Cheating

In yesterday’s Underground Back Channel post, I wrote:

Because students are engaging in forbidden activity these conversations are underground. Well, the smart ones. Some are having these conversations on Twitter where one party of the conversation is not private and anyone (like a nosy DBA like myself) can see it. If they are used to quasi-cheating, does real cheating become easier? That might explain much of what I see.

I decided to write more about this.

Back in July, I ran across posts on Twitter where a student claimed another named (Twitter account) classmate provided the answers to a test. The moral was: “Students who cheat together will not repeat together.” A few days later the student bragged this activity happened the previous term as well. Then the student asked the classmate whether the next test was taken, presumably so they could cheat again. We handed the information over to the institution. I have not heard whether disciplinary action was taken against the students.

At the time, I attributed the students writing about the cheating similar to hubris in the Congressman Weiner scandal. It may also point to a lack of understanding about privacy online. Hard to know what was running through their heads at the time other than what they are willing to say or write which will be biased.

The NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again story hit the week after the initial detection. Pursuing the cheaters hurt his evaluations. The advice of plagiarism detection tools is to use them for teaching students what is correct behavior not as punitive evidence.

But then I ran across Classroom Ethics 101. The student experiment points to students being very willing to take an early look at test questions and answers (69%) even when given a notice it might be cheating (41%). Ariely does not think the actual cheating was very much as on the final exam few made 90% scores. The experiment is similar to the UCF cheating scandal where 1/3 of the 600 students were thought to have cheated.

Occasionally we, those running the LMS, get a request to look at the Mail tool messages or Chat conversations between students in a class to see who are trying to share answers. So far none have. The professors fear the students are using private communication tools to cheat. Maybe they are smart enough to use Facebook where we do not have the data.

Cheating is happening. The activity is underground except where students make a mistake. Professors have plenty of tools to help them detect it. Maybe as analytics become more widespread, they will be used to identify more cheating, though perhaps it should come from deans or academic affairs or student judiciary not the professor.

Dorm, Major, or Race

“College freshmen are more likely to make friends with peers they share a dorm room or major with than they are to befriend those from similar racial backgrounds…”

I barely remember my roommate from living in the dorm freshman year. He was as much a stranger to me as the person you routinely run into at the store. I felt trapped living on campus when I wanted to be a few miles away in my own bed. His leaving town on weekends to go see his girlfriend was good for me.

My initial declared major was pre-engineering. None of my true friends were also pre-engineering, but then again my true friends were mostly met in high school. The few friends I made in college were all over the place major-wise: pre-law, biology, chemistry, philosophy, english, education, business. They were people I met either in class or at work.

The researchers used Facebook as the measure of who are friends. Given most friendships on Facebook are weak ties rather than strong. The people we know well, trust, and hold great affection reflect our strong ties. The people we barely know, but on whom we depend for the information social networks convey are our weak ties. Facebook is excellent for this. From this perspective, if I were a freshman in college today, I probably would be getting as many people in my classes as I could. (This is why so many of my coworkers are in my list of friends. Don’t worry, Glenn, you are more than just an acquaintance. :))

Failure to Improve Online Retention

A former coworker, Cat Finnegan, worked on retention of online students. Recent articles about online students having higher drop out rates than face-to-face caught my eye. Especially the rationales. The recent articles all are about the work done at KSU (whose online class system we host, well one of them: Blackboard) which will be published in the International Journal of Management in Education as “The Impact of Student Retention Strategies: An Empirical Study”.

Online courses cover the same material as traditional classes. The tuition costs are the same and they’re are on the same semester system as bricks-and-mortar classes. But some online students struggle because they can’t keep with the material, get distracted by work or family or miss interacting with professors and other students.

Faculty use different strategies to combat this problem — calling students at home, sending e-mails, even asking students to sign contracts pledging to stay on top of assignments. Campbell and five other professors at Kennesaw State’s Coles College of Business wondered whether these methods work and tested them during the spring 2009 semester.

I am eagerly awaiting publication of this paper. I’d like to understand what actually was tried and failed rather than depend on these summaries.

The former coworker’s paper references a paper called “Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson which addresses what are the things which help students. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Campbell et al should identify how their faculty members are addressing each in their online classes.

  • Encourage student-faculty contact,
  • Encourage cooperation among students,
  • Encourage active learning,
  • Give prompt feedback,
  • Emphasize time on task,
  • Communicate high expectations, and
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

I’m curious if some equivalent was used, how they identified the struggles of the students, and how they determined to try these methods to solve the issue.

Georgia Gwinnett College, another school in our system provided faculty smartphones so students can call. While KSU had the faculty call the students, these seem like similar approaches to improve retention.

Email Harvesters

Good Sign I missed the story about brothers convicted of harvesting emails the first time. Well, I noticed a followup.

Back around 2001, the CIO received complaints about performance for the web server. So, I went log trolling to see what the web server was doing. A single IP dominated the HTTP requests. This one IP passed various last names into the email directory. Some quick research revealed Apache could block requests from that IP. That calmed things down enough for me to identify the owner of the IP. The CIO then bullied the ISP to provide contact information for the company involved.

Previous little adventures like this landed me a permanent job, so I jumped at similar challenges.

Well, a few years later, it happened again. This time my boss had made me develop a script for the dissemination of the anti-virus software package to home users. Basically, it used email authentication for verification if someone could get the download link. So, I applied the same technique to the email directory. Well, this upset some people who legitimately needed email addresses. So the human workers would provide email addresses to people with a legitimate need.

I’m glad since I’ve left, VSU no longer looks up email addresses for people. (I thought some of the requests questionable.) Also, my little email authentication script was before LDAP was available to the university. I think the new solution much better.

One the more vocal complainers about my having stopped non-VSU access to the email directory was my current employer. We apparently list email addresses for employees freely. Which makes me wonder how much spam we get is due to the brothers described at the beginning of this story? Or other email harvesters? Just hitting the send button potentially exposes the email address.

No worries. I’m sure Glenn is protecting me. 🙂

No Hiding From Blackboard

Some former WebCT (bought by Blackboard) customers switched to ANGEL rather than move to Blackboard products. PDF Apr 14, 2009 Today, Blackboard announced it is buying ANGEL. You can run, but you cannot hide from Blackboard.

Some light reading for you…

  1. Learning, Together ANGEL Learning and Blackboard® have decided to join forces.
  2. Blackboard Plans to Buy Another Rival, Angel Learning | Chronicle.com
  3. Why HigherEd is rejecting Blackboard … | Laura Gekeler
  4. Open Thread on Blackboard/ANGEL Merger | mfeldstein.com

So the options left are…

  1. Blackboard-WebCT-ANGEL
  2. Moodle
  3. Desire2Learn (currently in patent troubles with Bb)
  4. Pearson eCollege
  5. Sakai

Blackboard iPhone App

People have been contacting me all day about the Blackboard iPhone App. Both Blackboard and the Chronicle of Higher Education posted blogs about its release.

I find it interesting Jessica mentioned a Georgia student is the inspiration in the Bb blog post. There are over 200,000 students in Georgia who cannot use this application because it relies on Blackboard Sync which only operates for Academic Suite (Classic) products. Blackboard says the Sync product isn’t available to the CE/Vista products used by all but a few schools in the University System of Georgia.

The odds are good the poor student who needs the app can’t use it.

Also, the USG is exactly the kind of client who Blackboard says should wait and see before migrating to Learn.

Most Wired Teacher

“Who is the most wired teacher at your college?” (A Wired Way to Rate Professors—and to Connect Teachers)

Although the university runs workshops on how to use Blackboard, many professors are reluctant, or too busy, to sit through training sessions. Most would prefer to ask a colleague down the hall for help, said Mr. Fritz.

Professional support is too intimidating, cold, careless. Support fixes the problems of others who created problems for themselves:

  • choices made in software to use
  • configuration choices
  • mistakes logic in processing

The concept of identifying the professors who most use the system is a good one. We already track the amount of activity per college or university in the University System of Georgia. The amount of data (think hundreds of millions of rows across several several tables)  would make singling out the professors a very long running query. Doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. Just don’t think it is something we would do with Vista 3. We probably could with Vista 8 which uses a clean database.

I’d like to see two numbers:

  1. Number of actions by the professor
  2. Number of actions by the all classes the professor teaches

Ah, well, there are lots of other reports which need to be done. Many more important than this one. 

Some questions from the article: “Will colleges begin to use technology to help them measure teaching? And should they?” At present, to create such reports, IT staff with database reporting or web server skills are needed. Alternatively, additonal applications like Blackboard Outcomes System can provide the data. The real problem is the reliability and validity of the data. Can it really be trusted to make important decisions like which programs or employees are effective.

What does a CIO do?

I guess it depends on who you ask.

Well, the CIO’s thought they were most effective as classic IT-support providers. That’s basically putting PC’s on desktops. But their managers thought that CIO’s were most effective in explaining and determining the college’s technology course into the future. Managers really want their CIO’s to be “informaticists.” Wayne A. Brown, Johnson County Community College Are College CIOs Thinking What Their Bosses Are Thinking?

Self-reporting is a notoriously bad means of measuring behavior. So I take these sorts of things with a grain of salt.

I have read many times the view CIOs need to educate higher education administrators about technology to help shape the vision of where higher education is headed. When Joe Newton at Valdosta State took over as CIO, he found Ronald Zaccari, expected more than just “putting PCs on desks”. Ron also expected seamless services, a data warehouse, IT to work with every facet of the university, and even to help the cabinet shape its direction by providing how technology can help. The previous president didn’t even check his own email. So to have one who better understood technology meant having to step up to a higher standard.

Another aspect I found interesting was about degrees. Wayne suggested a positive direction was CIOs having degrees in technology management. A commenter preferred CIOs having a Ph.D. in an academic discipline and secondarily “technology qualifications” so they would understand teaching and learning. I find this hilarious because all too often I hear complaints Ph.D. programs teach people how to do research and present… not teach.

Also, the comments make a distinction between presidents and provosts versus deans and department heads. The latter are the “academic administrators”.

All that said, I just want a CIO to figure out what management wants done, prevent them from having too high expectations, and provide the resources for me to do it.

Blackboard Won Suit Against D2L

Blackboard acquired patent ‘138 and brought a lawsuit against Desire2Learn. I would say 80-90% of the commentary about this case has been from anti-Blackboard crowd with about 90% of the rest from the let’s-wait-and-see crowd. Blackboard very much has been mum on the subject. I do not recall a blog of a single Blackboard supporter saying how great it will be for them to win this case. All I have seen are assurances from Bb they do not intend to sue into the ground open source (after EDUCAUSE got on Bb’s case).

I understand motivations for filing a patent request. I understand why they started the lawsuit after getting the patent. What I don’t understand is the reasoning for why the patent was awarded. Also, I don’t understand why Blackboard won the lawsuit. In truth, I probably both have more and less information.

  1. Examiner’s notes would describe the other bases of information about the decision.
  2. Transcripts of the trial would describe what information the jury heard.

Lacking, this information, I cannot really put myself in the shoes of the people who made these decisions to understand why they were made.

In the realm of public opinion, Blackboard certainly has given its vocal detractors very strong ammunition. Mainly the complaints are about using lawsuits to suppress smaller companies and establish dominance rather than innovation to win over new customers. It is about fear and uncertainty.

Drink the Kool-Aid!!

Who Is Benefiting From This?

My employer does not pay for my cell phone or Internet service. When new administrators interview or schedule time a forum to talk to us, the question of them paying for one or both services usually is asked. Usually the response is something about it being complicated with a ton of paper work and an intention to look into simplifying it.

The federal tax agency [IRS] has been reminding employers that cellphones they provide employees should be treated as taxable income, unless employees can document that their phones are used only for business. Answer Your Cellphone. The Taxman Is Calling.

Any personal use is the invalidates the cell phones from being exempt.

If for us federal or state tax issues really is the issue, then perhaps the solution in the article could be put in place? Namely, treat the cell phones or Internet service as employee income. Let the employees choose if they want to pay for it out of their own pocket or get reimbursement as taxable wages.

Something bothers me still… I can’t put my finger on it.