Rush to e-learning may fuel online plagiarism, warn lecturers

Union’s members express concerns over impact of technology on higher education

The growth of commercial websites offering to carry out student assignments showed how “the depersonalisation and de-professionalisation of education will create problems”. File photograph: iStockphoto

The growth of commercial websites offering to carry out student assignments showed how “the depersonalisation and de-professionalisation of education will create problems”. File photograph: iStockphoto

 

Universities need to invest in staff and not just technology if they want to tackle online plagiarism and protect the integrity of higher education, the Irish Federation of University Teachers has said.

General secretary Mike Jennings said “there is a body of opinion that MOOCs (massive open online courses) and e-learning are going to make current teaching and learning superfluous, and that students will be able to do it all from the attic”.

However, he said, the growth of commercial websites offering to carry out student assignments showed how “the depersonalisation and de-professionalisation of education will create problems”.

The Irish Times reported on Monday that a growing number of Irish third-level students were posting ads on specialist websites seeking freelance academics to write essays for them.

Mr Jennings said the practice highlighted the danger of universities moving rapidly towards e-learning. “They see it as a saving. They see it as a cheap way to do things as opposed to the intelligent use of technology to enhance teaching.

“Nobody is against technology, but there is a naive believe that because people can reach you by email, you can do away with supervision, interaction and dialogue.

“It’s literally as easy to give a lecture to 400 people instead of 200 people - but it’s not as easy to give an education to 400 people instead of 200 people.”

He said his members had serious concerns about the impact of technology on higher education.

“They are facing students who are all on laptops with their heads down, and they haven’t a clue if they are on Facebook or following their lecture.”

For example, he said, the tradition of someone putting a hand up and asking a question, thereby helping someone else in the room to understand the lecture and share a transformative experience, is “in danger of being lost”.