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COLUMN: Online class messaging is not worth it



In an age when technology is almost vital to human communication and it comes to classes, stick to paper and pencil, or ideally, word of mouth. 

More than 80 Ohio State students were recently accused of cheating due to the discovery of a class GroupMe. In the group, students shared answers, how to solve problems and more. 

Administrations and student conduct entities at Ohio State have said that online communication forums such as GroupMe, Slack and Google Docs are OK to use, as long as information about the class stays in the realm of sharing due dates or asking logistical questions. 

However, the smartest way to avoid a plagiarism or ethical dilemmas is to stay off of these online forums altogether. 

In 2017, this idea — to avoid the use of technology to make learning easier — sounds somewhat counterintuitive. Students are increasingly integrating technology both in and out of the classroom to make peer-to-peer collaboration more efficient and comprehensive. 

However with digital communication, accountability and blame are not concentrated, and punishment errs on the side of holding accountable anyone who could have possibly benefited from the plagiarism. 

Consider a student sharing the answer to a complex problem via paper or word of mouth. 

Pinning accountability on the sharer is easy and pinning accountability on the recipients is clear. If a student has the paper or was in the room when the answer was shared, the recipient clearly benefited from the shared answer.

However, in a GroupMe with over 80 people, if an answer is shared, it is hard to tell exactly who benefited from the shared work or file. 

In a GroupMe with that many people, some students may not be looking for the answer to that problem, choose not to view it or have the chat on mute and not even see the shared work. 

This makes the likelihood of getting caught for plagiarism much higher for students in these online groups. 

And for those who may argue that these groups function just to share logistical information or to joke about the professor, all it takes is one student out of, in this instance, 80, to not honor that contract and send unethical information that will get the entire group in trouble.

So when seeking to communicate in classes, no matter how small or large, feel free to communicate with other students. However, keep your GroupMe controlled — five people or less is probably ideal. 

Set strict expectations for that communication, and if you feel that behavior in the group is unethical, leave the group. Getting in trouble for other people's plagiarism is not worth being in the large group group chat. 

Save yourself the risk and go old school if you need help with a problem or have a question. And last but certainly not least, the best way to avoid any of this is not to plagiarize. 


ccarigan@indiana.edu
@carmesanchicken

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