On Cheating

In the introductory video to #rhizo14 Dave Cormier talks about cheating and asks how this might be usefully applied to learning.  He defines cheating as taking an answer that is not mine, and discusses in a bit more detail some implications of this way of looking at things.

He then describes his classroom design and says that he puts students together so that they have to “cheat”, by which he actually means that they have to collaborate, because there is no way that any of them individually can come up with a right answer.  This sounds strikingly similar to the Jigsaw Technique, which is a model for co-operative learning which I use in my Philosophy tutorials at the University of Glasgow, where groups of tutees are all given part of a topic which they must teach to the rest of the class, so that by the end all of the class have taught or been taught the whole of an answer. They collaborate in teaching and learning that answer, but each individual student writes their own set of notes, so no two answers will be identical.

However, I don’t think that this is the same as cheating, because I think that Dave’s definition above was not complete enough for its purpose.  I do think that cheating is taking an answer that is not mine, but I think that it importantly I cheat if I try to pass it off as my own.   That’s often the difference between plagiarism and academic referencing, it’s what crude “originality checkers” such as Turnitin try to catch, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on with collaborative learning.

I do think (and am arguing in my PhD thesis) that we need to examine our attitudes towards collaboration if we’re going to use it meaningfully in formal education, and I think particularly that one’s epistemology is likely to affect one’s liking for or distrust of methods such as Jigsaw, Patchwork Text, and even for projects such as Wikipedia.  Kenneth Bruffee has some interesting thoughts about types of knowledge which I do not totally agree with, but which are stimulating, particularly when he compares writing to a pueblo – i.e. authorship is not always (ever?) easy to ascertain – and this sort of thought is running through my head when I think about rhizomatic learning.


So I don’t think that Dave and I are actually disagreeing deeply, but I do not find his choice of word to be useful.  He’s probably chosen it to be disruptive, and to provoke us all into talking – and that’s a good thing.  Like Nietzsche, I also like to philosophise with a hammer.
I was also reminded of this from Massumi’s introduction to A Thousand Plateaus: “A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”

Image by Janekpfeifer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


About Nomad War Machine

Philosopher, Doctor Who lover, knitter, anarchist. Gets paid for being a Learning Technologist at the University of Glasgow. I am interested in theories and models of co-operative learning, in particular the Jigsaw Classroom, and I have just started a PhD about that sort of stuff. Twitter: @NomadWarMachine
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2 Responses to On Cheating

  1. “The Hammer Philosophers” would be a good band name, I think. I agree that the word “cheating” has such cultural weight, it’s hard to examine it through a neutral lens. It’s all negative. Dave’s invitation to consider the word and our own meaning has been valuable.

  2. Hi Kevin – that sounds like a Death Metal band. I like the idea though: Nietzsche’s words set to music 🙂

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