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Why Are Students Cheating on Free Online Courses?

Evidence of plagiarism by students taking free noncredit online courses begs the question: Why cheat if the outcome doesn’t count for anything?

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed a surprising number of plagiarism cases among students enrolled in Coursera, the online course site offered by a consortium of colleges and universities. What’s surprising is that these courses are free and do not count towards a degree. The subject has caused some debate on Coursera’s discussion boards, with some defending plagiarism: “[S]ince the class isn’t for credit, what’s the big deal?”

What’s the Big Idea?

According to the Chronicle, this attitude represents one of the drawbacks of gamification: It doesn’t matter how you win, so long as you win. While it’s true that technically, cheating on a game or on a course that’s offered for free is relatively harmless, it “diminish[es] the experience for those who are playing by the rules, as evidenced by the many Coursera students who took to their class discussion boards to complain when they uncovered instances of plagiarism.” The fact that many of the offenders were identified by their fellow students, rather than by instructors or site administrators, helps demonstrate the belief that not only do cheaters never prosper, they shouldn’t prosper.

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