To elaborate on my previous gamification articles, I'd like to touch on the related issue of false achievement--learning how to play the system, or even cheat, in a game or learning environment to acquire the best game outcome (i.e., a win or level up) without actually getting the best learning outcome.
This is a real concern when gamifying a learning environment. What happens when the student's desire to win becomes greater than the desire to learn? Similarly, what if the desire to win is already the driving force from the beginning?
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education provides some disturbing evidence--Dozens of Plagiarism Incidents Are Reported in Coursera's Free Online Courses:
Students taking free online courses offered by the startup company Coursera have reported dozens of incidents of plagiarism, even though the courses bear no academic credit. This week a professor leading one of the so-called Massive Open Online Courses posted a plea to his 39,000 students to stop plagiarizing, and Coursera's leaders say they will review the issue and consider adding plagiarism-detection software in the future.
But why would anyone cheat in a not-for-credit course? Perhaps because, for some people, feeling accomplished or doing well as compared to their peers is more important than actually learning.
Hamburg University's Sebastian Deterding gave a presentation a couple years ago at Playful 2010 in London called Pawned. Gaming and Its Discontents. In that lecture he spoke about troubling issues in the gamification of learning--particularly the issue of false achievement and "gaming the system." One example he gave was of Australian economist Joshua Gans. Using his knowledge of economics, Gans decided to potty train his daughter by rewarding her with Skittles candies every time she successfully "went." Over time his daughter started to "game the system" and conditioned herself to go potty every 20 minutes to increase her Skittle payout. When it came time for the younger sibling to be potty trained, Gans added a social element to the Skittle-potty game and rewarded his older daughter every time her brother went to the potty. So, for optimum Skittle profit, she gave her brother lots of water so he'd have to "go" more. If his children ended up successfully potty trained, do we care that the system was gamed in the process? Or does this negate the success altogether?
The principle of Skittle potty training relates back to cheating in the non-credit courses in that it appears it may be in human nature to "win," regardless of what the over-arching effects may be... even if you're only hurting yourself in the long run.
But just how common is cheating in online courses and eLearning? This post by Anna Luce of the Instructional Design & Development blog has some insights on cheating in the online classroom. One study she mentions, conducted by Marshall University, found that 74 percent of respondents felt it was easier to cheat in an online class and 61 percent thought that their classmates would be five times more likely to cheat in an online class. This, however, appears to be only the perception, not the reality, as another study by Friends University showed that online students were actually less likely to cheat than their face-to-face peers and that "the amount of academic misconduct among online students may not be as prevalent as believed."
In the end, maybe it doesn't matter. Online or in-person, maybe there will always be those people who want to "win," regardless of what they actually get out of a class or a lesson. If, however, you're the facilitator of an online course and would like to take steps against online cheating or safeguard against anyone trying to game your system, you may want to check out this paper: Ethics and Distance Education: Strategies for Minimizing Academic Dishonesty in Online Assessment. Additionally, if you're an online instructor, or have taken an online course, I'd love to hear from you about your experience with cheating in the online setting.
AJ teaches a live, 3-hour class that offers tips/tricks for improving the look and feel of your PowerPoint presentations: Slide Sprucing: Remodeling Lackluster PowerPoint Slides for eLearning and Presentations.