Is there a dilemma in supporting learning?

This week’s class brought up several moral, legal and ethical issues teachers face. To recap this week, we discussed online platforms that are aimed at aiding students in completing assignments or textbook questions (namely Course Hero and Chegg), we also discussed Open Education Resources (online textbooks that are free to access) where Patricia shared that she currently uses an online book for one of her courses and lastly, we also discussed what it means to own your own resources and created content (ie: division right to ownership for those working as learning consultants and selling your personal content on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers). 

Teachers in Saskatchewan must follow the Code of Professional Ethics set by the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF). Teachers make ethical decisions in their classrooms everyday and there is not always an easy or straightforward answer. As such, I believe teachers need to consider how the decisions they make impact the functioning of the school, the well-being of their students, and how does the decision support student learning. I’m going to explore one such ethical dilemma in this post.

Chegg and Course Hero

The ethical dilemma I want to discuss surrounds the online platforms Course Hero and Chegg. As an early elementary teacher, this is not an issue that I foresee coming up with my students, but one that I wanted to talk about as it relates to my teaching philosophy. These platforms are certainly more of an issue in middle years, high school and post-secondary education. What piqued my interest on this topic was being reminded of my early university days, where students could search up old midterms and final exams in the U of R Students Union (URSU) online database. Students could get an idea of what a Biology 100 final might look like – what sorts of questions have been asked in the past? The tests could give them insight into how they could study and prepare.  So, now, I ask myself this, is it cheating to look at previous course exams provided in this manner?  The scanned copies were openly accessible to students online. Surely the professors and university knew these were being shared, so they must have rewritten and changed their exams accordingly.

Cheating versus Learning

As I searched up Chegg to learn more, the main page says “24/7 Homework Help – from test prep to expert explanations, to writing help.” Students can pay a minimum of $18.95/month to get access to this help. The claim on the site says 94% of students say they got better grades with the help of Chegg. Alec mentioned in class that students can ask a question and an expert will answer the question in real time. So the ethical question is – is using Course Hero or Chegg cheating?

The quick and short answer is yes. If you are using a platform like this to take answers (plagiarize) and present them as your own for a class or course, you are cheating and breaking academic integrity. If a student submits a question to this platform that they were assigned for homework, and gets and answer back and is graded on that answer, then yes, that is cheating. In the article titled, “Ethical Issues with Using Technology in the Classroom” posted by Shristy this week, the prevalence of plagiarism today is discussed. With the wide use of search engines and overall widespread availability of knowledge, plagiarism is a serious ethical concern. Thus, it is important that students learn how to validate information and sources and properly cite the intellectual property of others. On the flipside, I do think a platform like Chegg or Course Hero could be beneficial to student learning if used appropriately and acknowledged as a study aid.

The Goal of Student Learning

One of the main goals of educators is student learning. We want to raise confident, respectful and kind humans as well, but we are in the business of learning. So, when thinking about study platforms that could support student learning, we need to look a bit closer. If educators need to design their assessments in such a way that students learn the material, check their answers, can ask questions from a different source and learn an alternative way to solve problems, then that should be acceptable. If a student is willing to go to this length to use a service like this, or even hire a tutor, then the student should be assessed on what they have learned in the end. If the student winds up learning more or solidifying their learning by using a service like this, I consider that a win. I want my students to learn. 

I want to be clear, I am not condoning cheating or plagiarism, but if this platform was used by students as a study aid to facilitate, compliment and enhance their learning, I would be ok with it. It would be pretty obvious if a student was crushing all of their homework and assignment questions and then failed when taking a test or summative assessment. I would also be able to gather additional learning evidence from in-class formative assessments to determine a students learning on the topic. Online courses would prove to be another challenge with platforms like Chegg and Course Hero, as students could potentially login and have questions answered in real time during a test, or for a “take-home” type of assignment.

Another example to support my thoughts is using a platform like this is comparable to providing students with exemplars and rubrics designed to guide them in their learning. If you design an assessment and provide students with an exemplar, or show a previous student’s work, the students are able to use those examples to guide their learning. Obviously, again, if they copied the work, it would be cheating. But, in many cases, providing exemplars enhances student work and output because students can see what it takes to do great work, and many will use it to create something even better!

Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

Redo, Resubmit, Be a Lifelong Learner

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that there will no doubt be challenges in students having access to platforms like Chegg and Course Hero. Educators will be tasked with assessing student learning in a manner that compliments these types of platforms, if they are to be used. Think of higher level Bloom’s taxonomy learning objectives like creating, evaluating, and analyzing material. Finally, in my undergraduate program, I took an inclusive education class where the professor allowed students to resubmit any and all work. If you had an assignment that you wanted to redo and resubmit for grading, you could. And yes, you could raise your grade in the process. The idea was, if you want to enhance your learning by correcting your mistakes, or further exploring a topic then great! That is what ongoing and lifelong learning is all about. This is what we want our students to do as well.

Please, share your thoughts…

1. What do you think of students having access to platforms like Chegg and Course Hero? Do you think they could be beneficial in supporting student learning?

2. If you are a middle years or high school teacher, have platforms like these been a challenge for you?

4 thoughts on “Is there a dilemma in supporting learning?

  1. I have been teaching in the middle years for my entire career, and haven’t had an issue with websites such as Coursehero or Chegg (as of yet). There are always ways for kiddos to cheat, or to get help on their assignments outside of school. However, if teachers are creating assignments where students are applying their knowledge rather than regurgitating information, then students shouldn’t have to resort to using these websites to do their assignments for them. I also think that some of the resources out there are helping teach students when they aren’t understanding something, or want to learn more. I think as educators, we need to do a better job of shaking up how we assess, especially in secondary and post-secondary schooling.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kelly. I agree. There are many ways for students to cheat/plagiarize and educators need to make sure they are designing their courses/assessments so students apply their knowledge in meaningful ways. And as such, platforms like Chegg and Course Hero would not become tools to cheat.

  2. Rae, I agree that as elementary teachers we often don’t have to worry about plagiarism. However, I think as students become more digitally literate, there is that concern. Even with online teaching last year, we raised concerns of adults completing their students assignments. We decided as a group that we wouldn’t make assumptions and assess student work as their own. I think it’s valuable that you shared it is important to provide exemplars, I have even told students that we copy ideas from authors. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as an elementary teacher!

  3. I had not even heard of Coursehero or Chegg before; all the new things I have learned this semester. If this site was actually helping students by showing similar examples but not using the exact “math numbers” in an equation, or showing students how to write certain papers I think that is very helpful. Soap box moment here: with increasing class sizes, more student needs, lack of support, low government funding, etc. if there was something to help those students who are getting missed or are just not getting it and their teacher isn’t able to help them in a timely fashion because they are already swamped with other students who need help, I can see this being so helpful to them to give them that support they need. Obviously that is just my opinion. However if these sites are literally doing the math work for them, or writing the papers this is not helpful and should be illegal.
    There could be some real benefits to these websites if done properly.

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