Challenges to Online Collaboration

Does enabling students to read each others' assignments increase or decrease the chance that someone will use other students' ideas unethically? In Rhetoric and the WWW, I required assignments to be posted in discussion forums for particular reasons that I spelled out in the Syllabus. I took the view that making not only assignments but team planning processes available to all students would reduce the possibility of cheating, partly because of sheer transparency. The fact that students could (and in fact were encouraged to) look at others’ work in process as well as final assignments acted, I thought, as a check-and-balance, making it more difficult for a student to get away with passing a fellow student’s work off as their own.

Here, community "norms" come into play. Any attempt to use another student's work would not only have been noticed by the instructor but by the offended student. The offense might not have been "outed" to the entire community but would, nonetheless, have been an egregious violation of not only academic ethics but of the community and social standards (tacit and explicit) governing our course site—standards the students themselves had some say in creating.

See this Australian Flexible Learning Network discussion page for two opposing views of whether online assignments run a greater risk of being plagiarized. I tend toward the first.

Here are two starting-point "best practices" to enhance students' online collaborative writing experience without increasing the risk of plagiarism:

1. A text aimed at students—Learning online: a guide to success in the virtual classroom (2004)—explains that online instructors employ several valid methods to help prevent “cheating on assessments.” One is cooperative learning:

Assignments are made that require some degree of cooperation and coordination among students ... [and] make it difficult for a student to find consistent [outside] help throughout a project of some duration and complexity. (Lynch, 2004, p. 179)

2. Another method is to make all assessments (assignments) “open book” as well as substantive (Lynch, 2004, p. 179) ... which, in a way, describes the open-forum structure of Rhetoric and the WWW.



Australian Flexible Learning Network. (2004). Assessment and online teaching. Australian National Training Authority. Retrieved 9 April 2007 from s/assessment.pdf

Lynch, M. M. (2004). Learning online: a guide to success in the virtual classroom. New York: Routledge.