Tuesday, December 18, 2007

E-Learning the Big Loser at FSU

There's somewhere in the vicinity of 25 football players and at least one tutor and one academic advisor who are losers in the cheating scandal at Florida State University (FSU). Chances are also good that the FSU football team will lose to Kentucky in their lower-tier bowl game coming up at the end of the month. However, I think the biggest loser in all of this is going to be e-Learning in general. (CC Flickr photo by portorikan)

Of course they just had to have cheated on tests in an online course. In our one-size fits all world, that means everyone will be talking about how easy it is to cheat in online courses, as if cheating is somehow unique in online courses or more rampant than in other forms of higher education. I don't believe that, but many people do believe it and they will now have more ammunition as they talk negatively about e-Learning.

As I have read the somewhat sketchy (not very detailed) stories on the Internet about this scandal, I am struck by how none of what I'm reading appears to be specifically related to the fact that these courses were taken over the Internet. A tutor had been apparently (allegedly) helping the athletes cheat on exams, doing homework for them, and writing papers for them. Gee, does that sound anything like Jan Ganglehoff at U of Minn several years ago? Those allegations (truths, actually) were very similar, but had nothing to do with Internet-based education. Did people call for the end of all tutoring? Did people call for the end of all term papers? Did people call for the end of all athletic programs? No, no, and no! But this time it will be different. This time there will be a huge cry for the end of Internet-based courses and programs.

There are some interesting comments (almost 1,000 total comments as I write this, but only a few of them are interesting) at the end of a story about this on ESPN.com. Here's a good example from a source of unknown character and reliability (cbusch17): "I'm not excusing this, but for those of you who haven't been in school in the past 5-10 years or so and don't know anything about them, these internet courses are RIDICULOUS. I graduated from college in 2000, but I'm back a second time right now (at another major Florida university). When I went through the first time, we didn't have these classes. This time through, I took a couple of internet courses, but I quit taking them because EVERYONE CHEATS. It is RIDICULOUS. I have a 4.0 in my major right now, but I had to work harder in those internet classes than any other class I have had. Everyone uses their books or works together to take online quizzes/tests (unsupervised testing!?!? WHAT A JOKE!), and for the very few of us that didn't want to cheat, everyone else's overinflated grades made it almost impossible to do well in the class. I was tearing my hair out in these classes. Like I said, that doesn't excuse anyone, but when you put something like this in front of 18 year-old kids, especially ones who are as busy as student athletes, and under extreme pressure to keep their grades up, what do we expect to happen??? Internet courses are a joke, and another example of U.S. school systems cutting performance to save a buck. P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C." (link)

Another commenter (robert_ingalls) says the following: "Who gives online classes and then expects integrity?? Instances such as these are rampant on every campus and not limited to athletes. Stop giving online tests and no one will cheat on them. In a perfect world everyone would hold themselves to a high standard of integrity, but until then..." (same link as above).

A third one joins in but with a different take (cbn00034): " While I agree that Internet classes can be a bit of a joke it really depends on how the classses are administered. In reality the classes could be some of the better classes w/ a greater level of depth. Those administering the classes need to understand and EXPECT that people will huddle up, use notes, etc. So now it is up to them to create a class that requires people to use their brains in a different manner. Perhaps even have them come in to take their test on a computer bank that is proctered, on a scantron sheet, or a bluebook to thwart cheating if the group testing is not desired. It's all up to the schools and administrators. Wow - accountability for both the school and the students! There's a novel concept!"

The final one that I'll post right now is another post from the first one above (mister P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C.) Now he is agreeing with cbn00034: "cbn - Agree, the internet class system has got to change. Proctored exams would be a start, but right now it is so easy for the schools to just post everything online and wash their hands of it...why would they want to change that by creating more work for themselves? Maybe FSU will start the change, now that they obviously have a reason to..."

First of all, these quotes come from individuals who we cannot possibly know whether we should care about what they have to say. Having said that, I do think they are indicative of the kind of rhetoric that we can expect to swirl around this issue for quite some time now. Some of it pro, but most of it con.

My prediction: online learning will be the real loser here. The pundits will not blame the cheating student-athletes and the tutor, at least not nearly as mush as they blame online learning as the cause of this scandal.

One last note before I close, it is quite ironic that I have been working on another one of my e-Learning Mythbuster questions and that question deals with whether cheating is running rampant within e-Learning. Stay tuned for that.


Michael said...

My son has taken several online courses at the University of Illinois at Urbana in their NetMath program. They offer precalc, calc 1, 2, 3, differential equations, linear algebra and probability theory. The tests are proctored and the lessons and homework are done using sophisticated mathematics software. If someone is going to cheat, then they'd need to be very good at programming in Mathematica, and would have to bribe the proctors. Though if you're going to take this sequence of courses, then you're probably pretty serious about studying mathematics with the desire to learn.

The advent of the online colleges many years ago had me very skeptical and I still am. When we looked for online courses, we wanted quality and it is out there but very hard to find.

the fearless, the fit and the few said...

I just linked into your informative article concerning the integrity of academic testing in America.

I just completed what may be my last course as a college student, specifically, College Algebra, a requirement for my B.A. at Thomas Edison State College, America's leader for over thirty years in online higher education.

Come see the testing room here at 101 State Street in Trenton, New Jersey during midterm or final examinations. Bring some officials from Yale, Chicago and the U.S.M.C. with you;I believe our own Dr. Pruitt would be glad to show you around.

Now that graduation is around the corner for me, I can say that if I had to have a kidney changed tomorrow by a surgeon who did her B.S. at FSU, I'd wait until somebody from Thomas Edison was available to slice me open....

H.I. William Few
Thomas Edison State College '08