Three Pounds of Neurons

In our constant search for meaning in this baffling and temporary existence, trapped as we are within our three pounds of neurons, it is sometimes hard to tell what is real. We often invent what isn’t there. Or ignore what is. We try to impose order, both in our minds and in our conceptions of external reality. We try to connect. We try to find truth. We dream and we hope. And underneath all of these strivings, we are haunted by the suspicion that what we see and understand of the world is only a tiny piece of the whole. — Alan Lightman

In attempting to wrap my three pounds of neurons (give or take an ounce or two) around this question of cheating and learning, I’ve done some aerial flips and dives but this is what I’m thinking now and it feels pretty good.

My interest in the possibility of substituting hack for cheat took me to a brief exploration of game theory, and I found UCLA professor Peter Nonacs’s story of how he designed a real-world experience in game theory principles for his students incredibly exciting. Nonacs essentially gave his students one question, ““If evolution through natural selection is a game, what are the players, teams, rules, objectives and outcomes?” And then he stepped back and watched while all but three collaborated to come up with the best possible answer.

Nonacs’s hypothese:

Tests are really just measures of how the Education Game is proceeding. Professors test to measure their success at teaching, and students take tests in order to get a good grade. Might these goals be maximized simultaneously? What if I let the students write their own rules for the test-taking game? Allow them to do everything we would normally call cheating?

Nonacs’s experiment is a fascinating example of what happens when we turn the Education Game on its head. That’s what I think exploring how we might best cheat the system to improve student and teacher learning does — makes us question our assumptions about the system and how it needs to change.

Not that I want to “define” or box in cheating as Dave warned about in the first Unhangout, but Telli01′s discussion on Vialogues of how the meaning of cheating may be changing was really helpful. Telli001 began with the derivation of cheat from escheat meaning that power resides in the person or institution and its evolving shift to the power residing in the relations. I think that’s what Nonacs experiment did — asked his students to reconsider what it means to cheat and how their relationships as collaborative learners might change to produce optimum learning for everyone.

In a way, MOOCs cheat the education system. If everyone can learn for free, then how is the system supposed to make money to self-perpetuate? How might the relationships of students and teachers and the universities need to change? Is cheating simply disrupting and will disruptions lead to a fairer, more equitable playing field for all? Cheating, normally thought of as immoral behavior, could bring a new morality with social and economic justice for all learners. Will MOOCs succeed as disrupters? Bring “folly or glory” as I asked in this Daily Create from DS106:

So considering cheating led me to relationships led me to social justice and to how those who change the world may cheat the system to succeed. So, of course, I thought of Apple’s iconic “Think Different” ad. I had some fun making the cheating connection in this remix. I also posted the video on Vialogues just to check out this new-to-me tool. Thanks to dogtrax for introducing it to rhizo14.

btw YouTube informs me that my “Duke of MOOC” remix is “banned in several foreign countries” because I “borrowed” a few seconds of “Man of LaMancha” from Luther Vandross’s album. And I’m sure some would question my right to build on the Apple ad. Just another reminder to me that our perspective on cheating must change just as it is — slowly but surely — on intellectual property, copyright, and fair use.

So much more for these three pounds to contemplate . . .

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