Highly praised children are more inclined to cheat

The title of this Alphr article is a little misleading because the point the article rightly makes is that it all depends on the type of praise given. It reports on research from the University of Toronto that confirms (yet again) what should be obvious: praising learners for who they are (‘you’re so smart’) is a really bad idea, while praising what they do (‘you did that well’) is not normally a bad idea. The issue, though, is essentially one of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. By praising the person for being a particular way you are positioning that as the purpose, rather than a side-effect, of the activity, and positioning yourself as the arbiter, so disempowering the learner. By praising the behaviour, you are offering useful feedback on performance that empowers the recipient to choose whether and how to do such things again, as well as supporting needs for relatedness (it shows you care) and competence (it helps them improve). Both forms of praise contribute to feelings of self-esteem, but only one supports intrinsic motivation. 

The nice twist in these particular studies (here and here) is that the researchers were looking at effects on morality. They found that ability praise (teling them they are smart) is very strongly correlated with a propensity to cheat. Exactly as theory would predict, kids who have been told that they are smart are significantly more likely to respond to the extrinsic motivation (the need to live up to expectations when given ability praise) by cheating, when given the opportunity. Interestingly, praising the behaviour (performance praise) has little or no effect on likelihood of cheating when compared with those given no praise at all: it is only when an expectation is set that the children are perceived as smart that cheating behaviour increases. It is also interesting, if tangential, that boys appeared to be way more likely to cheat than girls under all the conditions though, once primed by ability praise, girls were more likely to cheat than boys that had received no praise or performance praise.

The lesson is nothing like as simple as remembering to just praise the action, not the person. Praising behaviours can, when used badly, be just as disempowering as praising the person. For instance, while in some senses it might be possible to view grades as a kind of abbreviated praise (or punishment, which amounts to much the same thing) for a behaviour, there’s a critical difference: the fact that it will be graded is known in advance by the learner. This is compounded by the fact that the grade matters to them, often more than the performance of the activity itself. Thus, achieving the grade becomes the goal, not the consequence of the behaviour, and it reinforces the power of the grader to determine the behaviour of the learner, with a consequent loss of learner autonomy. That shift from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation is the big issue here, not the praise itself. There are lots of ways to give both performance praise and ability praise that are not coercive. They are only harmful when used to manipulate behaviour.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.alphr.com/science/1007043/highly-praised-children-are-more-inclined-to-cheat

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Computer science students should learn to cheat, not be punished for it

This is a well thought-through response to a recent alarmist NYT article about cheating among programming students.

The original NYT article is full of holy pronouncements about the evils of plagiarism, horrified statistics about its extent, and discussions of the arms wars, typically involving sleuthing by markers and evermore ornate technological fixes that are always one step behind the most effective cheats (and one step ahead of the dumber ones). This is a lose-lose system. No one benefits. But that’s not the biggest issue with the article. Nowhere does the NYT article mention that it is largely caused by the fact that we in academia typically tell programming students to behave in ways that no programmer in their right mind would ever behave (disclaimer: the one programming course that I currently teach, very deliberately, does not do that, so I am speaking here as an atypical outlier).

As this article rightly notes, the essence of programming is re-use of code. Although there are certainly egregiously immoral and illegal ways to do that (even open source coders normally need to religiously cite their sources for significant uses of code written by others), applications are built on layer upon layer upon layer of re-used code, common subroutines and algorithms, snippets, chunks, libraries, classes, components, and a thousand different ways to assemble (in some cases literally) the code of others. We could not do programming at all without 99% of the code that does what we want it to do being written by others. Programmers knit such things together, often sharing their discoveries and improvements so that the whole profession benefits and the cycle continues. The solution to most problems is, more often than not, to be found in StackExchange forums, Reddit, or similar sites, or in open source repositories like Github, and it would be an idiotic programmer that chose not to (very critically and very carefully) use snippets provided there. That’s pretty much how programmers learn, a large part of how they solve problems, and certainly how they build stuff. The art of it is in choosing the right snippet, understanding it, fitting it into one’s own code, selecting between alternative solutions and knowing why one is better (in a given context) than another. In many cases, we have memorized ways of doing things so that, even if we don’t literally copy and paste, we repeat patterns (whole lines and blocks) that are often identical to those that we learned from others. It would likely be impossible to even remember where we learned such things, let alone to cite them.  We should not penalize that – we should celebrate it. Sure, if the chunks we use are particulary ingenious, or particularly original, or particularly long, or protected by a licence, we should definitely credit their authors. That’s just common sense and decency, as well as (typically) a legal requirement. But a program made using the code of others is no less plagiarism than Kurt Schwitters was a plagiarist of the myriad found objects that made up his collages, or a house builder is a plagiarist of its bricks.

And, as an aside, please stop calling it ‘Computer Science’. Programming is no more computer science than carpentry is woodworking science. It bugs me that ‘computer science’ is used so often as a drop-in synonym for programming in the popular press, reinforced by an increasing number of academics with science-envy, especially in North America. There are sciences used in computing, and a tiny percentage of those are quite unique to the discipline, but that’s a miniscule percentage of what is taught in universities and colleges, and a vanishingly small percentage of what nearly all programmers actually do. It’s also worth noting that computer science programs are not just about programming: there’s a whole bunch of stuff we teach (and that computing professionals do) about things like databases, networks, hardware, ethics, etc that has nothing whatsoever to do with programming (and little to do with science). Programming, though, especially in its design aspects, is a fundamentally human activity that is creative, situated, and inextricably entangled with its social and organizational context. Apart from in some research labs and esoteric applications, it is normally closer to fine art than it is to science, though it is an incredibly flexible activity that spans a gamut of creative pursuits analogous to a broad range of arts and crafts from poetry to music to interior design to engineering. Perhaps it is most akin to architecture in the ways it can (depending on context) blend art, craft, engineering, and (some) science but it can be analogous to pretty much any creative pursuit (universal machines and all that).

Address of the bookmark: https://thenextweb.com/dd/2017/05/30/lets-teach-computer-science-students-to-cheat/#.tnw_FTOVyGc4

Original page

Over two dozen people with ties to India’s $1-billion exam scam have died mysteriously in recent months

“… the scale of the scam in the central state of Madhya Pradesh is mind-boggling. Police say that since 2007, tens of thousands of students and job aspirants have paid hefty bribes to middlemen, bureaucrats and politicians to rig test results for medical schools and government jobs.

So far, 1,930 people have been arrested and more than 500 are on the run. Hundreds of medical students are in prison — along with several bureaucrats and the state’s education minister. Even the governor has been implicated.

A billion-dollar fraud scheme, perhaps dozens murdered, nearly 2000 in jail and hundreds more on the run. How can we defend a system that does this to people? Though opportunities for corruption may be higher in India, it is not peculiar to the culture. It is worth remembering that more than two-thirds of high school Canadian students cheat (I have seen some estimates that are notably higher – this was just the first in the search results and illustrates the point well enough):

According to a survey of Canadian university & college students:

  • Cheated on written work in high school 73%
  • Cheated on tests in high school 58%
  • Cheated on a test as undergrads 18%
  • Helped someone else cheat on a test 8%

According to a survey of 43,000 U.S. high school students:

  • Used the internet to plagiarize 33%
  • Cheated on a test last year 59%
  • Did it more than twice 34%
  • Think you need to cheat to get ahead 39%

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/manitoba/features/universities/

When it is a majority phenomenon, this is the moral norm, not an aberration. The problem is a system that makes this a plausible and, for many, a preferable solution, despite knowing it is wrong. This means the system is flawed, far more than the people in it. The problems emerge primarily because, in the cause of teaching, we make people do things they do not want to do, and threaten them/reward them to enforce compliance. It’s not a problem with human nature, it’s a rational reaction to extrinsic motivation, especially when the threat is as great as we make it. Even my dog cheats under those conditions if she can get away with it.  When the point of learning is the reward, then there is no point to learning apart from the reward and, when it’s to avoid punishment, it’s even worse. The quality of learning is always orders of magnitude lower than when we learn something because we want to learn it, or as a side-effect of doing something that interests us, but the direct consequence of extrinsic motivation is to sap away intrinsic motivation, so even those with an interest mostly have at least some of it kicked or cajolled out of them. That’s a failure on a majestic scale. If tests given in schools and universities had some discriminatory value it might still be justifiable but perhaps the dumbest thing of all about the whole crazy mess is that a GPA has no predictive value at all when it comes to assessing competence.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.theprovince.com/health/Over+dozen+people+with+ties+India+billion+exam+scam+have+died/11191722/story.html