3.1 Working with other students in a connected world
Many people use information technology to interact with a wide range of people. Interaction might be via emails, web conferencing platforms and/or via a variety of social media platforms.
For example, perhaps you have shared photos from a recent celebration with other family members online or have chatted online to fellow students about your shared interests in crochet, politics, photography or art-house movies.
Although not everyone uses social media, such interactions are, for many people, a normal part of everyday life. It is quick and easy to respond to a friend’s request for help with ‘the recipe that you used last week’ or ‘I don’t understand how to….’
Educational institutions may also have a variety of channels for similar interactions – as well as for more formal, study related tasks. For example, at The Open University there are a variety of online forums available, including those operating at the level of individual tutor groups, those open to everyone currently studying a particular module and those open to anyone following a particular qualification pathway. Talking about the subject matter, taking part in module/course tasks and activities and supporting one another helps everyone develop their academic identity and voice.
The problem – as Grace found in the interactive in Session 2, Activity 3 – is that the boundary between collaboration and collusion can become difficult to recognise. As you’ve seen, it can seem appropriate to help a fellow student who is perhaps struggling to understand something. However, you need to take care to provide general help, rather than specific help relating to an assignment.
It is not, for example, appropriate to share your ideas on how you intend to plan and structure your essay, nor to indicate the content you intend to include. It would also not be appropriate to share old assignments with someone else, even if your intention is just so that they can ‘get an idea’ about the topic. Such behaviour may result in work that is heavily influenced by someone else’s thoughts and which does not represent the true understanding of the individual.
In these examples, you should also recognise that if someone copies any work you have shared, they are likely to be found to have plagiarised. However, by making your work available to others, you will also have demonstrated poor academic conduct (indeed, ‘enabling plagiarism’ may well carry penalties within your institution).