Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Every generation.........

.......puts a hero up the pop chart. [Paul Simon, Bubble Boy, Gracelands]

Suddenly the Internet is causing problems with homework.
Technological solutions alone will not be enough to prevent children using the internet to cheat in their coursework, a government adviser has said.
and this is clearly a new threat!

Some years ago, back in the days of black & white, I submitted a piece of school work which I based on an article in the "Radio Times". Now, of course, I know that all academics are across every piece of work in their sphere but not then because I got a pass! Of course in those days I might also have popped down to Longsight library and selected a few choice phrases, suitably bowlderised, and slung them into my homework but I can't now - the library is a social centre.

Is any of this new? Is, once again, the Web the issue?

I helped Calum do his homework this weekend. It was "Solids, Liquids and Gasses" - not too tricky really, I can deal with molecular agitation and endomorphic and exomorphic reactions. I can explain the Carbon cycle and how plants use C6H12O6 and CO2 in photosynthesis and we played some great games discussing how soot comes from logs and the relationship between ice and steam and how heat releases the scent from candles. We also covered one of his favourite topics - steam engines and how energy is released from coal to produce motive force.

Were we cheating? Am I just another "middle class" parent giving my child a leg up? Who knows - but the web ain't any more a problem than the libraries that we used or the Readers Digest or anything else. And my father would be overjoyed to think that I'm middle class :-)

In my world academics have to stop shouting "foul" and accept that there is nothing new and the Web is no more a threat than anything else. Stop bitching and accept that it's out there and happening!

16 careful considerations:

Rob Spence said...

Well, I know it's out there and happening, because I deal with it every day, as does every other academic I know. You're quite right that the web hasn't invented plagiarism, but it has nmade it much easier and far more rife than it ever was.
I was frankly flabbergasted by the comments I heard on the news last night on the topic of "how far should parents help"? I'd have thought the answer was very clear - not at all: it's your child's homework, not yours. How is the teacher supposed to make a decent assessment of a child's progress if the child's "work" isn't actually their own?
Some parent on TV last night, who was obviously being portrayed as a good example, said she proof read and corrected work by her children, especially when, as she put it, they'd got things muddled. Well, they are never going to learn how to sort out their muddles if Mum does it for them. And their teacher will be unable to give them specific help if their work appears to be OK.
I am dealing on a daily basis with students who have good A levels in English, but, when push comes to shove, can't write proper sentences, can't construct an argument, can't manage to read a book, etc etc.
So, in answer to your question, I'm afraid, yes, I think you are cheating.
Now for the pedant bit: it's Graceland, without the s. It's "The Boy in the Bubble." And it's "every generation throws a hero up the pop charts."

kat said...

........ but Rob, if parents don't help the children with their homework the teachers have a go at them.I discuss lots of things with my child but it is not necessarily about the set homework.
My child uses the Internet a lot and I find that it raises more questions for him ( and for me ) than it immediately answers. If it is used properly, of course.

TRT said...

Yes. You're cheating. But I tried to help GK with her maths last weekend and I couldn't find a solution to the question she was having difficulty with. I'm waiting to hear what the teacher has to say. Mind you, the book they are using is completely crap and I've found errors everytime I've looked at it, even if it's just stupid stuff like bad punctuation, spelling or the use of the word data in the singular.

Rob Spence said...

Kat, I think teachers "having a go at them" is a different issue. Any teacher worth his or her salt will set homework only if it's do-able by the group to whom it's set. Otherwise there's no point. Actually, I don't think there's much point to homework anyway, given the lack of copntrol over the circumstances in which it's done. I'd go for supervised prep after school, at school.

Bluefluff said...

In the subjects I can help with, I do. But that help takes the same form it would with my OU students - not doing the work for them, but explaining the bits they don't understand, so that they're equipped to do it themselves. As far as I can see, that's what Nog is doing, too.

Surely learning is a partnership between home & school? At least that's what the school publicity says!

Rob - your comment about teachers setting only work they're confident every pupil in the class can manage seems somewhat unrealistic. A perfect teacher with a perfect class could maybe achieve that ideal. In practice, some kids do arrive home with a less than perfect understanding of a particular topic/task.

Oh, & one of the things I teach my kids during homework help is acceptable use of web material.

Rob Spence said...

I take Bluefluff's point about ideal worlds, but still maintain that homework should be done solely by the child. The teacher is the professional here, and while some parents (like the ones on this page) are obviously well qualified to help, many (most?) aren't, and possibly do more harm than good.
Imagine this: your child is prescribed a particular medicine by your GP. You, completely unqualified in medicine, decide that you are going to double the dose, or add some concoction of your own. How will the doctor know if the prescription was effective? And how could you justify your intervention? I note that Ruth Kelly is keen on what she calls "Parent Power" because, apparently, "parents know best". Not in my experience, they don't. And imagine the response if the minister for health (whoever that is this week) were to announce that major decisions about clinical practice were being devolved to unqualified patients...

kat said...

Rob, when I said the teachers have a go at them I meant they have a go at the parents not the children. Parents these days are asked and expected to help. My child's previous school used to call meetings advising parents how to help their children. As Bluefluff said this does not mean doing the work for them.

kat said...

Na it isn't cheating. Nogbad didn't say he did Calum's homework. He said he helped him to do it. If that is cheating then so be it. How is a child expected to learn? Homework is about learning isn't it? If it is an exam of some kind then it should be done at school.

Rob Spence said...

I think I must be the only non-parent around here, and maybe that's why I have a different perspective. Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, and I was a secondary school teacher, I can remember many children who produced impeccable coursework, but could barely write their name in class. I couldn't then, and can't now, see the point of a parent, or sibling, more or less producing the work for them, which is what happened routinely then, and is clearly happening even more routinely now. Obviously, I don't object to parents prodding and reminding their children about things, but I'm at a loss to understand how taking a major role in doing coursework and homework is in any way helping.

Nogbad said...

The Graceland bit just shows how poor the Internet is - I couldn't be fussed finding the CD so grabbed the first site I found and didn't critically assess the value of the info :-)

Was I cheating? I think, on balance, not. Calum is 10 - his homework asked that he identified examples of solids, liquids and gasses in a little drawing he was given on the printed sheet provided as part of the "Teach Science" toolkit being used by the teacher. No argument that the teacher is a professional and her judgement should be of each child's progress but her degree is in English - mine is a tad more science based. My intention whenever helping with homework is to try and make it fun - Calum is like me, he hates doing his homework and will leave it until the last minute - and it's great fun getting soot on your fingers and trying to work out how it comes from burning something.

Schools - or at least the three I have direct knowledge of as a parent - emphasise the importance of parents helping with homework and I know from talking to other parents that many find it very dificult because they simply don't have any knowledge of the subject and, critically, don't have the necessary skills (or time) to go and find useful and useable information. That clearly means that the children of people who have an understanding of the subjects will have an advantage but it was ever thus wasn't it? Had I studied engineering or diesel engines I'd have been home and hosed but I didn't so my father wasn't able to help too much.

I take your point about assessment Rob but most progression checks are carried out using the dreaded SATs tests and children are "coached" to take them (rather than being taught the subjects so that they are confident with them).

Ultimately I think the main purpose of homework at junior school is to prepare pupils for the demands of "real" homework when they move on to secondary school - it's to condition them to working outside the classroom rather than to help them learn very much - and some parents will always help and others simply won't. But I won't actually do the homework for them for a couple of reasons; firstly all my children have better handwriting than I do and they need to learn to synthesise the course work and my gentle proddings to get what the teacher expects because that's what learning is about. And had we written a long piece about photosynthesis and lactose and the many stomachs of a cow and the use of elctric vehicles to discuss the milk float in teh picture I think the teacher may have twigged that Calum is a 10 year old genius or that his father had helped rather more than was acceptable :-)

Nogbad said...

but I'm at a loss to understand how taking a major role in doing coursework and homework is in any way helping.

I fully agree but I also understand how it can happen. Here in Kent we still have selective schools and I know of parents going to incredible lengths to get their children into the right junior schools to get the best shot at the 11+. These same parents offer mobile phones, expensive holidays and wonderful treats as inducements to their children to do well in that dreaded exam and private tutors are never short of work. In this "testing and assesment" culture, where getting into a grammar school can make a big difference in the outcomes for some pupils, it's not surprising that some parents cross the line and do the work.

TRT said...

Actually, when I forced my daughter to write a piece in a particular style, incorporating much verbatim stuff from me, i.e. doing it for her, it was marked by the teacher as very poor.

It's clear that what teachers want from kids for homework now is very different to when I was at school, e.g. product and market analysis of quiche. I mean, quiche is quiche, right?

Nogbad said...

And real men don't eat it!

TRT said...

You've obviously never had my real ale and beef quiche.

Bluefluff said...

Essay alert.....

Rob would still maintain that homework should be done solely by the child.

Even in a situation where you see your child in tears, because they "don't get" what the teacher wants them to do, & you happen to have the subject knowledge to explain it? Of course I won't let my children write down & hand in something they don't understand, but I certainly won't leave them ignorant & scared of the teacher's reaction.

There's one teacher whose "weak spots" I'm all too well acquainted with, having seen all my kids emerge from her teaching of a particular topic with less understanding than before they went in. I've just taught it my own way for the 4th time in ten years.

I'm especially puzzled by this bit, Rob: they are never going to learn how to sort out their muddles if Mum does it for them. And their teacher will be unable to give them specific help if their work appears to be OK
So it's OK for the teacher, who has maybe 2 minutes per child in a typical lesson, to un-muddle them, but not OK for their own parents to do that in the calm & supportive atmosphere of the child's own home?

There's also this: students who have good A levels in English, but, when push comes to shove, can't write proper sentences, can't construct an argument, can't manage to read a book
Might it not be the case that such students have been taught by over-worked teachers in over-large classes & not had their "muddles" gently sorted out by parents? These are certainly areas where I've filled in my own children's gaps over the years.

I don't regard what Nog does as cheating. The parent who refuses to help, or fobs off their child with instructions to "look it up on the web" are the ones who are cheating - cheating their kids by ducking out of their parental responsibilty.

Rob Spence said...

I'll get me coat...