Saturday, September 15, 2012

Coursera Fantasy & Science Fiction Course and Plagiarism: Part Three

Part One can be found here.
Part Two can be found here.

Curiouser and curiouser, as dear Alice would say.  Today the ModPo class added the following the main page.

a thought on plagiarism

We at ModPo are well aware of the potential for plagiarism in a course like this. So we want to encourage you - right from the start - to take the "honor pledge" seriously when you encounter it before you submit your four short essays. We doubt that there will be a great many ModPo people who copy critical interpretations of our poems from websites, but we wanted to say something on the topic now. Why do we doubt? Because I think all of us will understand that close readings of poems are valuable and fun because each of us works through words, phrases, and lines as we encounter the language of a poem. It's not hard to do when you think of it as an activity that builds one line at a time. There's actually very little out there on the web that will do that for you. Another reason? We will all be actively commenting on each other's essays, but we will not be assigning "grades." To be considered a student who has "completed" the course, you need to have written and submitted the four short essays, commented on others', submitted (and minimally 'passed') the quizzes, and participated in the discussion forum. Since there is no grade per se of your essays, there will be less pressure, we hope, and you should feel encouraged to make your own attempt at interpretation.

Now let's think about this a bit.  I already know that the "honor pledge" is not taken seriously but I also know that there are far fewer anonymous people posting on the forums.  In fact, I haven't seen a single negative or dismissive comment from anyone anywhere in the ModPo forums.  The truth is, I've looked but not very actively so they may very well be "out there" and I have not noticed.  It could also be that we are all starting off friendly and on a good note and the barracudas have not yet begun their feeding frenzy.

But you now, then there's the no grade thing and the knowing the professor and his TAs are there and maybe just maybe . . .

I have to say that so far this course has been a better experience.

On September 5 I emailed coursera because I was pretty fed up and I am pleased to say that I received a reply:
Hi Satia,
Thank you for bringing these matters to our attention.  We take this very seriously and are figuring out the best strategy to deal with the issues you have mentioned. Ensuring a positive learning environment is a top priority for us and our University partners.
1) We will have a system to address many types of plagiarism in the near future
2) We are building a feature to allow inappropriate peer reviews to be detected
3) We do look at flagged forum posts, but only when more than one person has flagged them.  Due to the volume of forum activity, it may take up a couple of days to respond and review each case.
Thank you for your message and attention.
I was pretty clear about what I found (find) most distressing about how the course is running.  I linked to several examples of abusive comments on the forums, to the three essays I'd received that were clearly plagiarized, etc.

So here are my responses to what was sent to me.
1)  "Near future" is a little too little too late at this point.  Seven weeks into a ten week course is like shutting the barn door after the colt not only escaped but died of old age.  Plus "near future" is a meaningless phrase and with only three more units how much future do you think is left to resolve this issue?
2)  Building a feature that probably won't be in place within 3 weeks so it isn't going to empower the students who are already 70% finished with the course nor rectify the problem of those students who have already abused the system and will obviously get away with it.
3)  Due to the volume of forum activity, a couple of days still doesn't explain why a post that was flagged multiple times was there a week later.  
It does seem like coursera is trying to make improvements.  If they are a little too little too late, one can only hope that they will have the sense to not offer the F&SF course again until they have all of these things in place.

I know they can build a better humanities course because, thus far, the ModPo course is proving to be an improvement.  I have a feeling that the positive momentum will continue and am curious to see how the next few weeks will progress for myself and everyone else taking the course.

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