Facebook, Fear and Frustration

The latest Facebook incident, reported recently in the Toronto Star, involves an online study group, a charge of academic misconduct and university policies that seem outdated and open to misinterpretation. It seems a classic representation of the clash of two cultures being played out in higher ed these days: the open, collaborative, network culture vs. the closed, competitive, individual culture.

The consequences for this student seem dire and the effect on others – disheartening. After all, it was a study group – doing what study groups have done for generations – except this time they did it online, exposed in a way they likely didn’t consider and now are paying for. And what about policy interpretation? Did the instructor make students aware of the policy on plagiarism as it relates to study groups? Policies related to plagiarism and collaboration are murky at best, not only at Ryerson but here at UBC (and I suspect other institutions as well. (Ryerson; UBC ).

For me, this example brings up a larger question about learning. What is it about learning that we really value? Is it about the individual passing of tests and competing with others to be the best? Is it about finding ways to collaborate with others in order to see problems from different perspectives and work towards solving them in a way that is perhaps beyond the flexibility and adaptation that one person can demonstrate? And what do we know about learning that might help us to re-shape some of our policies to reflect changing values? The editors of How People Learn: Brain, Mind Experience and School tell us that time on task is not enough to ensure that learners will choose effective learning strategies. In fact, learners need time and frequent feedback in order to “monitor their learning and actively evaluate their strategies and their current levels of understanding.” In my own experience, study groups (in whatever form) have provided this support.

There’s alot to think about here. I look forward to the outcome of this one.

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