Digital Cheating (and prevention)

Cheating is not new. It is older than formal education. But the digital age has made plagiarism and stealing answers easier. This is a topic that you can bring up with teachers at any grade level and get engagement.

There is no solution. But there are techniques and some digital tools that can help.

I never received any applause doing an academic integrity workshop or presentation when I would say that I believed that the biggest cause for plagiarism and cheating is poorly designed assignments. I also believe the greatest prevention comes by teacher interventions.

But here are eight ideas from (follow link for details)

1. Create defined pathways

2. Use your digital resources (, etc.) tempered with your best judgment.

3. Encourage collaboration and choose groups wisely. - allowing and even encouraging working together.

4. Don’t ask “cheatable” questions. On this one, I like one suggestion (which I have been suggesting for years based on a professor I had myself who did it many years ago): give all your students the same assignment, but make one aspect unique to each person, or add one unique element that is not going to be found online in connection to the general topic..

5. Communicate your expectations clearly.

6. Show them you’re paying attention. Let them know you use plagiarism-detection software. Have them do a test run and see the results. Wander the classroom during testing. Ask students to explain or reflect on a specific piece of an assignment to demonstrate their learning. Do it as a spot check, not necessarily every student for every student.

7. Do your research.

8. Give up. This last piece of advice sounds defeatist, but means pick your battles and don’t get bogged down with small issues.


What Most Schools Don't Teach

What is it that most schools don't teach? Coding.

Coding - transforming actions into a symbolic language - is offered in colleges and in many high schools, but computer science is not part of the core curriculum alongside other courses such as biology, chemistry or algebra that all students take.

Launched in 2013, is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. Their vision is that every student in every school should have at least the opportunity to learn computer science. is organizing its “Hour of Code” event for the third consecutive year as part of Computer Science Education Week. They give students the opportunity to learn about programming with free online tutorials and instructional videos. There are more than 191,000 events in more than 180 countries and one-third of all U.S. schools are participating, They expect to reach 50 million students this week.

Coding is becoming an increasingly crucial skill. If you hear asked (or you ask) "Why do I need to learn to code? I'll never use it to be a ________ (fill in the blank)," I can identify. Teaching English for many years, I always heard that question with poetry or some other item being substituted for "coding." I knew students would need language skills, including learning to interpret language, understand symbolism etc., but it was hard to make the point to someone who had no idea what they would do or need in life.

Do I believe everyone in the future will be doing coding? No, but I believe understanding how code works to run much of the world we live in is essential, at least on a basic level.

This month, the "Hour of Code" campaign from nonprofit makes that very visible. If you look at its website, you can see that it is aimed at students and teachers in K-12, although it is is clear that people older have as many (or more) gaps in their coding knowledge.

The site uses popular movie characters from films like Frozen and Star Wars as avatars for coding activities.

not unlike when I was teaching students in the late 1970s to make a turtle on a screen move by writing Logo programs. That was Apple Logo which was an early implementation of Logo that was popular then due to marketing for Apple's Apple II computer.

This week (but really all year), educators, extracurricular leaders, and parents are being encouraged to introduce kids to coding. There are many free, online coding tutorials designed for all ages. Some tutorials are designed to be suitable for kids as young as 4 and even for implementation without computers. But many of these tutorials are designed as games that are accessible for computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

This year 3 for the "Hour of Code" and partnerships for licensing with Microsoft and Disney to create tutorials using settings and characters from Minecraft or Star Wars makes coding more appealing to children. "The goal of the Hour of Code is not to teach anybody to become an expert computer scientist in one hour," reads the description on Hour of Code's homepage. "One hour is only enough to learn that computer science is fun and creative, that it is accessible for all ages, for all students, regardless of background."

A sample is an activity (there are also sequenced courses at different age and ability levels) to program characters from the Star Wars universe to make a game of your own creation. In the video below, Star Wars film producer Kathleen Kennedy introduces some broad uses of computer programming, and then Rachel Rose, Senior Engineer for the Star Wars Animation and Creature Team, walks you through the basics of programming using Blockly.

Blockly is a client-side JavaScript library for creating visual block programming editors. It is a project of Google and is open-source It runs in a web browser, and resembles another simple programming language called Scratch. Blockly seems almost too easy as it uses blocks that link together to make writing code easier. But it can generate JavaScript, Python, PHP or Dart code and can be customized to generate code in any computer language.


If you try the activity, it is obvious that critical thinking and thoughtful placement of the blocks is required to make the program run correctly.code 1

Using Blockly as a visual programming language is a great start and, although in the working world most code is typed, each block conatins and corresponds to a line of "real" code which students can view.

Students doing any of the most basic activities are learning that an algorithm is a series of instructions  on how to accomplish a task. they experience debugging -

finding and fixing issues in code.

If they advance through the activities , they will learn what a function is (a piece of code that can be called over and over), and how to customize their code parameters with extra bits of information that you can pass into a function to customize it.

code 2Students are reminded that some of the tools, like autofill, seem like "cheats" but are used by full time programmers too in order to speed up the coding and maintain consistency.

One activity is designed for very young coders and kids without access to computers. Using a predefined “Robot Vocabulary,” students will figure out how to guide

one another to accomplish specific tasks without discussing them first. This teaches students the connection between symbols and actions, as well as the valuable skill of debugging.

In France, a Tech School Called 42


I just discovered this 2-year old school via an article in The Chronicle (unfortunately, mostly behind a subscriber paywall)  "In France, a Free Tech School Shakes Up Higher Education"

It is a nonprofit school known simply as "42." (I do like that the name comes from Douglas Adams’s novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which the number 42 is the answer to the ultimate question - though no one knows what the question is.)

The school doesn’t provide a degree or charge tuition (MOOC-like). It offers only a training program in computer science. In its 2 years, it has been very popular and has had its own shots at disrupting teaching, credentials and technology training pedagogy.

Unlike MOOCs, it is not "open." They have had 70,000 people from Europe and beyond apply for 900 openings. That makes them, in the American way of ranking, more selective than the Ivy League universities.

The whole enterprise would seem less disruptive in Europe where government-subsidized public universities with low or no tuition is a reality. Still, a school without grades, diplomas, or even textbooks and a regular faculty is not the norm anywhere in higher education.

Are universities worried about this? Not much. As with MOOCs, higher education is curious but not worried as long as students and parents are willing to still pay lots of money to get that degree.

But Nicolas Sadirac, one of its four founders, says official accreditation is not what 42’s leaders aspire to — in fact, they shun it. "We don’t want to have to play by those rules," says Mr. Sadirac, who describes France’s universities and vocational schools as lethargic knowledge factories that pump out rote learners.

"42’s goal is not to fill our students’ heads with facts and theories," he says, "but to help them become creative innovators who can solve complex problems together with peers."

Some have compared 42 to offerings like the American Codecademy rather than to colleges.

Sadirac is 42’s director and a former university administrator, but it is Xavier Niel (who made his money in Internet and telecommunications) who donated $90 million to start 42 and rent facilities, hardware and pay for students and staffing.

10 Notes About 42

1. Admissions does not require a degree like the baccalauréat used in France to graduate high school and enter college.

2. Applicants are 18-30 years old

3. If you do well on their online aptitude test, you are invited to 42 in Paris as finalists.

4. Each finalist is given a coding problem and four weeks to complete it.

5. About 4000 finalists are then cut to under 1000.

6. There are no formal classes.

7. Students choose projects solve increasingly difficult problems working in teams of two to five,

8. Solve the problems and pass. If you don't, you fail.

9. Students work at their own pace but are expected to "graduate" within two to four years.

10. The goal is jobs - especially in France’s tech-software-engineering sector, which lacks highly skilled personnel

In a Revolution, Things Get Flipped

This post first appeared at Ronkowitz LLC

The flipped classroom has been used in different ways for the past decade in education. More recently, the idea of flipping professional development has been experimented with at schools and in corporate training. In both cases, the idea is to rethink what we want to spend our time with in face-to-face sessions and how can we move learning before and after those sessions to be more self-directed.

I am doing a presentation this week at the 2015 Annual Member Conference hosted by the Connecticut Education Network (CEN) on flipped learning. This event draws participants from educators (K-12 and higher ed), municipalities, libraries, local businesses and State of Connecticut agencies. I asked for my session to be paired with another session by Edward Iglesias who is the Educational Administrator for Central Connecticut State University on Library Makerspaces and Community Organizations.

I want to not just talk about how flipped learning might work in any school setting, but also to have the participants try some flipped learning before and at the session. My flipped exercise is to ask those who will attend my session on "Flipping the Learning Model" to try a simple activity BEFORE the conference. By flipping this portion of the learning, we gain time in the session, and get to focus on the portion that I consider to be more critical to the face-to-face learning.

You take a chance in doing this - What if no one does the pre-activity? It's the same chance we take as teachers at all levels when we assign homework that will lead into a class session. As an English teacher for the past four decades, I have often had the experience of wanting to discuss an assigned reading and finding that only a portion of the class has done the reading (or purchased the book!). What do I do in that situation? Stop the lesson? Do the reading in class? Proceed with the discussion using those who did the reading? I have probably done all of those things at some time depending on the lesson and the grade level, but how can we increase the number of learners who complete the activities before attending the live sessions?

sampleFor this particular "homework" the assignment concerns Smartphone Audio Enhancement.

The task I have set for attendees is to experiment with one or more ways to increase the volume and sound quality of a smartphone using simple materials and no electronics or additional power.

They are asked to bring at least one result of their DIY experimentation to the live session. I made a web page with samples but I am hoping that a few people will go deeper and experiment on their own with original designs.

In our face-to-face session, we will test samples with a decibel meter, and we will discuss how this simple exercise can be applied to classroom learning.

Those applications are deliberately not stated by me beforehand, though applying it to math and physics are obvious choices. But getting other areas to think about the applications of this pedagogy - if not this particular lesson - is more important.

Overall, I want attendees to see that flipped learning in a classroom or for professional development or personal growth is less about when and where we learn and more importantly about how we learn. We know students are learning in and out of the classroom. They are learning what we want them to learn and what they want to learn. They are using traditional educational tools and methods, and tools they have discovered on their own and in ways we never considered.

In a revolution, things get flipped or overturned. Don't back away. Join in!


Coding As Literacy

Some K-12 educators are integrating computer coding into non-computer subjects such as English and art to develop the skill as a type of literacy.

Using block-based coding programs (such as Scratch to express learning by coding interactive media, or App Inventor to create mobile applications that can actually be used used by students in their classes.

"Although technology has flooded America’s schools, interest in computer science courses has not kept pace, especially among girls and underrepresented minorities. While states discuss if and how to make computer science a required course, many educators want to inject coding into all sorts of courses, from science to art to English. They’re not just out to prepare the next generation of technology workers. Their goal is far more expansive. They want to turn coding into a new kind of literacy — a fundamental applied skill, a mode of inquiry and expression — that everybody should know. One of the biggest challenges for computer science advocates is that many kids simply don’t see why coding matters, in a world of preloaded software and the vast resources of the Internet."  (via    The Hechinger Report)

Of course, students are still taking computer science and Advanced Placement classes and doing Java coding, but those numbers don't compare favorably with other STEM AP courses. Enrollment in computer science at the college level has also been declining despite the fact that everyone considers computers and technology to be ubiquitous.

The College Board is working on a new, project-based AP “computer science principles” course (set to debut in fall 2016) in which students will use coding to address real-world problems.