Thursday, May 30, 2013

tipping points: 12 ideas for moving from correspondence to relevance in distributed learning

Today I came across an intriguing blog post called Tipping Point by Doug Smith at He highlights the issue of students ditching regular school to get higher grades through distance education via online courses (also called Distributed Learning or DL). After chatting with Janet Steffenhagen about this topic and putting voice to some ideas that have been floating around in my brain for some time, I thought I'd respond to Doug's post with a post of my own. With the BC Edplan pushing more online learning, I think it is important that we give this subject critical attention and not put the cart before the horse, so to speak -- let's get our online learning to meet ambitious goals and quality checks before we push it on students.

I would echo some of Doug Smith's concerns as I've seen them play out in Northern BC. Alongside my "normal" teaching job I've also marked correspondence for the Central Interior Distance Education School and have designed some Distributed Learning (DL) materials and an online course. While DL programs vary dramatically across our province in terms of quality and style, I can only speak about the one I know, and then only with the particular courses with which I've been involved. Students up here enrol for a variety of reasons, although I'd rank "because it was a better fit" and "because I'd exhausted conventional avenues" above the grade fixing motives mentioned in Doug Smith's post. We get many DL students who have failed at school and need the credit, have worn out their welcome in mainstream or alternate programs, live in a rural communities or attend small schools where a particular course is not offered, want extra credits to graduate early, are avoiding regular school for personal, health, or philosophic reasons (e.g. homeschoolers), use distance education to compliment a special program (like our PacificSport elite athlete school), or are adult learners looking to upgrade. And yes, we get a few who see DL as a quicker, sometimes better way to get a course grade that might be unobtainable at their default school.

Our success rates for students who register are not great, far lower than brick-and-mortar schools, somewhere in the 20% range according to the last info I got (anyone who knows, feel free to correct me), but higher for electives and higher for students who complete the first quarter of the course (they tend to keep on to the end). Having marked thousands of Social Studies correspondence papers over the years, there are definitely two camps -- students for whom DL is remedial (for both behavioural and academic reasons), and students who need the DL because they've designed an alternate path towards graduation. Camp A generally struggles, and finds the material boring or tricky to navigate. Camp B generally takes whatever we throw at them and finds a way to make it meaningful. There is probably a third camp of students who apply for any of the reasons above, try the registration assignment and maybe one or two more, and decide is is not their cup of tea -- this is likely the biggest factor influencing success rates.

The problem as I've seen it in my context is that many of our courses are out of date and lack pedagogical integrity. Most of the coursework is still delivered as stacks of paper -- volumes of hand-delivered reading and practice activities (that most students do not read or complete), and very thin assignments that are designed to be assessed in a few minutes by a contract marker (like myself), then couriered back to the DL school for checking, then couriered back to students. The marked assignments contain so many "freebies" -- fill-in-the-blanks, matching, closed questions -- that it is hard to fail, even when the work is incomplete. Most students skip right past the practice sections and rip through the send-in portions in a fraction of the time intended by the course designers. I routinely mark paper after paper where students have not really done anything other than complete worksheets and yet get full credit (high marks) for meeting learning outcomes. There is no differentiation in the marked work between tasks that sets the stage for deeper learning, and meaningful performances by students to demonstrate proficiency with learning intentions. These assignments are punctuated with tests that focus on recall and repeat many of the questions from the reading packages. Online courses, often set up on a "Moodle" platform, fall into the same trap, but now adding layers of logins, inboxes, file management, and self-marking tests to the basic idea of “correspondence, ” although they do allow the possibility of analytics and updating the course material (something done maybe once every 10 years with the paper packages). These courses nominally address prescribed learning outcomes, that is, they "cover" them, but would not pass any reasonable audit that looked at educational design, student experience, or a matching of learning intentions to assessed outcomes. In short, we've filled a gap, namely the need for some DL courses for special students, but we're not doing our best work.

The result? Too many of our DL courses fast-track the learning process, offering easy paths to completion, and have built-in barriers that prevent a fluid assessment of deep understanding. We’ve taken the worst part of “brick-and-mortar” education -- batch processing, piles of worksheets and textbook questions, transmission -- and made this the mode of DL delivery. We’ve taken the best of classroom learning -- interaction, give-and-take on the daily work, humour and personality -- and replaced them with dry digital tools or just dropped them altogether. The DL experience for most students is disembodied, impersonal, and unchallenging. This is not a criticism of our DL or Alt school staff, for I know and respect many of them and the work they do with students, many of whom are at-risk and marginal, and they often have intense caseloads with no allotted time for course revisions. Rather,  this is an analysis of our default approach to DL design, at least 30 years in the making. It is difficult to get the attention of everyone needed to make needed changes, and virtually no budgets exist for new course construction or project development. The teachers who have tried to make their courses more dynamic and interactive have done so largely off the sides of their desks. I believe the current paper and digital models are cost-neutral or even profitable (funding exceeds costs), so that will also hold up change. It seems we need a perfect storm at times to break the status quo. It should be noted that every teacher I have met at our local DL school would love to sink more time into course improvement, but the structure (time, money, mandate to wipe the slate clean where needed) is not there.

I think there has been wide recognition in BC that blended learning and certain kinds of flipped classrooms can take the best of online learning and face-to-face learning and create great learning environments. The problems is that there is still a need for distance-based DL coursework. Some schools and districts have even made these a requirement, e.g. offering the mandatory Planning 10 only as a DL course (thus easily bumping up their reported numbers of DL students). What we need in BC are new positive models for taking DL out of the correspondence paradigm and unleashing hands-on, personalized, embodied, inquiry and project-based learning. These are approaches that are difficult in regular classrooms where we are trying to "manage" 24-30 kids at a time, but they are naturals for students who have freedom of time, movement, and resource selection. We need to leverage the fact that students are not bound by classroom walls and teacher with very specific tasks at hand.

What would this take?
  1. Design
  2. - to start, it wouldn't hurt for our DL schools to actually read and assess the DL design documents the Ministry of Education recommends for course development. I've got reservations about some of the underlying assumptions, but they are an improvement over the design principles at play in most correspondence courses I've ever seen.  Naturally, if a DL school wanted to act on these design guidelines, they need time to sort this out and co-create new approaches.
  3. Initiative - DL teachers could start replacing module packages with inquiry projects involving student design for field study, interviews, multimodal expression, and self-assessment. Our papers reflect the "transmission" paradigm, transfer of knowledge, and pre-judge that our students have limited ability to ask questions on their own or can structure research plan. This isn't for every DL student, but it should at least be one of the course paths they can take. 
  4. Choice - students should not have "practice work" and "send-in work," they should have guided choices to make about how they want to explore learning outcomes and everything they do towards this end should either be placed in a portfolio or represented in some way for interaction with an audience (parent, teacher, marker, other students, etc.). We can certainly make suggestions, but the students should be picking the apps to see this through, if they want to go digital at all. Many do not want more technology -- they are already saturated. 
  5. Interaction - we need more practice and support with safe and appropriate social media and collaborative Web 2.0 tools to better provide interaction for both students and educators, going beyond webquests and virtual field trips to actually explore what "voice" looks like in synchronous and asynchronous settings. Having a loaner program to compliment a BYOD policy also helps. 
  6. Go Global - use TED, iTunes U, MOOCs, learning repositories, digital learning commons, and external online courses as a casual backdrop to more personal and focused connection with a local DL school could keep student-teacher ratios down and place the student in a learning space that acknowledges that knowledge is not confined to schools. Move from canned, text-based courses to learning plans that blend student inquiry, teacher oversight/formative intervention, and completely open resources. When online learning replaces real connection, the result is superficiality (just google Khan Academy criticism to find out why), but digital spaces are undeniably powerful and need to play a role... I'm using one now!
  7. Orientation - we should be setting up face-to-face bootcamps for self-regulation and DL-appropriate study skills. The root cause of failure for most DL students is the inability to handle the isolation and unguided nature of the coursework. If we're going to turn the teacher into a case manager, the least we can do is shore up student skills at independent learning.
  8. Multiple Paths - students should be able to cut straight to the critical thinking, to the embodied learning, to the application of skills, and skip past busywork if they show they are ready (we currently have no way of determining this in a DL course). Instead of students completing 4 modules out of 4 and writing 4 tests, maybe students should do 3 modules out of 6 and then move into comprehensive project-based learning or portfolio development.
  9. Social/Cohort Learning - we should see more experimenting with staggered intakes and DL cohorts; maybe students take core curriculum in a class or online course, and then complete the rest of the course in a group that uses a DL structure to guide inquiry and provide virtual meeting spaces (this would technically be blended learning, but could accommodate strictly "distance" students).
  10. Direct Experience - students should be able to skip the technology (or use different kinds of technology than we typically supply or recommend) and just try stuff out or learn by doing. I know the word "voucher" will make many readers clench up, but what's the harm in imagining a few learning spaces the way Christopher Alexander et al did in A Pattern Language. A DL teacher is perfectly poised to guide this process, vet the opportunities, and, alongside parents, ensure safety.
  11. Scaled Spaces - this leads to the need for school sites that are in-between what we see now: DL hubs (that many DL students will not visit) and classroom factories (that still meet the needs of most students and especially parents -- it is an efficient model, after all). I'm thinking about guild-like spaces that allow or require students to drop in for regular check-ins with a caring teacher, formative assessments, guest speakers or itinerant teachers, and portfolio presentations. This might be a way to dial up or down the "blended" aspect of distance and online learning, and could be a school-saving model for small and rural populations that are forced to look at DL education systems due to our provincial funding model and their demographics.
  12. Community focus - we need to rethink roles for parental involvement -- DL does allow parents to be more involved with students' work at home, but they don't get to celebrate the same way "schooled" parents to with recitals and open presentations. Getting teachers to blog about student success is also needed in the DL world... very tough when there is so little sustained contact. Students are already dialed in (often detrimentally) to a community that includes family, friends, and an entire community that peers in on their learning. Let's make that less dysfunctional and redeem real and digital spaces by wedging in family and community celebration -- turn some of students' angst-ridden energy into meaningful identity work.
  13. Decentralize - we also need to see that DL courses need not be the purview of stand-alone DL schools. The best way to experiment with blended, flipped class, and online/distance learning reform is not to force a DL school to "get with the 21st century," it is to support teachers and administrators wherever they are and whenever they express an interest in trying out new ideas. You can't put a system price on that commodity -- willing educators' unique skills, expertise, and enthusiasm fed by real student needs in real contexts. This trumps all the top-down reform models I've ever seen. Giving a classroom teacher (or a small group of teachers) the chance to run one or two DL courses ensures sanity and keeps the experience fresh -- our DL teachers often suffer from the isolation and large caseloads that come with the present model. Spreading DL across a district means that the best pedagogy follows the passion, and that the leadership is distributed.
This last point reminds us that DL reform should not be done to save money or increase student-teacher ratios, unless the goal is sabotage.  It is also worth noting that most of these recommendations are not new -- our district, for example, had a working group on this topic from 2003-05.

Anyways, there are hundreds of ideas out there for making DL work, we just need to permission to try some out, a willingness to make mistakes (couldn't be much worse than what we are dong now), and some protocols around reviewing success so that it doesn't end up a gong show. We need to get better at celebrating and replicating practices that makes sense; I suppose I paint a gloomy picture but there are certainly some local and many provincial exceptions to the old-school "correspondence" rules. A few years ago I designed a whole DL course around the "unbound student" (interviews, field research, multimodality, portfolios, student design and choice, embedded inquiry, etc.), but having turned it over to other DL schools to administer, I have no idea how it is being used, if at all. I'm taking a second stab at it with a blended learning program next year, so I can test some of my theories with real students.

I would encourage our DL schools, local and provincial, to communicate more about what they are doing that is working and beef up the kinds of collaborations that are necessary for DL to step out of the "correspondence" shadows. I believe that DL (along with Alternate Ed programs) is one of the best places to experiment with 21st Century Learning. I'd love to hear from other DL teachers and administrators about their ideas and success stories for making DL engaging, challenging, and not an escape hatch for students looking for easy credit. Feel free to comment or email me about it. If nothing else I can pass on your insight to our local DL school principal.

I found another interesting post on this topic by BC teacher Brad Wilson at The article, DL Credentialism, describes how DL "pulls students out of an engaging and challenging learning environment into one that is perceived by the student as easier and less challenging." An unsettling and provocative read.

Through a great twitter conversation with the folks mentioned in my blog post, the topic also came up of auditing Distributed Learning schools and courses. Whether this is a BC-wide review or a series of local program evaluations, what would the focus be? To start, we should be inquiring about student experience (e.g. opportunities for interaction with other students and the teacher), teacher caseload & contract contexts, fidelity to curriculum (including ratio of higher-level and inclusion of domains), benchmarks (whether "pure" or related to face-to-face learning), basic questions about the goals, purpose, methods (and seeking stakeholder input on how these are being met), and finally, perhaps most importantly, do students get actual value in what they are learning & the assessment they receive?

I have also been made aware that there is, in fact, some ways for DL schools to be accountable for the quality of the course they offer. The BC Ministry of Education requires DL schools to adhere to a number of guidelines and makes quality reviews available. If these were applied to my local context, it would make a very positive difference. I'm guessing that at some point the Ministry signed off on what happens here, but I'm also guessing that was a long time ago and did not include a quality review.  Educators Michael Barbour and Bonnie Jeansonne are good resources on this topic.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

mandate to govern

I've heard a few comments recently that Christy Clark doesn't have a mandate to lead our province considering only 23% of the eligible voters chose her party in last week's BC election.  I'm not thrilled about it, but Christy Clark does indeed have what passes for a mandate to govern in our society and is not to blame for voter apathy, nor the fact that we use the "first-past-the-post" system. Our electoral system is designed to favour a party that can win the most seats, but it has never resulted in a provincial or federal government supported by even 50% of the eligible votes. It is probably fair to say (in light of some excellent feedback via twitter... see comments below), that the term mandate itself could be questioned, as can the extent to which our system is actually democratic vs institutional hegemony that cloaks itself with populist shows every few years.

Canada’s first election in 1867 was won by John A. Macdonald with 34.5% of the votes. Although only about a tenth of the population were on the electoral list, voter turnout was still 73%. This means that Macdonald governed with a mandate from 25% of the electorate and only about 3% of the total population.

The worst turnout in the early years was 62.9% in 1896, when Wilfred Laurier won with 41% of the vote compared to Tupper’s 48% -- less votes but more seats. Thus one of our greatest PMs came to power in second place on a mandate from 26% of the electorate or about 7% of the total population. This has happened a few times... such as the 1979 federal election (Joe Clark beat Trudeau), or BC in 1996 (Glen Clark beat Gordon Campbell) but in each case the winning party had less votes than their main opponent.

Borden, who led Canada into WWI, won the 1911 election narrowly against Laurier with 34% of the electorate behind him.

Mackenzie King lost his own seat and lost the election in 1925 with 39% of the votes (26% of the electorate) compared to Arthur Meighen’s 46% of the votes (31% of the electorate), but he still became PM with the support of the Progressives.

Our best federal turnout was in 1963, with 79.2% voting. Pearson beat Diefenbaker with 42% to 33% of the vote (or 33% to 26% of the electorate).

With the support of 31% of the electorate in 1980, Trudeau claimed a mandate that enabled him fight separatism and patriate the constitution.

Stephen Harper first came to power in 2006 with 23% of the electorate. He gained another minority mandate in 2008, where the turnout was our worst ever at 58.8%. He won with 22% of the electorate behind him.

As far as I can tell, the PMs with highest percentage of eligible voters were Borden in 1917 and Diefenbaker in 1958, both at 43% of the electorate (57% and 54% of the vote respectively). The "best mandate" for a BC premier in modern times was Gordon Campbell in 2001. No wonder Christy Clark felt emboldened as Education Minister to wreak havoc in 2002.

Just like the federal scene, provincial mandates to govern are also settled by a minority of the electorate, as seen in Figure 1.1 below (source: 2nd p. of appendix)

Note that the winning parties gained power with an average support of 32.2% of the eligible votes, roughly the same as the percent of people who did not vote during this period. The highest eligible voter support was Campbell’s first win in 2001 (41%), lowest was his last win in 2009 (23%), about the same as the result for Christy Clark last week, a slightly lower than the NDP's first win in BC (1972, 27%) and similar to the mandate given to John A. Macdonald in Canada’s first election (25%).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

academic honesty
My school, D.P. Todd, is discussing changes to its school-based policy on academic (dis)honesty. I happen to have missed both staff meetings where this came up, and will not be attending the follow-up meeting to discuss, so I thought I'd add my two bits. My understanding of why this is on the radar is that we have disagreement between most staff and administration about how to handle serious cases of academic dishonesty, and that perhaps some policy renewal is needed to clarify the options and practices we employ around this topic.

So, with due respect to the variety of valid opinions on this subject, what I hope we are not confusing is:
  1. ongoing assessment and attempts at learning (some successful, some not) which are aimed at improving students' competency and proficiency with course outcomes, and 
  2. a breech of ethics and failure of judgement (destructive to the ongoing learning process) that is involved when a student cheats or plagiarizes. 
Student learning is part of a continuous spectrum from first attempts to final projects and exams. Likewise, assessment shifts depending on the intention behind student's demonstration of learning. At many steps along the way, students can make mistakes or failed attempts, but our assessment practice typically absorbs these as legitimate efforts to improve, often with marks attached. Cheating and plagiarizing are not "poor efforts," they are the ultimate rejection of the learning outcomes that carry academic consequences, increasingly serious with key assessments and repeated offenses. They are attempts to circumvent or sabotage learning, not merely an incomplete effort or false start. Additionally, there is a pedagogical factor that bears on the issues. The ethos at play is that students need to demonstrate proficiency with outcomes even if they don't get marks for them. This sentiment is present in virtually every academic honesty policy I can find in SD57 schools (see below), as well as BC colleges and universities. Therefore, I think the intention of our current policy has merit, although the wording could be updated. There is no District "policy" and there does not seem to be a rational basis for a District "philosophy" either -- opinions from a handful of colleagues at the board office at best, beliefs which may indeed be at odds with every school policy on academic honesty in our district. I can't be certain because I have not yet seen this "philosophy" -- can anyone point it out to me?

I think we need a policy, made for our school, that:
  1. takes cheating and plagiarism seriously, including support for teachers who remove credit from the offending student's unethical work, 
  2. allows both teacher autonomy and administrative flexibility for unusual cases, 
  3. is not wildly disparate from other school policies in SD57 or the post-secondary institutions our students will attend, and, ideally, 
  4. reflects at least some democratic approximation of what we believe about our students and their education. 
Over the last week, I've inquired about this topic at area schools. The most common policy in SD57 reads:
"Students at _______ are expected to apply themselves to their studies in a positive and honest manner. Copying other people’s work and claiming it as your own (plagiarism) or attempting to cheat on assignments/tests is serious forms of academic misconduct. Consequences for cheating or plagiarism will likely result in loss of credit for the assignment and could result in administrative action. Students will be required to demonstrate the learning targets of the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO’s) of the Ministry Curriculum, even if no credit is given."
This policy is used, with almost no variation, at PGSS, Duchess, and CHSS, as noted in their respective policy manuals, e.g., p. 15]. Ours (see p. 94/95 in our "SOAP" manual) is a bit different because, unlike many schools, our policies have been "made at D.P. Todd," many of them dating back to the school opening and the "visioning" that took place in 1977.  Of course, our policy manual and practices have evolved since then, although we have ignored policy development in recent years.

I would suggest we blend what we already have with some of this wording (possibly with consideration to the policies from KRSS and CLA; see below), but replace ILOs with PLOs, and indicate a typical series of consequences after the mention of administrative action, similar to what we have now.

Additionally, we need to ensure our Grade 8s and new arrivals are oriented to our policy (not sure what we do about that now), and we need to use instances of significant academic dishonesty as opportunities for learning, in addition to (not instead of) the consequences -- e.g. involve the students and parents in the debrief. Our orientation should examine the spectrum of how research is conducted and expressed, from single author to collaborative work, and how each one varies in terms of acknowledgement. We should also find new ways to guide students away from the copy & paste culture, and surf/skim/regurgitate tendencies that have become too familiar. Lastly, we should examine why students cheat or plagiarize -- e.g. for some it is because they lack integrity and think they can get away with it, for some it is because they are desperate and frustrated with self and/or school.


District policy vs philosophy: 
It seems clear there is no District "policy" on this issue other than support for schools in creating their own policies -- this is logical because the School Board generally steers clear of policies that supersede teacher autonomy, whereas School Policy is usually designed to walk the line between teacher autonomy and shared goals among staff and educational community. If school administration wants an "opt out" clause to offer leniency or flexibility, that is their prerogative, but our basic policy needs to retain support for the actions that teachers consistently take to address academic honesty.

As to a District "philosophy," I think we need to dig deeper. District-level credibility on this issue could be questioned for a variety of reasons, including their own track record on academic rigour, and perhaps a lack of experience in secondary schools by those articulating the philosophy. This is not meant to be harsh -- but is meant to show that our board office counterparts are simply fellow educators, as prone to difference and controversy as we all are, and not necessarily experts on this topic. They have valid opinions, but if there is an actual "district philosophy" it has not expressed in any official capacity (that I can find) nor has it been developed with any kind of legitimate process (e.g. involvement of teachers). If the board office want to move into policy-formation on this topic, then it is a different matter, quite within their purview to attempt, anyways, within contract language on teacher autonomy. I would suggest that the district's Teacher-Librarian Association would be a more reputable source for leadership on academic honesty; they wrote an excellent open letter on this topic last year. We should also consider other existing policies in our district, the post-secondary institutions our students will attend, and other recognized experts in the field.


Here is a somewhat more developed policy from CLA (
"If a CIDES teacher finds evidence of academic misconduct the following consequences will be applied:

First Offense - A letter outlining the problem will be sent by registered mail to the parents of school aged students (under 18 years) or directly to adult students. This letter will be copied to students’ files. A mark of ZERO (0) will be recorded for the test or assignment. The student will not be allowed to redo or resubmit the test or assignment.

Second Offense - A letter outlining the problem will be sent by registered mail to the parents of school aged students (under 18 years) or directly to adult students. This letter will be copied to the student’s file. The student will be withdrawn from the course with no final grade recorded on his/her transcript. If withdrawn, a student cannot reregister in this course at any distance education school in BC for one year.

Students and their parents have 30 days to request an appeal of any decision regarding academic misconduct. Appeals must be in writing and addressed to the Principal of CIDES. Appeals will be heard by phone or in person by the principal and will include input from the course teacher, student and/or parents. Decisions by the principal may be appealed to the Assistant Superintendent of Schools of School District No. 57 (Prince George) who can be contacted at 250.561.6800."

Here is the KRSS Academic Honesty Policy from the most recent version of the Kelly Road Secondary Staff Handbook
Students are expected to demonstrate honesty in their academic work.

These regulations cover, but are not limited to, the following types of academic dishonesty: 1. Cheating on quizzes, tests, exams, or major assignments
2. Submitting copied assignments (or portions thereof)
3. Plagiarizing from print or electronic sources.

The following consequences will be applied when it has been confirmed that a student has been academically dishonest:

Step One
1. The classroom teacher will notify the parents and submit the student's name to the Principal or Vice Principals where a record will be kept.
2. The student may receive a zero for the work in question.
3. If another student enabled the cheating to occur, that student may receive a zero on the work in question.

Step Two - When it has been confirmed through the record kept in the office that a student has cheated for a second time:
1. The student may receive a zero for the work in question.
2. The Principal or Vice Principals will suspend the student from school for two days.
3. The Principal or Vice Principals will refer the student and parents to the counselling department to discuss the problem.

Step Three - When it has been confirmed through the record kept in the office that a student has cheated for a third time:
1. The student may receive a zero for the work in question.
2. The parents will be called in to review the educational placement of the student. The outcome of this review will be a consideration of a new educational placement for the student. Options for a new placement may include, but are not limited to a new school, correspondence, withdrawal from the course or transfer to a different section of the course."

For comparison, here some post-secondary regulations on academic honesty:

UNBC - see #45 & 46
Common themes for CNC and UNBC include option for instructors to assign zeros.


Methods of research, communication, use of technology, learning styles change over time of course, but the basic ideal of "the rational, autonomous self" is a cornerstone of education, along with pursuit of individual virtue. This virtuous and autonomous "self" needs to progressively own their ideas, thoughts, and communications -- this includes learning about and adhering to basic principles of academic honesty. Instances of cheating and plagiarism are unfortunate, but they are also one of the few places where we have a high-stakes opportunity to reinforce the ideals of student autonomy and virtue. We are not merely introducing the idea of academic honesty in secondary school -- the students are very much aware of the concept when they arrive. In other words, they are far enough along the learning curve that direct consequences are expected. If we start tolerating plagiarism and cheating as if they are little "whoops" or "don't do it again" moments then we are eroding at a key framework in education, and betray the efforts of teachers and parents to build up honesty and integrity in our students.

Recent (postmodern) critiques of the enlightenment view of education question the very nature of the rational, autonomous self and the illusion of virtue (cf As well, 21st century learning emphasizes collaboration and team projects, sharing of ideas, and a shift from knowledge being deposited and held in the learner to knowledge being constantly accessible via technology. We should not confuse this view of self nor the rise of co-created knowledge as a change in student responsibility for rigorous thinking and expression of research. In fact, it is even more important in a 21st century learning environment that students sift their own work through lenses they pick up during research, think through what a crisis of representation might involve, learn how to cite sources, etc. An example of this is when students need to choose what kind of creative commons label to place on the constructions they place online. Another example is the "mashup" -- students combining existing pieces of media in order to tell a new story (think youtube); this can just as easily be a learning opportunity about sources and acknowledgement as it can be about students struggling to find authenticity in a cultural milieu saturated by "borrowing." The "21st century student" is not off the hook for academic integrity, but has entered a creative zone in which foregrounding the identity of one's work is a careful, complicated, and valuable pursuit. The boundary between honest and cheat, between original and copied, will always be a source of discussion and place of learning, but criteria laid out by teachers for assignments and assessments draws fairly clear lines, and needs to be respected and supported by a policy that a majority of staff selects and administration can enforce. Anything less, and we might as well not have any policies.


It is also important to consider "degrees." An employee who is poor at their job might be given opportunities to improve; an employee that steals from the company would likely be fired. For our context, students copying each others' worksheets before a quiz would be serious for some teachers and part of group-learning for another teacher. A student who is sloppy with references on a poster or webquest might irk one teacher and go unnoticed by another. These are great opportunities for discussion, articulation of values, etc. -- teachable moments where a typical consequence might be a redo or a revision. I think that is where the District "philosophy" should at least be considered. A student caught cheating on a test or exam, or submitting an intact piece of work (like a research project or essay) that contains plagiarized work is a few degrees more serious. There can certainly be a discussion and opportunity to learn from this breech of ethics and academic integrity, but there is an obvious and purposeful role for significant consequence. Commonly, in fact with virtual ubiquity in any secondary and post-secondary setting, this consequence is the teacher's option to give zeros for the work and a referral to the institution's administration for further action, gaining in seriousness with subsequent offenses.

There's plenty more that could be added to this discussion, so I hope others on staff join the discussion. How do other schools navigate serious academic dishonesty? Is the "21st Century Student," who learns in a different informational paradigm than previous generations, off the hook for rigorous academic standards?