Buzz’s Blog: On Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web

Jul 15 2010   7:02PM GMT

The challenge of cheating in a Web-centric world

Roger King Roger King Profile: Roger King

I teach courses in two very different areas: information systems and 3D animation.  The first is my area of expertise.  The second is a glorified hobby, and I teach it only because I was asked repeatedly by students to do so.  There is a high demand for animation classes, but very, very few offerings at my university.

Cheating in universities.

They say there is a lot of cheating at universities these days.  Why?  Well, the conventional wisdom is that students are demanding high-powered courses and equally high grades, but they don’t want to work very hard.  So, cheating seems to be absolutely necessary.

I don’t actually believe all this.  I’m not that jaded, not that cynical.  Students will work hard if they sense that a professor is working hard to teach them.  I think wide-scale cheating, if it actually does occur, is in response to the growing tendency for universities to treat teaching duties as a punishment for professors who do not bring in enough federal research dollars.  Students are not stupid; they know what is going on.

We can catch them, if we bother.

But, back to cheating.  I’m sure that some of my students share code when I assign projects in my information systems courses, and that they take code out of various online resources.  To be honest, I don’t generally check for this, even though there are programs that teachers can use to compare code (and English documents for that matter) from multiple sources to check for such borrowing.

Passion dictates when we bother and when we do not.

However, perhaps because it is something I enjoy and not something I see mostly as my main area of competence, I do end up checking for cheating in my animation classes.  I do it by accident, because I am constantly looking at all the places where they are looking.  I’m not trying to catch cheaters.  I’m just excited about learning.

A world of unlicensed experts.

Indeed, this is perhaps a little noticed consequence of the new age where we are inundated with information 24/7, and in vastly higher volumes than we could possible consume.  Some people pick an area, perhaps subconsciously, and dig in with raw compulsion.   They cannot stop themselves until they seem to have seen it all, until the almost infinite reach of the Web seems to circle back on itself.  We are an emerging world of unintentional and non-credentialed experts.  It’s amazing, really.  People who are around us on a daily basis have vast, silent bodies of knowledge that they don’t use in their jobs at all.

So, if you take an animation class from me, be careful.  If you copy a model or a scene from somewhere on the Web, well, I’ve seen it already.

1  Comment on this Post

 
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  • Ebwolf
    Buzz - As a professional software developer, I "cheated" all the time by copying any code I could find. Heck, I just wrote a spatial RDFizer that started off as a copy of TBL's tab2n3.py Python script. I find cribbing code is the best way to learn languages and concepts. I couldn't imagine starting off with a blank EMACS screen. In my professional writing, I also "cheat" by reusing content and ideas. Of course, I cite where I found it and am careful not to take too much. But that's usually not too difficult because I have to frame the idea within the context of my own writing. Of course, if your students are wholesale turning in someone else's work and claiming it as their own, you should definitely put your foot down.
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