Life by Design

Posts Tagged ‘Distance education

(Cartoon thought bubble reads: ””)


With the explosion of online learning in both K-12 and higher education, there too, has been an explosion in plagiarism and cheating.   While the motivation for cheating has not changed over the years, the realization that one has cheated, especially in the digital world, has, as it is much more visible in a cyber based classroom.  Most students do not realize that by cutting and pasting text from a website into their research paper without citation represents plagiarism and cheating.

In an interesting survey of approximately 50,000 students from more than 60 universities students believe: ‘cut & paste’ plagiarism – using a sentence or two (or more) from different sources on the Internet and weaving this information together into a paper without appropriate citation – is not a serious issue. While 10 percent of students admitted to engaging in such behavior in 1999, almost 40 percent admit to doing so in the Assessment Project surveys [2002-5]. A majority of students (77%) believe such cheating is not a very serious issue (CAI research, 2005) as cited in Jocoy & DiBiase (2006).  Why has cheating become ‘not a very serious issue’?  It appears both the expectations and enforcements of facilitators/educators has fallen off.

According to Jocoy & DiBiase (2006), it is much harder to detect manually as well.  With budget cuts, shorter teacher days, higher enrollments, it seems plausible that a lot of cheating is going unnoticed.  Thankfully, plagiarism software is now available to online instructors that can check for plagiarism.  Turnitin is a good case in point.  Other methods include Google which allows instructors to track down copied phrases and online services such as EVE actually compares student papers to Web documents and/or to essay databases to find and report instances of matching text.  In their study, Jocoy & DiBiase(2006) did notice a difference in detecting instances of cheating by using digital resources.

Our authors, Palloff & Pratt (2011), discuss the importance of creating an assessment that is highly individualized.  For instance, rather than creating a multiple choice test, design the assessment so that the student has to write a personal reflection paper that demonstrates how they would apply the knowledge gained in the course to their everyday lives.  There is an argument for preparing students for the work world in such a way that collaborative research, and fact finding becomes a norm.  Right now in my son’s 7th grade class, the math teams occasionally take a group exam and each member of the team can contribute their knowledge to the exam.

As an instructor, there are several remedies than can be implemented to cut down on both plagiarism and cheating.

First of all, the instructor holds the expectation that students will not cheat and that there will be enforcements and consequences if students are caught.  The announcement of assignments being processed by Turnitin should be enough of disincentive for a student to go down that road.  More use of librarians can also be helpful, as many current students do not really understand the nature of plagiarism.

As an online instructor, examinations can be made of documents side-by-side, discussion posts can be compared to one another, unusual wording or lengthy wording that differs from the student’s ‘signature style’, and even a mix of fonts and type style in one paper are all ways that an instructor can possibly suspect cheating.  If it is suspected, it is best that the instructor addresses the issue with the student offline and explains the situation and asks for an explanation.

The online instructor has the responsibility to set the tone of this issue early on in Week Zero in the course policies of what the expectations and consequences are for cheating.

The student who cheats only cheats him or herself on really knowing the material that will benefit their life somehow in the future.  That is a real loss for that individual and needs to be prevented.

As I look to the future of online learning, I really like the idea of designing assessments that are as individualized as a student’s fingerprint.  Design the assessment so that the student is forced to engage higher level thinking skills and demonstrate metacognition.  Reflecting on one’s experiences in life or applying the content information to one’s life are excellent ways to measure learning and guarantee that the student has delivered original thinking and truly contributed something unique to the learning community of the course.


Cartoon courtesy of www.  Extracted from:  Google Images. 04/07/11

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1–15.

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2011) Plagiarism and Cheating. Laureate Education Inc., Video Production.



I chose to take a look at and specifically their selection of Italian courses.  At first glance, for an adult learner wanting to learn some interesting new things, the site in general offers a great deal of resources from a recommended book list to ‘smart’ YouTube sites.  As an adult who enjoys learning and keeping up with things, I found plenty to explore and in my free time, which I anticipate having when, I am about 85 I plan to pursue more of it!

Looking into the Italian course selection however, it was disappointing when we look at it through the lens of our distance learning guidelines as offered in our course resource  (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright,  & Zcavek, 2009).

When you click on the site, there’s simply a list of websites to different Italian courses with little explanation of how they differentiate.  There is no instruction about how to navigate the sites or to orient and instruct the new user on what exactly a ‘podcast’ is or how to download from iTunes.    I didn’t see much evidence of the developer asking the question, “What does the learner need?” in order to be successful on the site.  There was no survey offered to assess prior learning of foreign languages or working with technology.   The only option is receiving a ‘podcast’, so for the learners with other learning style and preferences, I think this site will be disappointing and non-engaging. I find myself becoming more and more a strong advocate for the learner as I consider distance education design.

When I went to the site, www., (Radio Lingua Network) I found a blog format that was intermingled with 20 weeks of daily lessons.  With a lack of menus for navigation, I had to wade through over a dozen webpages to get to the beginning of the course.   Once there, it wasn’t entirely clear whether I needed to download the podcast directly from iTunes or the site.  I clicked on a hot download link on the site and found I could get to a ‘preview’ iTunes site where all the lessons were posted.  I listened to the first lesson delivered by an Irishman with a reasonable Italian accent.  The lesson was quick, less than 5 minutes and taught exactly three phrases.  This is fine for the adult learner, who is busy and has the specific aim of learning just enough Italian perhaps to visit Italy one day.  Adult learning theory is utilized in that the course could be customized just to give the learner exactly what they need to satisfy their learning needs.

The site is not intended to be a true distance learning course and therefore, it does not offer a syllabus, collaborative learning opportunities, threaded discussions or learning activities.  If you want to pay about $45 dollars for a premium membership, you can get download a PDF to augment the lessons.   This brings up the debate about Open Source being a non-commercial enterprise. (Fitzgerald, Hissam, & Lakani, 2005, p.332).

There is a new posting on the blog for a Twitter application that can be sent to you to test your daily recall.  This is an interesting idea. There is no rubric, grading standards or expectations for the course.  It’s all up to you.  And that’s what an Open Source education site is for…it is up to you to explore and create your learning on your terms, on your time.


Fitzgerald, B, Hissam, S., Lakhani, K. (2005) Perspectives on free and open source software. MIT Press. (P.332) Extracted from:

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson. (Ch. 5 & 9)