Trusting students to direct their learning

As noted by David Wills when directing the Barns Hostel in rural Scotland:

students behaved much better around staffers with whom they had developed an affectionate bond, and concluded that affection created a desire to please and made coercion unnecessary.

In lieu of punishment, Barns operated on a system of “shared responsibility,” designed to minimize both misunderstandings and resentments. Although lessons were mandatory, the rest of the rules were made by the students themselves, and transgressions were handled by peers imposing what they considered a reasonable and appropriate consequence — for example, a disruptive student might have been asked to remain in another room until the desire to be disruptive faded.

And at the Doctor Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School:

The school fostered a supportive atmosphere that emphasized egalitarianism and mutual trust among faculty and students… The students themselves drove the curriculum but shared overall control of the school with teachers and community leaders. Everyone had a genuine voice…

As David Gribble summarizes from his observations across ~20 schools worldwide:

overall, the children at these schools appeared engaged and eager to learn, without coercion—they were even willing to make great sacrifices for the opportunity to attend the schools… “most social and academic problems are eased and many are solved … by respect, responsibility, affection and freedom.”

Trust and respect can help students flourish and achieve far beyond what we might otherwise have allowed ourselves to see.

Beating cheating

Between cheating to learn and learning to cheat, current discourse on academic dishonesty upends the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach.

From Peter Nonacs, UCLA professor teaching Behavioral Ecology:

Tests are really just measures of how the Education Game is proceeding. Professors test to measure their success at teaching, and students take tests in order to get a good grade.  Might these goals be maximized simultaneously? What if I let the students write their own rules for the test-taking game?  Allow them to do everything we would normally call cheating?

And in a new MOOC titled “Understanding Cheating in Online Courses,” taught by Bernard Bull at Concordia University Wisconsin:

The start of the course will cover the basic vocabulary and different types of cheating. The course will then move into discussing the differences between online and face-to-face learning, and the philosophy and psychology behind academic integrity. One unit will examine the best practices to minimize cheating.

Cheating crops up whenever there is a mismatch between effort and reward, something which happens often in our current educational system. Assigning unequal rewards to equal efforts biases attention toward the inflated reward, motivating cheating. Assigning equal rewards to unequal efforts favors the lesser effort, enabling cheating. The greater the disparities, the greater the likelihood of cheating.

Thus, one potential avenue for reducing cheating would be to better align the reward to the effort, to link the evaluation of outputs more closely to the actual inputs. High-stakes tests separate them by exaggerating the influence of a single, limited snapshot. In contrast, continuous, passive assessment brings them closer by examining a much broader range of work over time, collected in authentic learning contexts rather than artificial testing situations. Education then becomes a series of honest learning experiences, rather than an arbitrary system to game.

In an era where students learn what gets assessed, the answer may be to assess everything.