Classroom Stories: How to Handle Cheating in Online Courses: Part 2

By Ana Larson

Ana Larson, co-author of the Learning Astronomy by Doing Astronomy workbook, returns this week to discuss cheating in online courses. 

Those of us who have taught introductory astronomy in a classroom are quite aware of the number of ways students can cheat (a one-word catch-all for "academic dishonesty"). None of us should be surprised that teaching courses either partially or totally online brings in even more ways. The easiest to catch were those that were not in the student's own words. A quick search on the Internet using part or all of the question text would reveal the source. Here I cover one of the Internet sources (there are multiple similar sources online) for student plagiarism that I discovered in my Seattle Central College (SCC) introductory astronomy course, and the actions I took to deter students from cheating.

Under my policies, the first time a student's cheating was discovered, they got a 0 for that question. If they did it again, for even just 1 question without a citation, they got a 0 for the whole assignment. Since I wanted them to learn the material, which required doing the activity correctly on their own, I allowed these students to resubmit the assignment for at least partial credit. Students attending open enrollment colleges and universities can face personal, family, work, insufficient academic preparedness, and other challenges that interfere with assignment deadlines. With a few exceptions, students appreciated this additional opportunity to do well in the course, a two-way dialog was started, and their motivation for learning and doing well in the course seemed to increase.

Being a co-author of the Learning Astronomy by Doing Astronomy lecture workbook, I had the opportunity to use some of the activities starting in ~2017. By autumn quarter, 2019, I had put together a curriculum that successfully had these online students using all of the features of 10 activities found in the 2nd edition workbook.

By better preparing students for the activity, I felt that students would be less inclined to cheat. (Small number statistics precludes any conclusion, however.) I include a partial autumn quarter 2019 syllabus at the end of this blog.

Most of the students submitted multiple-page images for each activity through Canvas. Over the ~2 years of using the 2nd ed. activities, there were at least 2-4 students (out of an average of 22 students per quarter) who cheated by plagiarizing Internet sources. For me, the most distressing examples of plagiarizing involved students sending in images of complete pages of the workbook to Chegg.com and asking for "help." There were at least 3 "experts" who answered every question for students who submitted pages. Students would then use those answers verbatim.

Something you might consider: I ended up subscribing to Chegg.com over a few quarters in order to have access to all answers. There was a fee, but access saved me time overall, and I was better informed during discussions with students about how problematic this use of the Internet was. Plus, students recognized their instructor was Internet savvy! I then allowed students to resubmit their assignments.

While conducting some independent research, I found a question posed on Quora.com and particularly liked this answer to "Is Chegg cheating?" by Jiří Lebl:

Mostly, yes (it is cheating and you shouldn’t do it). It is also the worst way to study. At least in mathematics (I teach mathematics), homework assignments are exactly that. Exercises. Using Chegg is like going to the gym to watch other people exercise. Actually worse, you are paying other people to exercise in front of you and then telling other people you have exercised.

What drove my efforts to combat this behavior over all quarters was the possibility that students would encourage others to sign up for my online course because they were able to cheat without getting caught. Maybe saying, "I got a good grade and didn't even have to try!" Fortunately, no student ever implied anything close to this based on teaching evaluations.

There is action being taken to reduce this cheating at some of the very-top-needed levels! Reading these documents gave me hope, and I strongly recommend them to you as well.

In order to deter students from cheating in my own course, I use the syllabus as a contract for learning and include language that emphasizes the risks that come with cheating. Here’s a partial sample of my online course syllabus at SCC for Winter, 2020:

Astronomy 100 0L - Syllabus -Winter 2020 QUARTER

You should consider the syllabus for this course as your contract for learning. I will uphold my end and I expect each of you to adhere to course policies and procedures in addition to those set forth by Seattle Central College.

Academic Integrity
By participating in this course, you have agreed to the following: "Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at Seattle Central Community College, allowing the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. In accordance with the College's Code of Conduct, I will practice integrity in regard to all academic assignments. I will not engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception because such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the College community and compromise the worth of work completed by others."

PLUS: It is expressly forbidden under the honor code of Seattle Central College for students to extract information from the Internet without proper referencing, claiming it as their own.  When a student plagiarizes, I give a 0 for that assignment.  I will be reporting the dishonesty to the eLearning office unless the student can give me a good reason why I should not.  I will be examining that student's answers very carefully in all future assignments and it is quite likely that that student will simply fail the course if he or she does not actually answer questions with their own words.

Mon Feb 24, 2020 Assignment Lesson 07: Discussion - A cross-section of humans versus a cluster or birth of stars due by 11:59pm

Wed Feb 26, 2020 Assignment Lesson 07: Web Research - Planetary Nebulae and White Dwarfs in the News due by 11:59pm

Thu Feb 27, 2020 Assignment Lesson 07: Activity - Preparation and Math Review Quiz 7 due by 11:59pm

Fri Feb 28, 2020 Assignment Lesson 07: Activity - Determining the Ages of Star Clusters due by 11:59pm

With each assignment, students also had to agree to the following: "The answers provided here are mine alone unless otherwise referenced." Combined with the language in the syllabus, this served as a successful deterrent for the most part, but a few students would still take the chance each quarter.

The assignments listed here for Lesson 7 were typical for each lesson. Spacing the assignments over the course of a few days each week helped me identify which students were procrastinating and needed nudges. The preparation and math review quizzes were the pre-activity questions from the 2nd edition of the workbook. The questions were multiple choice, and students could take each quiz twice. Students were given a 3-day grace period for turning in assignments, without penalty.

We can't overemphasize the importance of making it clear to students (and checking that each student understands) what our policies are when the school's honor code is broken. Find out what the policies for cheating are in your department and college. Hopefully you are not left to make policies on your own and are also free to add personal requirements.


Classroom Stories: How to Handle Cheating in Online Courses

By Ana Larson

This week, we have a guest post by Ana Larson, co-author of the Learning Astronomy by Doing Astronomy workbook, from the University of Washington. 

First, an introduction: twenty-two years ago (1998), as adjunct faculty, I developed an online course for Seattle Central College (SCC), which was Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) at the time. Online courses were just starting to become more available, and the learning management systems (LMS) were quite rudimentary compared to what we have today. I taught the online Astronomy 101 every quarter, every year, up until the 2020 Spring quarter, which is when enrollment at the college dropped.

In addition to required textbook reading, this online course consisted of three assignments each week: posting to a graded discussion board (and responding to other posts), a web research essay, and a lab-like assignment. As the years passed and the LMS became more sophisticated and included many more options for instructors and students, I added tutorials and short quizzes to prepare students for these assignments. 

This past decade has seen greater numbers of students enrolling in online courses, becoming better at self-motivation, and getting assignments in on time. However, there have always been those students, roughly 10-20 percent of the class, who just did not want to do the steps needed to learn the material. 

At first, this took the form of plagiarizing content from the Internet, primarily Wikipedia, but other sources were used as well. These instances were fairly easy to catch because the wording of the answers was obviously not in the student's voice. In these early days, some students copied and pasted material directly, including the links to other websites! Over the past few years, however, cheating has been harder and harder to catch, due mainly to websites like CourseHero and Chegg.

In an effort to help you discourage cheating in your own online/hybrid classrooms, I've listed my three best practices to discourage cheating in my online course below:

1) Give explicit information: The very first assignment that students had to submit was a graded quiz on the content of the course syllabus and the policies and procedures of the college. Extra emphasis was given on the college's honor code and on what, exactly, cheating included. My syllabi included explicit examples of what constituted plagiarism and the consequences when unreferenced direct sources were used. In the last five years or so, students could use up to three outside sources, but those outside sources needed to be properly referenced using correct MLA or APA format. Students were given examples and helpful web links.

2) State consequences: Students were told that they could get a 0 on an entire assignment even if only one answer involved plagiarism, which was the most common way of cheating in the course. I also outlined what was acceptable when students worked together, which I encouraged. In practice, if students were working on an early assignment and only a few of their answers involved cheating, I gave 0s for only those answers, with the caveat that any future instances would result in a 0 for the entire assignment. 

3) Immediately follow up: I interacted directly with students via course email and discussed why they got the grade they did. Most of the time, students were allowed to resubmit the assignment. I can think of only one or two examples where students did not respond to an email and continued plagiarizing. Those students failed the course.

Cheating is always upsetting, in any course, but in Astronomy 101, we have a unique opportunity to redirect students who cheat "by accident" by giving them the benefit of learning these important lessons without suffering from long-term consequences.


Classroom Stories: T-5...

By Stacy Palen

This fall feels weird. Really, really weird. Watching the pandemic erupt at higher-education institutions all around the country has filled me with anxiety: for my students, for my colleagues, and for myself. I feel very lucky that my University is primarily a commuter campus, so we are insulated from at least some of the pressures that are occurring at other places.

These are emergency times, and so I try to remember to be a little kind to myself. I’ve learned at least eight new kinds of software and picked up rudimentary skills in half a dozen fields that I never expected to need, like music editing and network maintenance. I don’t feel competent at any of it, but it’s unreasonable to expect that of myself. I’ve had just a few months of self-directed learning…in the middle of a global pandemic and civil unrest.

In times like these, it can be really hard to pick up your head and look forward to the “after-time.” But there will be a time after COVID. And I’m already finding things that I want to pull through into that time. Zoom office hours, for example. Would I have ever bothered to learn how to do that if not for the pandemic? Now that I’m setting up office hours for my students, it strikes me as an obvious thing that I will want to do for all my non-traditional, commuter students in the “after-time.” An introductory video to post to Canvas before class begins every semester is also a good idea, even for a face-to-face class! And weekly discussions, where students can ask and answer questions about the topics of the week—these don’t have to be confined to class time. I’m embarrassed that I never thought about these things before…but I was busy. Teaching.

This week, I am polishing up my “prep” on six courses to teach online for the first time in my life. (SIX! Yikes! Our enrollment is through the roof…we are all teaching overload…) I anticipate that next week, there will be some “fires.” Lots of things will not go as planned. Lots of things that seem like great ideas now will seem incredibly naïve later. It’s important for me to recognize that there are a whole lot of things that I have no control over at all.

We’ll see how all of this goes. I have been telling our students (in the introductory videos) that we are having ADVENTURES. As I write this, I am five days out from the first day of the semester. It feels very much like waiting for a rocket launch, with the same kind of hopeful uncertainty. I’ve done as much preparing as I possibly can. Now I just have to push the button and see what happens.

Best of luck to all of you. I hope you find some time to reflect, as you go along, about things that you will want to keep doing in the “after-time.” I’m sure there will be lots of great papers to write, about online teaching and learning, after the emergency is over. I look forward to reading all of them, and writing some of them.


Reading Astronomy News: The Mystery of Titan’s Expanding Orbit

By Stacy Palen

Titan’s orbit is growing, which is unexpected! This article might be appropriate when discussing orbits, outer planet moons, or resonances.

Below are some questions to ask your students based on this article.

1) What did astronomers EXPECT to find out about Titan’s orbit, before undertaking this study?

Answer: They expected to see that Titan’s orbit was unchanging.

2) How much does Titan’s orbit grow each year? Give an example of a common, everyday object that is about that size.

Answer: 11 centimeters (cm). This is a little bit shorter than a pen or pencil, so each year, Titan’s orbit grows by less than a pencil length.

3) Compare this rate to the rate at which the orbit of Earth’s Moon grows. Is Titan moving away from Saturn faster or slower than the Moon moves away from Earth?

Answer: The Moon moves away at 4 cm per year. Titan moves away from Saturn almost three times faster.

4) For how many years did the Cassini spacecraft orbit Saturn?

Answer: Cassini orbited from 2004 to 2017, so approximately 13 years.

5) During that time, how much did Titan’s orbit expand in total?

Answer: 11 cm times 13 years is 143 cm, just shy of 1.5 meters.

6) The semi-major axis of Titan’s orbit is 1,221,870,000 meters. By about what fraction did this value grow during Cassini’s visit to Saturn?

Answer: 1.43 m / 1.22187 X 109 m is about 1 in a billion. Dang.

7) What is “resonance-locking tidal theory?” How does this account for the loss of energy from Titan’s orbit, due to the orbit growing larger?

Answer: This is the idea that if the moon tidally flexes Saturn, in resonance with Saturn’s internal ringing, energy can be transferred from the moon’s orbit to Saturn’s internal motion.

What other questions would you ask your students based on this article? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!


Classroom Resources: Using the Workbook in the Online Class: A Plan

By Stacy Palen

Typically, in a F2F class, I use the workbook one day per week. In general, I do this on Friday. For each workbook activity, I’ll usually spend about five to ten minutes introducing the topic and pointing out places where students might get stuck or need a reminder. My astronomy course for fall is not synchronous, so I don’t expect that students will be logged in and working together, or that they will all be working on the activity at the same time.

I truly believe that these learning-by-doing experiences are critical to student learning. We’ve all had the experience of thinking we understood the material until we tried to actually apply it! The workbook exercises are designed with typical student difficulties in mind…so how do I do activities online, when students will likely be working alone, and I won’t be there to help them?

The first thing I need for each activity is a video mini-lecture that students can watch before they begin. I can address the same issues here that I would ordinarily address in the first few minutes of class. If I manage to keep it extra-short, like two minutes, they might even watch it more than once as they work their way through the activity and answer their own questions! I’ve begun creating these videos for the activities I’ll be using this fall, and I’ve shared the first one with you here so that you can take a look and see if it is useful to you.

I plan to set up weekly student hours in Canvas. These are times when students can arrange an “appointlet” with me. (That’s a new word, apparently, for the quick, five-minute interventions on Zoom or similar.) I am using the same time blocks for all of my classes. Still on my To-Do list is learning to use the scheduler in Canvas to see if that has all the functions I need.

Finally, each week, I will open a Discussion thread about the workbook activity due that Friday. This is a place where I can make note of things students found confusing and where students can ask questions.

Students will take pictures of their lab and submit it as a PDF in Canvas. There are a number of free apps that students can use to do this. I’ll grade the submissions in Canvas on my iPad. (Not to sell you on this particular set of products; others probably work similarly!) I’ve been doing this with upper-division assignments for a while now, so I don’t think that it will take me more time than usual to grade their work. In the first week, I expect to do a LOT of tech support.

At least I have a plan now. I don’t expect it to entirely survive the first few weeks of class. As Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.” I’m trying to keep that in mind as we approach the fall semester. I’m sure you are, too!


Classroom Resources: Teaching with Videos: Textbook Chapter Introductions

By Stacy Palen

As I think about what I usually do in lecture, in order to try to capture some of it for the online experience, a few book-related things come to mind. There are a few things I do for each chapter, as general practice:

  • I provide students with an overview of each chapter.
  • I guide students to focus on what I think are the most important points.
  • I spend time orienting them to complicated figures.

All three of these things can be done in a video mini-lecture that students can watch before they read the text. To be clear, watching the video is not a replacement for reading the text. It’s just a way to lead them into the material.

I’ve started preparing five-minute video introductions to each of the chapters in Understanding Our Universe, Third Edition. These introductions page through the chapter, highlighting the text and figures that students should pay special attention to, because I know they will come up again. For example, I know that the cosmological principle will be referenced multiple times throughout the book. So, in the Chapter 1 video, I make students aware that they should pay special attention to that concept.

The first two videos, for Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, are linked.

Let me know what you think, and if you find these resources useful! Like all of you, I’m working away in my office here, trying to anticipate the coming semester as much as possible. I suspect that “Future Stacy” will be very grateful to “Past Stacy” if I can get some things prepared now and free up some time during the semester itself.


Classroom Resources: Teaching with Videos: How to Read a Textbook

By Stacy Palen

As I adapt to teaching online this fall, I find that the one thing I really need students to know how to do on their own is read the textbook. I’ve always assumed they knew this skill because I remember being in high school, checking out the textbook at the beginning of the year and taking it back and forth to school with me. Maybe you remember making covers out of brown paper bags to protect the books… and I remember teachers explaining some kind of note-taking method in great detail that I used for a while and then adapted to my own purposes.

But this falls in the realm of “things aren’t what they used to be.” Some schools now have classroom sets of texts that students do not take home. Some don’t use books at all but use free online materials. Some have ebooks but not hard copies. And even for students who do have traditional hard-copy texts that they can take back and forth, some of them never received instruction on how to read them.

This is interesting, because I have never taken ten minutes of class time to explain to students that reading a textbook is not like reading Harry Potter. Nor have I taken ten minutes to give them a strategy for approaching this kind of reading. It just never occurred to me. (I have given entire assignments to my upper-division classes about how to read a journal article, but that’s pretty specialized.) As I think about what I really need students to do while learning in an online environment, the textbook looms larger, rather than smaller, in my mind. Well, then. If that’s true, I guess I’d better tell them how to do it.

To this end, I made a video, about 10 minutes long, in which I explain my textbook-reading process. This is not a perfect process; it’s not the best process; and it might not be the process you use. But it’s a process that gets students thinking about textbook reading as a skill that they can learn and then adapt to their own needs.

I’m pretty pleased with how the video turned out. I made it on my iPad; I used the “Screen Recording” feature in the “Settings” to capture what I was doing in Notability. Then I edited it in iMovie and uploaded it to Kaltura. There is a little 8-second, University-specific boilerplate introduction that I asked our Marketing/Communications team to make for me so I can drop it into all of the videos I make in the future. This 10-minute video took me about 3 hours to make, but I didn’t know what I was doing. Going forward, I think I can cut that time roughly in half; I need to plan for about 10 minutes of work for each minute of finished video.

I’ll be making more of these, so let me know in the “Comments” section below if there’s a particular video topic that you need. If you need it, other people probably do, too! I’ll see what I can get done.


Classroom Resources: Coming in Fall of 2020: Deep Uncertainties

By Stacy Palen

No one knows what this fall semester is going to look like, and it stresses me out!

We might be back in normal face-to-face classes, but we might be back at half-capacity. Or we might be all online. Or we might start face-to-face, and then the second wave will hit, and we’ll have to go online for the rest of the semester. Or maybe we’ll just have to go online for two weeks, when there is a local outbreak. Or we might need to have replacement materials available for students so they don’t feel compelled to come to class when they are sick. Or maybe none of the above, because of the Yellowstone supervolcano, which I hear is currently scheduled for August…just kidding…I think.

In an effort to get control over the things I can control, I’ve started planning my fall courses as both face-to-face and online, in parallel. This means double the work, but given the magnitude of the uncertainties, it feels prudent.

As I have been thinking about this, and starting to organize resources and activities for students, I’ve also started to make a list of the things that are missing, and I’m figuring out how to pull them together.

Over the next few months, I’ll share what I’m doing to get prepared here on the blog. I’ll be making short videos for students about study skills, such as a “How to Read a Textbook” one, as well as other videos introducing and summarizing each chapter of the textbook. There will also be open-ended questions for LMS discussions that I can factor into students’ grades, and there will be web resources, such as “Using the Web” problems, which can also be found at the end of the textbook. And lots of other things that I haven’t thought out fully yet.

Many of us have taught online for a long time, and many of us have an online section; others, however, do not. I know that, for myself, moving four different courses (not just Introductory Astronomy) into the online environment before the end of August is…overwhelming.

I’m sure we are all feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, so let’s be frazzled and overwhelmed together! I hope you’ll share your clever ideas, resources, online or at-home activities, methods for interacting with students, and so on, in the “Comments” section below. Or drop me a line, and you can even guest-write a post about your idea!

 


Classroom Resources: Using Animations and Simulations in an Online Course

By Stacy Palen

Sometimes, “learning by doing” requires the use of a model or a simulation. It’s not possible for students to go into space far above Earth’s North Pole, or to change the mass of a planet and see how it affects the behavior of the central star.

There are loads of simulations and animations available online. So many, in fact, that it can be bewildering to find what you need, and it can be even more complicated to troubleshoot technology to figure out why one of your students can’t access the resources while another can’t see all the buttons.

Gradually, we’ve been working to create a stable set of straightforward simulations and animations that support the Exploration activities at the end of every chapter of Understanding Our Universe and 21st Century Astronomy. Many of these Explorations are guided inquiry experiments that use one of the interactive simulations or animations.

For example, in Chapter 12, students are guided through an investigation of the H-R Diagram using an interactive graph. When students move the cursor along the track of the evolution of a low-mass star, they can predict and then see the changes in the star. This helps them develop an intuition for the properties of stars in different regions of the H-R Diagram, and helps them learn how stars like the Sun evolve after they leave the main sequence.

Explorations using simulations or animations have pre-built assignments in SmartWork that include hints for difficult questions, and prompt students to explore the interactive graphs in more detail. It’s easy to assign these activities as a unit or as individual questions. You could also write your own questions in SmartWork or in your LMS (such as Canvas), which reference the simulations or animations that your students access through SmartWork.

I didn’t have “online teaching in a global pandemic” in mind when I created this feature. It was “just” something that I did with my classes when I had the luxury of teaching in a tech-enabled classroom. But I routinely assign Exploration activities as part of my students’ online homework. And I suspect I’ll be doing even more of this over the next few semesters!


Classroom Resources: Using "Reading Astronomy News" Online

By Stacy Palen

My favorite way to use Reading Astronomy News is to prompt classroom discussion. The articles at the end of the chapters are short enough that students can read them in less than ten minutes—if they forget to read one before class, they can read it at the beginning of class—and the questions are open-ended enough to spark engaging discussions about other topics that students have been reading about.

I find that if I have a classroom discussion once or twice near the beginning of the semester, I can sometimes regret it. Because then the rest of the semester is full of “Dr. Palen, did you read the Internet thing about the space thing that the telescope saw?” Or other similar types of questions that are, more or less, just like the first one. I almost never know what they are talking about.

At this current time, I feel that this Reading Astronomy News feature is especially important. While it may be true that (as Al Bartlett used to say) the greatest problem facing the human species is our inability to understand the exponential function, it is almost certainly true that the second greatest problem facing the human species is our inability to critically evaluate the news.

Unfortunately, classroom discussions are not what they used to be. While it’s possible to have a meeting on Zoom, a “discussion” really does require everyone to be able to see one another so they can be polite and wait for someone else to finish speaking, and so they can also see the body language that means “That was a joke!” or “I’m taking a risk by speaking up.”

In the latter half of our semester, when we were teaching online, I moved my Reading Astronomy News assignments into the online SmartWork homework system. Each article is available in SmartWork and has a pre-built assignment with a handful of questions asking students to evaluate what they’ve read given the context of the chapter material. I assigned some of these pre-built assignments during the last six weeks of class.

I don’t really know how well this worked. Certainly, students did the assignments and answered the questions. And they did a good job, too. However, it was deeply unsatisfying to me because I did not get any insights into how they were thinking about what they read. My goal with this feature and these assignments is to help students learn to read the news critically, and it’s hard for me to know how well they’re doing this without talking to them. It was beyond me, in the chaos of the transition, to craft questions that asked students to connect what they were reading to what was happening in the world.

Over these next few weeks, I’ll be thinking about how to get the same benefits of a face-to-face discussion without having to meet individually with small groups of students over video conference. Certainly, there are technological capabilities (break-out “rooms” in Zoom, for example) that I don’t fully comprehend yet. I’ll need to find some fellow faculty members or former students to be my “guinea pigs” while I figure out how well this works…