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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Academic dishonesty in a wiki world



An important part of what I teach is ethics and morality in a technological world. Today I met up with a new one!

A student wanted to "help" the others so he posted the homework answers on a wiki for the others. (Unbeknownst to him, all of the changes to the wiki are sent to my bloglines account! Also, the English teacher logs into it frequently and caught it before they turned in their papers. I could go in the history and determine the person.)

We addressed it with the entire class. I discussed how copying homework is cheating whether done by copying the actual paper or by sharing answers electronically. The students were quite shocked that we nosed it out so quickly. (I have found that vigilance is essential in dealing with such matters. When dealt with quickly, this is very rarely an issue in my classroom.)

They also know that I am the National Honor Society advisor and the students are not allowed entrance with more than one documented case of academic dishonesty.

Some students have found a way to share homework from time immemorium and they will take this practice to the web. Some teachers will say "See, I told you wikis were bad."

Wikis are not at fault! The ethics of the students need to be addressed. I wonder if the executives at Enron copied their homework when they were in school?

Here is how I feel about it. In my files, I have a US Today in an article from April 9, 1997 posted an article about what really sank the Titanic. Here is what the article says:

"Scientists now say that a series of slits, not a giant gash sank the Titanic...six relatively narrow slits across the watertight holds...Small damage, below the waterline and invisible to most, can sink a huge ship."


If such small damage, below the waterline and away from the view of anyone, can sink a huge ship what can small compromises do the character of a human being. Small compromises. Small slips in ethics. Miniscule deviations from the truth can sink the character of a human being.

Should we care about these small slits? Should we address the seemingly small slips of character in our students!

Yes! No because we ourselves are perfect but because when things come to our attention we have the opportunity to teach. Some of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned have been at the hand of a kind and loving disciplinarian who "didn't let me get away with it."

Character is important. Character is often best taught as we deal with student issues such as this.

As long as we have students, some of them will find a way to let their ethics slide by copying homework.

As long as we have teachers, some of them will find a way to let their ethics slide by allowing students to be dishonest. Thus, they will teach students that there are not consequences for their actions.

I cannot redress the thousand things that do not come to my attention, however, I am accountable for what I do observe. As teachers and parents, we set the standards our children will live by. How many less scandals would there be in the world today if teachers addressed improprieties when they were "small" and could be dealt with in smaller ways?

Tiny, invisible slits sink great ships!


(Also of interest today in the education world is an article in US Today that says that "Parents and Teachers agree that students get about the right amount of homework."

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