Student Cheating – CIO Heal Thyself

If CIO’s believe student cheating in online courses or face to face courses is wrong shouldn’t ending cheating in the IT department be CIO priority #1? Perhaps this is one of those blog posts that should never be written since it is a test of moral relativism and situational ethics. 

Here’s where I’m going with this. Today, everyone is all jazzed about MOOC’s and open education resource models to benefit institutions and their employees. So why is there universal opposition to students leveraging that same open model? An open model which could easily be considered the other side of the disruptive innovation pancake instead of branding it as student cheating?

Student Cheating Services

The current debate by CIO’s on student cheating was triggered by the awareness of some new and some old crowdsourcing services that provide anything from academic assistance, writing services, exam taking, on up to full coursework for online courses.

The company receiving the most attention right now is We Take Your Class which offers to take a student’s online course and get them an A. But where is the outrage over crowdsourcing homework sites like Student of Fortune or any one of the hundreds of freelance writing services that will crank out a paper on anything for pennies per word.

Cheater – A Four Letter Word

The CIO discussion on student cheating includes lots of uses of “Cheaters” as a derogatory four letter word. These references feel heavy from emotion conjuring images of the scarlet ‘C’. There are even suggestions student cheaters put us all in peril when they enter the workplace and begin working on our airplanes.

But is this outrage warranted or even valid. Do CIO’s or anyone in academia have a moral leg to stand on when it comes to cheating? Do we hold students to a different ethical standard than we do the employees – the faculty and staff?

What is Cheating

Is it possible our definition of cheating is antiquated? Has technology and a more collaborative culture for both learning and working rendered cheating an obsolete concept?

UMass defines cheating in their Academic Honesty Policy as follows:

“CHEATING is the use or attempted use of trickery, artifice, deception, fraud and/or misrepresentation of one’s academic work.”

Montclair State University offers this impassioned argument against student cheating in one Academic Integrity and Plagiarism guide to students:

“…cheating of any kind is an affront to the good work that all of us do.  When a person cheats by stealing the ideas or words from another student, a published writer, or even an unsigned web page, that person is showing disrespect for the author, the professor to whom the work is submitted, and ultimately to him or herself.  At the university, ideas and words are very valuable; to borrow them without acknowledgement is to steal from another person.”

I also like the description in Wikipedia for what is cheating:

“Cheating refers to an immoral way of achieving a goal. It is generally used for the breaking of rules to gain advantage in a competitive situation. The rules infringed may be explicit, or they may be from an unwritten code of conduct based on morality, ethics or custom, making the identification of cheating a subjective process.” (links removed)

Inherent in the notion of what is student cheating is that the student gains some benefit from cheating and perhaps some loss that occurs as a result. When it comes to student cheating the gain is a grade, diploma or degree and the loss is an attribution, theft, or loss of revenue.

Employee Cheating

So why don’t colleges and universities have lengthy policies against employee cheating? Why don’t colleges and universities run employee work products through plagiarism checkers or insist on obtaining permission to collaborate or rely on the work of others in performing their duties?

Is it OK for faculty to use course authoring tools or curriculum found online? Should they get paid for curriculum development if their work is not 100% their own? Should we stop advocating for the most liberal Fair Use interpretations in an era of instant communications?

Should efforts to stop illegal file sharing or other forms of intellectual property theft on campus be passive, as most are today, or active they way student work is checked? Should we terminate anyone found using unlicensed software and report them to the police for theft of property?

IT Department Cheating

Imagine rewording your student cheating policy to substitute employee for student.

Would it then be cheating if you are being paid to develop an IT Strategic Plan and you copy from the IT strategic plans of others without attribution or permission? Is it cheating if you use images on your ITS/OIT website without permission from the image owner?

What about using an image where you strip the Meta Data to avoid detection? What if you replicate/duplicate a diagram, form, or template found online instead of using it directly or you simply remove the meta data?

Perhaps even more to the point, if IT employs people to perform job X, Y or Z and hires outside resources to help out or actually do 100% of the work, is that outsourcing or cheating? If you call it outsourcing or subcontracting why can’t a student outsource some or all of their work?

Is it OK for IT to leverage open source or scripts and code found on the web and pass it off as their own which includes not acknowledging it as the work of someone else. What about shareware and freeware without payment, donation or attribution?

It only took a few minutes just now to run a sampling of IT policies, job descriptions, IT strategic plans found on the websites of the schools represented in the student cheating discussion through a plagiarism checker to reveal some apparent cases of “collaboration”.

Look, I am not naive or without my own sins. I am simply trying to demonstrate the potential for institutional hypocrisy. Either cheating is wrong and in violation of some higher education ethos warranting dismal – academic and employment – or it doesn’t.

But then, this is not the only example of do as we say not as we do in higher education when it comes to students.

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2 Responses to Student Cheating – CIO Heal Thyself

  1. August "Chip" Stoll says:

    Excellent article! It really made me pause and consider all of the documents I’ve produced over the years. Maybe I should have used MLA style more often.

  2. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    I just saw a comment to this post on its LinkedIn feed where the person thought they might use an MLA style more often in the document they produce. So to more broadly share a response I moved it here.

    If you are an IT manager or CIO and develop a document which borrows from the work of others that’s one thing and perhaps warrants attribution even if the document is an internal one. But if you are, lets say an outsourced IT manager or CIO working for one of the higher education managed services companies, it is no longer simply borrowing and a matter of attribution. Because in that case the document is being delivered as part of a commercial professional service. Therefore it should 100% free from any possible infringement.

    So, all you colleges and universities using managed services from Ellucian, Campus Management, Campus Works or any other managed/consulting services provider are you certain their work products are 100% their own intellectual property free from or that they have the right to use?

    That includes code they deliver, policies and procedures they provide and a host of other deliverable items. Does you contract with them require that assurance and attach liability for any infringement? I am thinking about how to do a case study on this and wondering if there are any volunteers.

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