Cheating in a MOOC – an Oxymoron

This weekend I read an article in Forbes that suggested students cheating while taking a MOOC is a serious roadblock to providers of the new MOOCs, specifically  Udacity, Cousera and soon to be launched edX. This is misinformation at its finest. Cheating in a MOOC is an oxymoron, a contraction of terms, similar to an ‘open secret’ or the ‘original as a copy’, they don’t fit.

You can’t cheat in a MOOC
You can’t cheat in a MOOC. Well let me clarify, you can cheat while completing an auto-scored quiz or exam, or on an essay that might be peer reviewed, but It’s pointless. In this instance cheating does not serve any purpose. The courses are free, you can’t earn college credit, and are not part of a credential [at this point]. Furthermore MOOCs depend upon the learner being self-motivated, to learn for the sake of learning. Stephen Downes co-creator of the MOOC concept describes the MOOC better than anyone – in his personal blog half an hour,

“One big difference between a MOOC and a traditional course is that a MOOC is completely voluntary. You decide that you want to participate, you decide how to participate, then you participate. If you’re not motivated, then you’re not in the MOOC.” (Downes, 2012)

Yet as MOOCs become high profile, in part due to Udacity, which launched the course Artificial Intelligence course and attracted over 100,000 eager learners worldwide, and Coursera another high profile MOOC provider, misconceptions abound. A recent article in Forbes Magazine, The University of Disruption (Anders, 2012) featuring Sebastian Thrun founder of Udacity, is no exception. The author discussed cheating, and students [obsessive] pursuit of the ‘A’…

“Another roadblock: making sure that grade-obsessed students don’t cheat by swapping answers among friends or setting up lots of dummy accounts….” (Anders, 2012)

A ‘different’ Learning Theory
However even though Mr. Anders doesn’t have it quite right [by not recognizing that grades shouldn’t matter in a MOOC], his point is worth considering. I suggest that it can be a starting point for future dialogue about how the model of Higher Ed has to change, and how MOOCs will fit into it.

We cannot compare the MOOC way of learning to ‘traditional’ face-to-face instruction. MOOCs are grounded in the theory of connectivism where learners connect through a network, a self creating network of relationships using tools on the Web. Knowledge creation in a MOOC is dynamic, created or constructed and is unique to each learner. Even Mr. Thrun, is vocal about the change needed in Higher Education – he views it as his mission to fix the ‘broken’ system (Anders, 2012).

Continuing the Dialogue…
The good news – there is constructive dialogue, discussion and analysis of MOOCs going on in Higher Ed circles, and it needs to continue. This past week, I participated in a very good Webinar A Practical Response to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which explored many issues that faculty are facing whether teaching MOOCs or not. I hope that we as educators can contribute to the dialogue, shape the future of MOOCs and the role they play in our institutions. Below are a few suggestions that I think we should consider so that we can be part of the conversation.

  • Discuss with fellow faculty, teachers and staff how MOOCs fit into your institution.
  • Enroll in a MOOC – I strongly suggest doing so – I’m currently participating in a MOOC through Cousera [Introduction to Sociology]. I’m learning quite a bit – not just about Sociology but about how MOOCs work [I’ll write a post at the conclusion of the course].
  • Participate in Webinars about MOOCs, listen to podcasts, watch panel discussions. I’ve also listed some links below that may be of interest for further reading.

If you have any ideas of how we can continue the dialogue in our own institutions, I would love to hear from you. It’s exciting times – change is inevitable. Cheating and MOOCs are just one small part of the big picture, but it’s a good place to start.



10 thoughts on “Cheating in a MOOC – an Oxymoron

  1. Pingback: Would rules and regulations strangle online education and learning? | Learner Weblog

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  4. Mike Souden

    Now you know why the “educational institution” is so hard to change. The “educational institution” is everyone and everyone has a different idea of what it should be.


    1. onlinelearninginsights Post author

      Hi Mike
      How right you are. With so many stakeholders – each with different agendas, motivations and varying levels of power, the barriers to change become high and wide. It will be the institutions with strong leadership to forge ahead with a clear vision, followed by a sound strategic plan that will be successful. Thanks for your comment Mike. Debbie


  5. Pingback: Cheating in a MOOC – an Oxymoron | E-Learning and Online Teaching Today

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