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Stopping Intra-Class Academic Dishonesty via Discussions

dhulsey
Community Champion
14 17 1,859

A dedicated minority of  students will always try to take shortcuts no matter what an instructor does, but some of the more cautious cheaters avoid plagiarizing on major assignments like papers and exams precisely because they know such assignments receive scrutiny. Although, small assignments like discussion posts do not always receive as much scrutiny, and that is where I have been seeing the most intentional plagiarism.

I realized a few of my students were preying on honest students when using the discussion board. These dishonest folks would visit the discussion board and cherry pick ideas from the other students, throw the ideas into the blender, and serve up a plagiarized cocktail for everyone to read.

I could protect my students from this theft via Canvas settings though. For every discussion in every class, I checked the setting that made students write an initial post before they could see what other students had written. 

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That helped, but students quickly figured out how to skirt the "Users must post before seeing replies" setting. The dedicated cheaters would post a nonsense post -- usually at a low traffic time like two or three in the morning. Sometimes the post was as little as a period. Posting anything at all let the students see what other students and myself had posted. Then, the cheaters could access the discussion board and cherry pick ideas from the other students, throw the ideas into the blender, and serve up a plagiarized cocktail for everyone to read. This is such a common tactic that even the Canvas Guide How can I require students to reply to a course discussion before they see other replies? states, "Students will see a 'Replies are only visible to those who have posted at least one reply' message when they view the Discussion topic.Note: Sometimes students will work around this requirement by deleting their posts. You can change your course settings to keep students fromdeleting their posts." That is good information and good advice. Thanks,  @CanvasDocTeam ‌!

I disabled the ability to edit posts in my course settings. Go to "Settings." Click the "Course Details" tab. Scroll all the way to the bottom and click "more options" to make sure "Let students edit or delete their own discussion posts" is unchecked:

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I tell my students that they cannot edit or delete posts. They all seem to have become more careful with their posts. Now, everyone can see if someone posts a blank or nonsense post. If a student does it more than once, I send them a message and ask them to refrain from posting blank, partial, or nonsense posts. This has helped improve intra-class academic honesty on the discussion board. 

The student who cannot live with their own typing errors might suffer a bit, but I tell my students they are free to post corrections for typign errors up until the due date and time for the discussion by replying to their own post. 

The minority of cheaters is still there though, but I feel slightly better that they are pulling their material from Wikipedia and other sites instead of their peers. Besides, Wikipedia is easier to spot and catch with any plagiarism detection service. I just copy and paste the entire discussion board and scan it with Turnitin.

What makes me happy is that the bulk of my students do their own work and do it pretty well most of the time.  Smiley Happy Still, I feel an obligation to make sure my students have an even playing field and to protect them from the minority who want to take shortcuts and earn grades with stolen thinking and writing. 

17 Comments
kona
Community Coach
Community Coach

I use this same set of settings and agree it helps encourage students to really think about what they are posting on their own before posting. 🙂

dhulsey
Community Champion

Yes! Each of the settings might be helpful to instructor, but, together, they really shine by promoting thoughtful posts and helping to prevent local plagiarism. Thanks for affirming that I am not crazy for using these settings,  @kona . Smiley Happy 

kona
Community Coach
Community Coach

Nope, not at all and it's what I recommend to our faculty! 🙂

Stefanie
Community Team
Community Team

This is exactly, precisely, how I manage my graded discussions,  @dhulsey ‌. I put a big red warning message in the discussion prompt that lets students know what what the consequences are for trying to game the settings. It really works. Smiley Happy

lindalee
Community Champion

I also use these settings for required discussion posts in my classes. The first (and usually only!) time a student tries to circumvent this with a nonsense post that lingers seems to be a source of embarrassment, if the apologetic emails I've received are anything to go by!

dhulsey
Community Champion

That is funny,  @lindalee ‌. Smiley Happy Smiley Happy

myerdon01
Community Champion

I do the same for my discussions and HIGHLY encourage other instructors to do the same after a colleague brought this to my attention. She had the Post First setting on, but the option to edit or delete posts checked, because she is an English teacher and wanted her students to be able to edit their posts. However, she caught one student that posted one word, read all the other posts, then edited their own by copying and pasting another's post! We both agree now that students do not have the option to edit their own posts because of that incident and similar ones. We tell our students up front, type it up in Word, make sure you are happy with it before posting, etc. We have accepted the occasional "Oh crap, I forgot something/misspelled something" follow up post, but ONLY if it was posted within minutes of their original. Very few problems since then! Smiley Happy

tellison
Community Contributor

If this is simply a student response and no need in additional responses to classmates posts you could create a Group Set that gives each individual a group of their own.  This was mentioned in  I believe.  Students can then track their discussion responses and there is no way to see other classmates.  

Like others I recommend our professors do the same settings as above.  There are documents that I have seen in regard to  allow students to see others BEFORE responding to provide a deeper discussion.  Not sure this would help the cheating or provide more "I agree with others" statements.

dhulsey
Community Champion

Typing posts in a word processor is a good tactic,  @myerdon01 . I also suggest students do this. Like you, I also allow students to post additions and corrections in some circumstances. Of course, I regard many discussions as an online replacement for conversations, so I do not grade them in the same way as I grade an exam or paper, but I find a remarkable number of students get concerned about typing errors on discussions. 

dhulsey
Community Champion

Good point, tellison‌! Even with social conversations groups can be used. By randomizing the questions for each group and by changing discussion prompts occasionally, an instructor can add another level of deterrence. 

tellison
Community Contributor

Dallas E Husley, I have one professor that specifically assigns each group

one set up questions from the chapter. There might be two groups that get

the questions depending on the size of the class. This also helps because

they have to work together to answer the questions.

On Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 8:14 PM, dhulsey@nmjc.edu <instructure@jiveon.com>

dhulsey
Community Champion

That makes perfect sense, Tammy. Although, it is a shame instructors have to go to such lengths. Smiley Sad 

tellison
Community Contributor

This is a graduate online course so it makes sense for him.

james_sanzin
Community Champion

I have had this same problem in the past. Students would post a "." to see their fellow students discussion post. It really pained me how many students would cheat on an assignment in which their was almost no wrong answer.  I can't recall if Canvas does this or not, but does  Canvas keep a log of deleted discussion post?

dhulsey
Community Champion

Sort of.  @james_sanzin , you can see that a post was deleted, the author of the post, and the time stamp. Details for that are here: https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-10128-415299891 I hope that helps!

thompsli
Community Champion

I wanted to add a mention of the https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/8596-student-word-count-minimum-for-discussion-post?sr=search&...‌ idea, because the discussion there was mostly about this issue (and a proposed feature that might help mitigate it).

wguess
Community Member

Will change the feature about not editing/deleting posts and see how that goes.  A related aspect I'm concerned about is the prolific use of apps like "whatsapp" where students can essentially bypass the class to share info with each other.