants without knowing anything about those shoulders.

    That said, I do believe there's generally too much focus on the what, versus the why and how associated with those facts. And emphasizing more practical skill by teaching applied knowledge and collaboration is also useful. Balance is definitely needed. But it's an overstatement to say that "cheating" (getting answers from others) is OK.

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