Fake Students – Cause for Concern?

According to a recent article “Online Professors Pose as Students to Encourage Real Learning“, published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, strong ethical questions are being raised about  practices some professors have included in their online classes.  Creating fake students described as the professor’s alter ego is what Jane Malan and Bill Reed are accused of.  Barbara Criste, says her motivation for creating the fictitious “Bill Reed” was because she felt disconnected to her students.

In general reaction to this type of deception has been negative and critical. Including claims that this kind of behavior gives ammunition to those who are already opposed to alternative learning environments.  A valid issue of breaking trust is acknowledged as the teacher student relationship should be based on trust.  While historically students have been the first to break a trust through cheating, the teacher is the leader and should always do the right thing by creating a high standard of behavior and achievement.

It is no secret that distance learning has a unique set of challenges including high dropout rates and disconnected students.  Proponents argue this option solves both.  Nevertheless, just because stealing a loaf of bread can prevent hunger, it doesn’t make it legal.  So now what?

Face to face teachers have long been awarded for thinking outside the box to solve unique challenges in learning.  Mr. Frederick B. King, of the University of Hartford, may have found the best of both worlds by creating his alter ego “Joe Bag O’Donuts” who is a fictitious teaching assistant who interacts with the students.  Mr. King openly introduces Joe at the beginning of the semester so there is no deception here.  Since Joe’s birth, Mr. King has reported consistently a 100% completion rates in his distance education classes.  Who can argue with that?  Students said it was easier to communicate with Joe than their “professor” even if he did have the last name Donuts.

This discussion has all the ingredients for a good controversy.  Opposing views, potential ethical threats, and results oriented ideas.  I encourage you to read the whole article.  What do you think?