Sharing Your Results – Is It Cheating?

As of 2013, whenever you have a question, you Google it.

Likewise when you have a question about a MOOC you may be taking, it is often just as useful to Google it as it is to check the discussion forums. However, many people like to post their answers, and specifically, their results from MOOC projects for the public to see. And by doing so, the posters make it easier for new students to find the answers just by searching.

Therefore, if it’s not the first time the class is being hosted though, chances are pretty good that a student can find an exact post or file with the answers. And I’ve now found this to be true with a number of the classes I’ve taken; just search “coursera” or “edx” on GitHub. Specifically, I stumbled upon the following answers while I was seeking help on the internet (SPOILER ALERT: Links lead to answers!):

  • Stanford’s Introduction to Databases – Programming solutions can be found by searching the question on Stack Overflow
  • 10gen’s MongoDB for DBAs – The entire final is available on someone else’s blog (although not completely in English)
  • Johns Hopkins Computing for Data Analysis on Coursera – Projects with details of how analysis can be done are everywhere on GitHub

gitI am not helping the situation either, as one of my next posts will be a collection of final projects from the Winter/Spring “semester” I recently finished. However, I just can’t resist the temptation of putting my results out on the internet to be roasted by all those who roam the web. Although, I still haven’t decided whether it is morally right or wrong to share the information knowing that it may be used inappropriately.

Regardless, hopefully no one will plagiarize my work, although not much of it is worth plagiarizing anyways. But, I also post it in hopes that it might help some people avoid the same stumbling blocks I found, or maybe give them direction when they reach a mental impasse.

I’m sure there isn’t a “catch-all” solution, but I hope someone can answer me this, how can we collaborate through sharing and still prevent cheating?

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The Risk Of Using Free Online Classes For Credit

Offering credit for free online classes opens a world of potential, especially to those who otherwise could not afford a “typical college class” yet have the will and desire to learn. However, this potential for incredible good also comes with the incredible risk of ruining nearly all MOOCs — widespread cheating.

The beauty of current MOOCs is their purity. (Nearly) everyone who is enrolled is there because they have a genuine interest in the subject matter and have a unified goal of learning. Thus, the likelihood of cheating happening in these classes is reduced since, what’s the point?  Cheating occurs when students are forced to take classes and tests that they have no real interest in and feel is irrelevant.

I am also only refering to the traditional form of cheating where one student bothers another just for the answers. There can be benefits to “cheating” as a form of “creative problem solving”, but that is a fine line and those usually aren’t the cheaters I am worried about in MOOC classes. (For an idea of what I consider “creative problem solving via cheating” you can refer to the Kobayashi Maru in Star Trek.)

Certified accreditation from these online classes would begin to throw those “cheating students” into the mix, polluting the pool of honest students who are there for the sole purpose of learning. If students are required to enroll, there will be a reason for some students to cheat because they have no real interest in the material — they are there solely to meet a prerequisite, get a raise, or for some other requirement.

The MOOCs which resemble traditional classes like Coursera and edX are particularly susceptible to various forms of “cheating” or answer trading, particularly through the forums. To their credit, I have seen fairly good regulation through deletion of inappropriate posts, and peers responding with some depth rather than just answers.

This might be a pessimistic forecast, but my biggest personal fear is that if these MOOCs lose clout because of cheating, it will be difficult to attract the best schools, professors, and lecturers to teach. Currently, that is my main draw; learning from the best.

I certainly don’t expect any college credit or degree, nor a raise at my day job. I think its foolish to expect such a direct benefit, but that doesn’t mean I don’t expect a number of indirect benefits. For example, I do believe that it will be useful if I go back to school, for I can test out of prerequisites at the school I will attend. In my job, I do expect to get a raise if I am able to apply my new-found knowledge to improve the organization. None of these indirect benefits require accreditation by the American Council on Education.