Talk About Quality

Tom Harris

Struggling to Learn Together

with 3 comments

For better or worse, the educational model of the school, particularly of the university, serves as the basis for training and learning programs in the workplace. It is also the model familiar to many new workers, since they have recently come from that same school environment.

One of the burdens schools face is deciding when to attribute work to a given student, in order to use that work to give student a grade. They deal with this challenge through codes of academic integrity.

How do these codes prepare students for, or hinder workers in, exercising a crucial success behavior in the workplace: cooperative learning?

To find out, I searched Google with the phrase “working together academic integrity“.

There were some positive guidelines here and there such as:

  • It’s fine for the group to discuss problem sets, class topics, and so forth. It’s fine to ask others to explain methods and solutions you don’t understand. Together, you can go over the problems several times until you understand. (From University of Windsor.)

But the results also included restrictions such as:

  • You may not give or receive help on the programming assignments, except from the TA or the instructor.
  • You may not show your program to anyone else until after it has been graded.
  • Unless working together on an assignment has been specifically approved, it is not allowed.

Clearly, universities are struggling to say the right things on these issues, and do not speak with a single voice.

But what’s really so hard about the issue?

Time out for some skiing

I’ve only skied once or twice in my life, so each time I was back on the beginners’ slope, taking lessons. Imagine this set of rules posted on a snow-covered wooden sign next to the practice area:

Integrity on the Slopes

In order to ensure that each student is graded correctly and fairly in their skiing lessons, the following rules must be observed:

  • Watch only the ski instructor — no peeking at others on their practice runs.
  • No talking about how to ski, even on breaks.
  • Unless skiing together has been specifically approved, it is not allowed.

Who would pay for ski instruction under these conditions? Who would learn to ski?

A Simpler Idea

Back to academics, or rather, training in the hi-tech workplace, why not just say:

  • Cooperative learning is essential: work with others
  • All sources may be used; if not yours, credit the author

Is there anything more?

Written by Tom Harris

June 28, 2006 at 3:42 am

Posted in Agile, Learning, Teaching

3 Responses

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  1. A colleague read this post and asked me to put up his comment:

    I’d add to the ‘Simple Idea’:

    Respect errors. They are excellent teachers

    Different people have different learning styles. Recognize yours.

    Whenever you are too busy to contribute knowledge remember when you need some.

    Tom Harris

    July 6, 2006 at 12:09 pm

  2. […] With my attention focused on learning, I found this great post titled Struggling to Learn Together. The author, Tom Harris, discusses how colleges are struggling to balance “academic integrity” with real-world expectations for employees to share knowledge with colleagues and to learn together. In academia, a fine line is drawn between collaboration and cheating. However, I have to wonder how prudent it is to stifle collaborative learning. […]


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