Monday, March 28, 2011

Cheating or Collaboration

“We are not cheating, we are working together!”  This was a statement of a student who was accused of cheating at my school.  Just by walking by, I don't believe anyone could assess whether or not cheating or collaboration were occurring.
If as adults, we collaborate on most or all of our tasks in life, why do we require our students to work alone?  We should be promoting collaboration in our schools and not independence or even cooperation.  I have written about the difference between cooperation and collaboration here.
If you are truly worried about cheating in your class, here are easy and simple solutions to prevent it from happening:
·         Create open ended projects which allow the students to create and use autonomous strategies.  Once the “group” has decided on a certain path to take, students will want to be more accountable without extrinsic motivators.  Have these projects relate directly to the students’ lives through their passions or interests.  Once the student understands that it is a worthwhile problem, he/she will have more motivation to also understand how to solve it.
·         Have these tasks as low risk tasks.  This can be done by not assigning any marks to the project.  Put the emphasis on the work done, the learning achieved, and the final project presented, not on the mark given to the group.
·         If you are giving marks, have the students actively involved in the mark.  Ask them to evaluate themselves; listing both strengths and weaknesses of the completed project.  Allow for students to improve the mark by giving them comments (without marks at this point) as to what areas are needed for improvement.
The common argument to letting students collaborate on a project is: “The teacher won’t actually know how much each person knows.”  I am still not convinced that this statement is true.  I believe if you give students a well thought out collaboration project, students will learn the intended outcomes. 
Teachers need to stop the requirement of marks and start looking more at a holistic idea of whether or not students understand the intended outcome.  I agree that teachers will not know the EXACT mark (ie: 92.5%) of a student through a collaborative project BUT….. Neither will they know it through a test!  Great teachers understand how poor and inaccurate test scores are to demonstrate how much learning has occurred. 
Once, as an entire education system, we embrace the idea of not needing marks to assess students you will see how a collaborative project is a more effective tool than an individual traditional test.


  1. Teachers still need to be able to assess whether or not each student has learned the intended outcome not just hope that this will come with a well planned project. How do you propose this assessment could be done on an individual basis and still appease those who want to make sure that the student is not simply using someone else's ideas?
    Also, are you saying that teachers who use tests to assess are not great teachers? At this point in education this would refer to nearly all teachers. Kind of a bold statement as moving away from common exams and test based assessment and towards the type of assessment you are talking about will take time. It is something that will be gradually introduced.

  2. Collaborating or group work was introduced in our South African schools and has not been successful as far as I know. Most of the time one or two students from the group land up doing all the work, yet, all the group members get the same marks and walk away with no actual knowledge of the task they were required to do. I am at an independent school, so we don't follow the government's education system. This has worked out better, we do assess students individually, but they also do group work where it is ensured that everyone in the group participates. I still don't really get the difference between cheating and collaborating, students know who the 'cleverer' kids in the class are and even if they offer their opinion or answer, they would rather take the 'cleverer' kids answer as 'gospel'.

  3. I am not saying teachers who use tests are not great teachers at all. However, we need to understand that even on a multiple choice test, you are truly not "assessing" the students.

    What I am meaning, today, is that using the argument "You don't know what the student really knows", can also be applied to an exam mark.

    For the students who just let the group work on it and sits back and relaxes, I would argue you didn’t give a task suitable for that student. We need to start giving problems to students, where the student actually wants to know the answer, and how to solve it.

    Projects need to be more open-ended, and actually allow autonomous answers. If every group needs to arrive at the same number as the answer, then the project has failed to be open-ended and autonomous. This is where most projects fail.

    I am not saying this can be done with EVERY outcome in a course, but I believe we should be moving more towards this, whenever possible. In their future jobs and lives, are they going to be answering multiple choice exams or will they be solving problems presented to them, where they need to discover a way to solve it?

  4. Highly prescribed, content-bloated curriculums are the 500 lbs elephants sitting before us. As long as we ask kids to learn stuff at a break neck speed that denies them the opportunity to learn in a context and for a purpose, teachers will continue to be frustrated over how to artificially induce student engagement.

    The Government of Alberta is currently re-evaluating the curriculum in an effort to reduce the number of curriculum outcomes. This is an acknowledgment by the Government that there is simply too much curriculum - Alberta Education and Inspiring Action sells this as an attempt to trade breadth for depth.

    If the Government is prepared to acknowledge the system needs to change, teachers, parents and students should embrace this as an opportunity to both innovate and improve school. Lord knows we're due for a renovation!

  5. I firmly believe in the value of application of a concept being the best way to test for understanding. Instead of multiple choice answers, or simply writing an answer to an explicit question, testing can contain a whole string of related functions or concepts to be tthought through by each student individually or as a team. The outcome or solution to the situation would be evaluated not only by the answer, but by the process the group or the individual student used to arrive at the outcome.