Collaboration vs. collusion

Yesterday I was invited to look through the work of a class following our Applied Business GCSE scheme. Privacy rules normally prevent me from doing this, so it’s a real privilege to be allowed to have a root around.

One thing I discovered was a pattern of two students who often got the same marks for multiple-choice assignments. Looking further, I found that they had answered each question the same and had worked at the same time – generally after school hours.

Kids colluding on their homework has been going on since the time of Aristotle, so this is no great surprise. What is interesting, though, is the differences when it happens online:

  • automarking means that the teacher is less likely to notice
  • automated tools can detect it automatically (Paperless School doesn’t currently have such tools, but they would be easy enough to incorporate)

But there’s a deeper issue. Is this good or bad for the students’ learning? When I’ve watched ‘cheating’ behaviour in the classroom, I’ve seen two distinct patterns. Making the issue even more complex is the fact that they are generally gender-specific.

  • Boys: the dominant boy tells the subordinate boys in his group what answers to give.
  • Girls: each question is discussed and a consensus reached. I’ve even seen groups of girls test an answer on one computer to see if they’ve got it right, then modify it for others.

Clearly, the boys are drawing the short straw here. They are cheating to their own detriment. The girls are gaining more from the exercise than they are losing. Teaching both genders under the same rules doesn’t seem to be working in this respect. This will come as no surprise to proponents of gender-segregated schooling.

Social engineering is outside my remit; software engineering is not. I’m now speculating about how elearning systems can differentiate for gender (or more generally personality) differences, in the same way some already differentiate for attainment level. Are collaboration and individual learning the only alternatives? What about competitive learning? I’d love to do a joint project with a games publisher!

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