Social engagement is front and centre in today’s teaching and learning environment, and the proliferation of technological applications makes it easier than ever for students to connect with one another.
As a Centre, we encourage instructors to engage students. This often involves some form of peer learning activity where students work together to share ideas, debate, solve problems, provide feedback, reach consensus on test questions, create a project, etc. Even with introspective reflective activities, we encourage students to share their reflections and provide feedback to one another. These highly social activities take place in the face-to-face classroom and in online spaces alike, through the learning management system and/or through one of the many social media tools designed to connect large groups of people in a dedicated online space. I think it’s safe to say that the academy values sharing and collaboration in teaching and learning. There is much evidence to suggest that students also value sharing and collaboration in learning.
Judging from students’ widespread use of applications such as Facebook, Piazza, Snapchat, Instagram, QQ, Yik Yak, and others, it seems that a great many students are comfortable in a culture of connecting virtually with fellow students to share their opinions, ideas, and knowledge. I’ve recently learned that for many students, participation in these online forums is driven by prosocial values. In this day and age where wide-spread sharing is easy and immediate, several issues concerning academic integrity arise.
One issue is that we sometimes see excessive collaboration on assessments and assignments that were meant to be completed individually. But when we encourage peer learning and even peer evaluation, how do students know when they’ve crossed the line? Indeed, how do students know where the line is when that line is not explicitly defined in the first place, and shifts from one course to another? How do we help students determine what “original work” looks like when they’ve discussed their ideas with peers and their peers have provided feedback? When we promote peer learning, how do we define excessive collaboration?
Another issue is that it has become common to see course assignments, class notes, lecture recordings, lab reports, midterms, and essays can be quickly and easily shared, traded, bought, and/or sold on the internet. In fact, some websites use prosocial language to attract students who are looking for “study resources” to help them “build a better learning community” in order to “excel” (https://www.coursehero.com/). Awareness of these shared “resources” may be common knowledge among students. Are they common knowledge among instructors? Are instructors aware of the backdrop of sharing that happens outside of the course learning management system? If so, how does this awareness influence their decisions around course design? Is there anything that instructors can do to prevent their teaching materials from being posted publically? What do we tell students who worry that their original work will be posted publically (or worse, sold) by a peer with whom they have shared it in a peer evaluation activity?
These are just some of the concerns that affect those of us who teach and learn at university today. Perhaps students, administrators, and instructors can, and should, connect with one another to share their thoughts about how to navigate teaching and learning in this culture of sharing.