Online-teaching pioneers such as Coursera and Udacity are beaming top professors’ lessons into students’ homes worldwide, while slashing costs, getting rid of stuffy lecture halls and improving public access. But they’re having a harder time with one of teaching’s eternal headaches: stopping students’ cheating.
The Chronicle of Higher Education this week reported that Coursera’s online students have filed dozens of complaints about plagiarism by peers in humanities courses. Among the accusations: concern that an essay in the Fantasy and Science Fiction class was nothing more than a rehash of a Wikipedia entry.
Eric Rabkin, a University of Michigan English professor who is teaching Fantasy and Science Fiction, issued a mass warning to his 39,000 students, telling them that they shouldn’t plagiarize. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said one student had admitted cutting and pasting other published articles into an essay, while professing ignorance that academia regards such practices as wrong.
Charles Severance, another Michigan professor teaching a course on the history of the Internet, also issued an anti-plagiarism warning to his students.
In a FORBES interview in May, Coursera cofounder Andrew Ng said his company was “working on the technology” needed to catch cheating attempts as systematically as possible. Coursera already asks students to abide by an honor code; it is likely to add additional safeguards.
In its humanities courses, Coursera asks students to grade one another’s work, using a detailed rubric developed for each course. Such peer grading saves time, and can correlate closely with the grades that traditional instructors might provide. But it can put an unusual burden on students to screen for evidence of cheating in their peers’ work.
Websites and software already exist for detecting student essays that closely mimic existing published work. iParadigm, a company started by four Berkeley students in 1998, operates TurnItIn, a...