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. identicon
    Robert Talbert, 21 Jul 2009 @ 11:11am

    Ryan Scott's comments in the original article are well-intentioned and no doubt true from his standpoint as an employer in the private sector, but they are also naive from the standpoint of how education and cognition actually work. Different cognitive tasks -- such as memorization and application -- do not take place in isolation from each other. If students only memorize, then they are not necessarily ready to tackle larger tasks that involve the kinds of things Ryan's employees do. But conversely -- and this is the point that gets missed so often -- you cannot just "teach directly the actual skills the education system claims to want to create". Those skills are predicated on having a critical mass of foundational knowledge with which to work -- hence the role of memorization.

    The legal profession is a good place to look here. The skills we want lawyers to have tend to hover in the upper levels of Bloom's taxonomy: ability to analyze case law, knowing how to do efficient searches of existing legal code, ability to construct logical arguments to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and so on. But at the foundation, and before any of those skills can be put to good use, lawyers have to do LOTS of memorization of terminology, case citations, and so on. IANAL but I would suspect that this is for several reasons. Lawyers have to have that terminology not only at their fingertips but also because the process of getting it to your fingertips involves getting it deeply ingrained in your method and process of thinking. Although I've never seen an LSAT exam, apparently a good chunk of it involves memorization of various things. A person with good speaking, data search, and logical analysis skills is not automatically going to be an effective lawyer. I suspect if you look at any modern profession you will see a similar picture. You have to learn your musical scales backwards and forwards in order to be a good musician, even though scales are deadly dull and no professional musician gets up in front of Carnegie Hall and does a scale. And so on.

    So we don't want to stop at that basic info level of cognition in our classes, but it would be foolish and counterproductive simply to jump right to the higher levels too. First things first.

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