A service that offers free online college classes is reporting problems with plagiarism, even though the courses don't count for credit, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Officials don't yet know how much cheating actually happens, but the problem underscores the growing pains of this new digital education.
The service, Coursera, partners with dozens of universities to provide professor-taught classes to any netizen who cares to sign up; any one class may have tens of thousands of students. Coursera isn't the only startup with this idea. Udacity is popular, while Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Berkeley have their own joint free service, called edX. Many experts have hailed these free classes, called massive open online courses or MOOCs, as a revolution in higher education. Others are more wary.
MOOCs, which arose over the past year, still have some questions to sort out as they mature. Uncertainties include how they'll pay for their costs and how much their certificates of completion will be worth when their graduates seek jobs. The plagiarism at Coursera brings another question to light.
Students in three of Coursera's humanities courses have found their fellows plagiarizing when they grade each other's essays, which is one way one professor is able to teach so many people, reported the Chronicle of Higher Education, a news site for professors. One student read an essay that lifted from Wikipedia.
The Chronicle talked with the professors of the courses with cheating. The instructors said that after hearing about plagiarism, they posted open letters to their students urging them not to cheat and to teach cheaters they find, in case the copier isn't aware what is considered wrong in academia. One Coursera student the Chronicle interviewed was frustrated by the slow response she got from her professor and from Coursera officials about the cheating she found.
Coursera will study how widespread plagiarism is compared to cheating in traditional classrooms, Daphne Koller, one of Coursera's founders, told the Chronicle. They will consider plagiarism-detecting software, but haven't made a decision yet, she said.
"It depends on how common this is," Koller said.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education