Fighting Fake News in Finland via Schools

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We have witnessed years now of conventional and now digital media being manipulated to confuse, misinform and mislead the public of all ages round science of climate change or global warming, politics and campaigns, immigrants and population growth, vaccinations, natural disasters, religion and minorities etc.

Like some states in Australia used to teach critical thinking to high school students in the 1970s, since been ’embedded’ and/or disappeared, Finland has taken the lead in developing skills at primary school age dealing with Russia especially, and global warming denialism.

From The Guardian:

‘How Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools

Country on frontline of information war teaches everyone from school pupils to politicians how to spot slippery information

You can start when children are very young, said Kari Kivinen. In fact, you should: “Fairytales work well. Take the wily fox who always cheats the other animals with his sly words. That’s not a bad metaphor for a certain kind of politician, is it?”

With democracies around the world threatened by the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of false information, Finland – recently rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news – takes the fight seriously enough to teach it in primary school.

In secondary schools, such as the state-run college in Helsinki where Kivinen is head teacher, multi-platform information literacy and strong critical thinking have become a core, cross-subject component of a national curriculum that was introduced in 2016.

In maths lessons, Kivinen’s pupils learn how easy it is to lie with statistics. In art, they see how an image’s meaning can be manipulated. In history, they analyse notable propaganda campaigns, while Finnish language teachers work with them on the many ways in which words can be used to confuse, mislead and deceive.

“The goal is active, responsible citizens and voters,” Kivinen said. “Thinking critically, factchecking, interpreting and evaluating all the information you receive, wherever it appears, is crucial. We’ve made it a core part of what we teach, across all subjects.”

The curriculum is part of a unique, broad strategy devised by the Finnish government after 2014, when the country was first targeted with fake news stories by its Russian neighbour, and the government realised it had moved into the post-fact age.

Successful enough for Finland to top, by some margin, an annual index measuring resistance to fake news in 35 European countries, the programme aims to ensure that everyone, from pupil to politician, can detect – and do their bit to fight – false information.

“This affects all of us,” said Jussi Toivanen, chief communications officer for the prime minister’s office. “It targets the whole of Finnish society. It aims to erode our values and norms, the trust in our institutions that hold society together.”

Finland, which declared independence from Russia in 1917, is on the frontline of an online information war that has accelerated markedly since Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine five years ago, Toivanen said.

Most campaigns, amplified by sympathetic far-right, nation-first and “alternative” Finnish news sites and social media accounts, focus on attacking the EU, highlighting immigration issues and trying to influence debate over Finland’s full Nato membership.

Resistance is seen almost as a civil defence question, a key component in Finland’s comprehensive security policy. Toivanen said: “We are a small country, without many resources, and we rely on everyone contributing to the collective defence of society.”

The programme, piloted by a 30-member, high-level committee representing 20 different bodies from government ministries to welfare organisations and the police, intelligence and security services, has trained thousands of civil servants, journalists, teachers and librarians over the past three years.

“It’s a broad-based, coordinated effort to raise awareness,” said Saara Jantunen, a senior researcher from the defence ministry who has been seconded to the prime minister’s office. “Like virus protection on your computer: the government’s responsible for a certain amount, of course, but ultimately it’s up to the individual to install the software.”…

…..He wants his pupils to ask questions such as: who produced this information, and why? Where was it published? What does it really say? Who is it aimed at? What is it based on? Is there evidence for it, or is this just someone’s opinion? Is it verifiable elsewhere?

On the evidence of half a dozen pupils gathered in a classroom before lunchtime, it is an approach that is paying off. “You must always factcheck. The number one rule: no Wikipedia, and always three or four different and reliable sources,” said Mathilda, 18. “We learn that basically in every subject.”….

…..Part of that continuing education is also provided by NGOs. Besides operating an effective factchecking service, Faktabaari (Fact Bar), launched for the 2014 European elections and run by a volunteer staff of journalists and researchers, produces popular voter literacy kits for schools and the wider public.

“Essentially, we aim to give people their own tools,” said its founder, Mikko Salo, a member of the EU’s independent high-level expert group on fake news. “It’s about trying to vaccinate against problems, rather than telling people what’s right and wrong. That can easily lead to polarisation.”

In the run-up to Finland’s parliamentary elections last April, the government went so far as to produce an advertising campaign alerting voters to the possibility of fake news, with the slogan “Finland has the best elections in the world. Think about why”.

Similarly, Mediametka has been developing and working with media literacy tools since the more innocent days of the early 1950s, when its founders were motivated mainly by fear of the irreparable damage that comic books might do to the minds of Finnish children.

These days, the NGO, part-funded by the culture ministry, organises ed-tech hackathons with inventive Finnish startups in a bid to develop “meaningful materials” for schools and youth groups, said its executive director, Meri Seistola.

“We work with pictures, videos, text, digital content; get our students to produce their own; ask them to identify all the various kinds of misleading news,” said Seistola: from propaganda to clickbait, satire to conspiracy theory, pseudoscience to partisan reporting; from stories describing events that simply never happened to unintentional errors of fact.

Finland has something of a head start on information literacy, ranking consistently at or near the top of international indices for press freedom, transparency, education and social justice. Its school pupils have the EU’s highest PISA score for reading.

“The level of trust in national institutions, in the media, in society as a whole, does tend to be higher in the Nordic countries than in many others,” said Faktabaari’s Salo. “But that means we really need even greater vigilance now, to prepare ourselves for the next phase. Because we have more to lose.”’

 

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E-Learning for University Students in Africa

E-learning maybe the solution for increased affordable access to effective education across the world as an organic extension of distance learning, open university and on campus study using ‘FLIPPED learning model’, dependent upon digital resources and communication.

Parts of Africa, and the world, can use e-learning for access.

African University Study via E-Learning (Image copyright Pexels)

For many parts of Africa it is a solution to limited or no access, from Deutsche Welle:

The importance of studying at home for a degree: E-learning in Africa

Many young Africans dream of a higher education. But they often don’t have the means: colleges are often far away and accommodation is expensive. Online universities and e-learning may provide a viable solution.

Lectures with compulsory attendance were not an option for Alida Tapsoba. The 29-year-old from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, has to earn a living and therefore needs to be in control of when she works and when she studies. With this in mind, she decided to take an online course. “But I was also afraid. I wasn’t sure if I could do it,” the journalism student told DW. “You have to be well organized to deliver the assignments on time — especially if you work extra hours.”

Alida Tapsoba said her choice is rather expensive. She spends a lot of money on internet access. She needs to download large files, which is time-consuming and costly. Rebecca Stromeyer knows the problem well. She said that in many African countries, internet access is considerably more expensive than in Germany. Stromeyer is the founder of e-Learning Africa, an annual conference which attracts experts in the field to network and exchange information in a pan-African context.

No digital infrastructure

Internet access varies much across the continent. “Kenya is a pioneer, even in rural areas,” said Stromeyer. In the Central African Republic, by contrast, only a few people can accesss the internet. “Conditions are not yet so ideal that everyone in Africa can complete an e-learning program,” said Stromeyer. She adds that governments need put more efforts into developing the infrastructure.

“Nevertheless, the need to develop e-learning was much stronger in Africa than in Europe,” said the communications technology expert. And it is not restricted to university studies. The school system often does not work, especially in rural areas. There is a lack of teachers and textbooks. Stromeyer advocates using the internet for education in schools as well, although she believes that students learn better at school than they do online.

Flexible and individual

Tony Carr, from the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, begs to differ: “Sitting in a lecture hall with 600 other students is much like taking a degree by correspondence. Online interactions can be much warmer and personal. They can bring students closer together than a course requiring attendance.”

Flexibility is another advantage. Young people can also save on accommodation costs by staying at home and not having to rent a room in another city. They can tailor their studies to fit their needs, focus on the skills they believe to be most important and take courses they would not otherwise have access to.

Alida Tapsoba is a case in point. She dreams of working abroad as a journalist. She could not find the master’s course she was looking for in her home town. But a renowned journalism school in Paris had just what she wanted.

South Africa’s pioneers

The University of South Africa (UNISA) pioneered distance learning on the continent. When it was founded in the 1940s it offered only degrees by correspondence. Today, it is on its way to full digitalization. By its own account, it is Africa’s largest distance learning institution.

Tony Carr refers to a research paper into online studies in Africa, which compared different countries between 2011 and 2016. It showed that South Africa was the pioneer in e-learning, followed by Angola, Nigeria and Tunisia. According to Carr, this growth goes hand in hand with internet access, income levels and the increase of the middle class in the countries mentioned.

Generally speaking, Anglophone countries lead the field, Stromeyer said. But there is a growing number of initiatives in French-speaking West Africa. Ivory Coast founded the state-run Universite Virtuelle de Cote d’Ivoire four years ago. “An outstanding institution,” said Stromeyer. “It had the advantage of being able to learn from the mistakes of others.”

High demand in African countries

Many employers still believe that online studies are worth less than degrees that require a physical presence. “They believe that the courses are shorter and that less content is conveyed,” said Stromeyer. “This is not true. The need for e-learning is great in Africa, where an above-average number of young people live. Traditional universities and student accommodation are often overcrowded.” Stromeyer recommended a mixture of online and attendance studies, since young people also have the need to socialize and be part of a community.

The main thing is to gather in-depth information about online courses and providers, Tony Carr pointed out. An online university can be located anywhere, and can circumvent the national accreditation system. Experts recommend asking precisely which degree can be obtained and whether it is recognized in your own country or abroad.

 

For more articles and blog posts about adult learning, andragogy, business training, course design, CPD Continuing Professional Development, e-learning in higher education, ID Instructional Design, international students, MOOCs, Online Education, Pedagogy and Program Design, click through.

 

Detection of Student Plagiarism Ghost Writing Contract Cheating

Recent media news stories and documentaries have highlighted perceived issues of international student plagiarism, collusion, ghost writing and contract cheating.

Most institutions have systems and processes in place to deal with, or at least ameliorate the impact of sub-optimal academic integrity, including higher language requirements (and level testing at enrolment), Turnitin and other duplication detection software, in class assessments, assignment workshops, feedback and monitoring.

Issues of plagiarism, collusion, ghost writing and contract cheating at university by students.

How to stop or limit ghost writing and contract cheating (image copyright Pexels)

However, like other sectors, education is prone to only lip service being paid by some commissioners, owners, shareholders, management, academia and related; rather than enforcement of minimum regulatory compliance it’s viewed as a voluntary code by some.

The following is summary of an article about the issue and how to deal with it, in an American context which has recently seen SAT and related corruption for entry to top universities.

Detecting and Deterring Ghostwritten Papers: A Guide to Best Practices (from The Best Schools website)

By David A. Tomar

1 Introduction For ten years, I made my living helping students cheat. I worked as a professional ghost writer, completing homework assignments, producing essays, and composing senior theses for alternately desperate, lazy, or disengaged college and graduate students.

I worked as an independent contractor affiliated with various online paper mills and, between 2000 and 2010, spent nearly every day of my life immersed in academic research and compositional writing. Writing as many as 5,000 typewritten pages a year, I earned as much as many professors.

In November of 2010, I announced my retirement in a tell-all article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Using the pseudonym Ed Dante, I covered what was, for many, a first glimpse into the shadowy underworld of academic ghostwriting.

 

2 The Ghostwriting Business. Before it is possible to prevent and police ghostwriting, one must understand the industry. Though many educators are well aware of ghostwriting, how it happens and that it most likely has occurred in their own classrooms, just as many others have a limited or non-existent sense of its impact.

Quite to the point, of the many reactions that greeted my original article in The Chronicle, doubt and skepticism were among the most common. Some truly dedicated, earnest, and otherwise astute educators refused to accept not only that wholesale cheating of this sort could be perpetrated but that it could be done so consistently and effectively without detection right under their noses.

 

2.1 Prevalence….. Still, we may be able to deduce a great deal just from the accessibility and ease-of-use of ghostwriting services. According to an article in the New York Times regarding rising rates of student cheating, “research has shown that a major factor in unethical behavior is simply how easy or hard it is.”

We can say with great certainty that it is easier than ever to employ an academic ghostwriting service. If a student has the money, he or she has the means.

The vast majority of students locate these services simply by doing a Google search for “Custom Paper Writing,” “essay help,” “term papers,” “homework services,” “essay writing services,’” or any number of other pertinent word combinations. Each of these terms will ultimately return dozens of pages of relevant search results.

From what is immediately apparent though, we can conclude two things about the prevalence of ghostwriting:

  1. The inquiring student will find it easy to locate a desired service and begin using it; and
  2. The enterprising freelancer will find it easy to locate an employment opportunity and begin earning income from it.

 

2.2 Pricing and Structure Most companies operate using a similar pricing spectrum, charging between $10 and $50 per page depending on proximity of the deadline. For instance, Mypaperwriter.com prices its custom writing services between $17.55 and $45.85 per page. This is in line with the pricing spectrum and structure of the industry’s more lucrative companies.

The variance is usually determined by deadline. This is the measure used most frequently to dene an assignment’s price. Papers due in a week or more are typically bound to the low end of the pricing spectrum. For anything due in less than a week, the cost per page will go up as the number of days goes down. A paper due in less than 24 hours will fall on the highest end of the cost-per-page spectrum.

 

2.3 Clientele The ghostwriting industry enjoys a customer base comprised of three primary demographics. These are the likeliest perpetrators of ghostwritten plagiarism:

2.3.1 English Language Learners: International students often arrive at American universities without a background or meaningful support in English composition.

2.3.2 Composition/Research deficient students: A startling number American students—for whom English is a native language—will actually suffer from many of these exact same deceits

2.3.3 Lazy students: Some ghostwriting clients simply lack the motivation and interest to complete their own work, a condition that Farnese et al. (2011) call “academic moral disengagement.”[7] In many cases, a perfectly capable student will utilize an academic ghostwriting service as a way to cut down effort or improve his or her chances of receiving a better grade.

 

3 The Ghostwriting Conundrum…… However, the web has proliferated and simplified cheating, dramatically expanding the accessibility, visibility, and ease with which students can lift, recycle or otherwise claim authorship of work that is not their own. Consequently, the growth of this industry helped to provoke the growth of the plagiarism-detection industry of which Turnitin is a leading example.

Other notable sites include Viper, Plagscan, Plagtracker, Grammarly, Small SEO Tools, and Plagiarism Checker.

Turnitin represents the gold standard in plagiarism detection. Even so, given the limitations inherent in plagiarism detection, even Turnitin has no way to bring its extensive empirical data to bear on ghostwriting.

With these conditions in mind, we point to a handful of detection and deterrence challenges that are unique to ghostwriting:

3.1 Original, non-plagiarized content: Most ghostwriting companies are faithful to this service guarantee and will terminate independent contractors for failure to comply.

3.2 Low likelihood of raising suspicion: Ghostwriting places the onus on the educator to have initial cause for suspicion. This requires the individual grading a written assignment to sense a disconnect between the student and the assignment, which of course requires some initial familiarity with the student in question.

3.3 Difficulty of translating suspicion into proof: Cheating is, of course, a serious allegation and students have a lot riding on the completion of their education. So obviously, the average student will go to great lengths to deny any such allegations. Students are not afraid to get litigious if need be. The point is, as an educator, one must be very careful about levying the accusation without hard evidence.

 

4 The Four D’s of Ghostbusting

4.1 Design Design refers to the way a professor constructs assignments, course materials, tests, classroom time and the semester-long curriculum. This is an area in education where quality control runs the gamut from excellence to criminal incompetence. There are plenty of professors who work tirelessly to tailor assignments, materials and examinations to remain in-step with constantly evolving subject matter, student culture and best practices. But there are also plenty of professors who recycle old materials without scrutiny and who depend wholly on text-based content which most students could acquire without professor mediation.

4.2 Deterrence Deterrence refers to ways of diminishing the inclination, motive, or desire to purchase a ghostwritten paper…..That is, students at least believe that they are cheating out of ease, normalcy, or necessity. The study finds that the onus falls on instructors to live up to certain student expectations regarding clarity and engagement of course content. The study identities this as the best route to deterring the rationalized impulse to use a ghostwriting service.

Practical Strategies

4.2.1 Individualization: Individualization of the educational experience can instill in the student a greater sense of commitment to course materials and to the knowledge and career opportunities thereby implied. Large lecture halls and online courses can create a sense of anonymity for the would-be cheater.

4.2.2 Conferencing: One thing that large universities and online courses have in common is that, if one desires, one can go an entire semester without ever once personally meeting a professor. There is comfort in this anonymity. Removing this comfort creates a deterrent that does not otherwise exist.

4.2.3 Emphasis on in-class participation: Mandatory class participation heightens the imperative for students to become familiar with course content. Mandating contributions to class discussions gives students a strong incentive to establish a consistent voice and perspective on course subjects.

4.2.4 Student engagement: This one is really and truly up to each individual educator. It is within every educator’s power to be as creative, energetic, inspiring, original, unpredictable, and engaging as he or she wants to be….Many students feel no remorse about cheating in a course from which there is a feeling of disengagement. Uninspired lectures, standard texts, and generic assignments serve as great ammunition for a student who wishes to rationalize his or her detachment.

4.2.5 Miscellaneous strategies of deterrence: Course discussions where students are invited to share research experience and knowledge Professor lectures based on and attributed to content drawn from student assignments A requirement for students to occasionally present research findings or other written work to the class or professor.

 

4.3 Detection Detection is both a manual process driven by professorial experience and a technology driven process with continued room for growth and improvement.

Practical Strategies

4.3.1 Assignment exit interviews: Standardizing one-on-one conferencing with each student following assignment submission requires each student to defend his or her writing.

4.3.2 Manual literary fingerprinting: Of the many strategies outlined in this account, this may well be the most readily adaptable to any context where writing forms a portion of the coursework. Here, the orientation process for any writing intensive course will begin with an in-class writing assignment.

4.3.3 File properties: One way to improve the chances of detecting ghostwritten work is to simply be a savvier user of technology than the average cheating student. It’s easier than one might think.

4.3.4 Computational literary fingerprinting: Based on the effectiveness and value of Turnitin.com as a strategy for plagiarism detection of the non-ghostwritten variety, this strategy may best predict the future of ghostwriting detection.

 

4.4 Dedication Detection is all well and good, but let’s face it, people good at detection are more likely to join a police force than a teachers union. Teachers are in the classroom to teach. This is where the fourth “D” comes into play. The instructor must be dedicated to the education of his or her students, not just to punching an academic time card.

Practical Strategy

4.4.1 Identify struggling students and see that they get help: These are the students who are by far the most likely to employ a ghostwriter. In order to reduce the presence of the ghostwriter in the classroom, educators must take pre-emptive steps to identify those who are most likely to need his services.

 

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Essay Mills Ghost Writers and University Students

Academic integrity, copying, plagiarism, collusion, ‘ghost writing’ and essay factories have become a fact of life in university or higher education, internationally.  This article endeavours to explain how or why is it an issue but at same time, short on what are the solutions?

While western democracies, and the developing world, have politicians, business and public leaders openly flouting ethical standards through egregious corruption and related unethical behaviour, is it any wonder?

Some solutions are precluded by universities’ corporate or financial needs e.g. rather than (barely modified) assessments that are more efficient to grade (or worse more multiple choice), there maybe a need for a return to in class open book and variety of assessments?

Academic integrity plagiarism essay factories and ghost writing for university students

Academic Integrity at University (Image copyright Pexels).

From The Guardian, Chris Husbands:

Essay mills prey on vulnerable students – let’s stamp them out

Universities alone can’t stop the rise of essay mills. We need support from the government and tech firms to defeat them

In the 1990s, there was enormous optimism around how the internet would connect people and make knowledge available to all. Fast forward twenty years, and identity theft, cybercrime, online bullying and appalling sexual exploitation have become everyday news stories. Increasingly, it’s the perversions of the internet which dominate our thinking.

The business model is simple. You have an essay to write, you are time poor, you pay a fee for the essay to be written. The fee these crooks charge depends on the length, the standard you are looking for, and the deadline you are facing….

For universities, the digital world’s most concerning development is the spread of essay mills. They’re not new: it’s always been tempting for some students to pay someone to do their work for them. But the internet has vastly eased the relationship between customers and suppliers, fuelling the growth of these essay mills….

….Learning is based on integrity and scholarship: showing that students have read, understood and been influenced by the work of others, and can explain how their thinking is new or different. Education is not about getting grades, it’s about being an active participant in learning opportunities. If some of that is difficult, well, difficulty is the point….

….The Secretary of State for Education’s announcement that tech firms should block payments to essay mills and students should report on their peers is a step in the right direction. We need to work together to preserve the integrity of the UK higher education system from these unscrupulous companies, and the way they prey on vulnerable students who don’t fully understand the implications of their actions.’

Chris Husbands is the vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University

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University Graduate Employment

There is much concern about the employment prospects of school and university graduates and the following article highlights some concerns and points on reasons including high school career counselling, parents, industry, universities and back grounded by ignorance of skills in demand.

One could add that societal attitudes and knowledge about science, maths or data and digital are low in Australian elites, meanwhile working age population aka baby boomers is in transition and meanwhile, many low level positions require university degrees as a minimum requirement.

Are there too many university graduates in the wrong disciplines with few employment opportunities?

Too Many University Graduates? (Image copyright Pexels)

Who’s really to blame for too many unwanted graduates?

By Tony Featherstone

February 7, 2019 — 12.01am

Why do thousands of young Australians enrol in the wrong university degree each year and overlook in-demand professions that are screaming for graduates.

In engineering generally, about 10,000 students graduate at our universities each year and about 16,000 engineers arrive here annually from overseas, according to Engineers Australia analysis. There would be a massive engineering shortfall without skilled migration.

It’s crazy that so few Australian students study software engineering, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and other emerging fields, relative to industry demand, yet there is a growing surplus of graduates in the arts, journalism, law and other fields with fewer jobs.

The obvious culprit is universities. They have fanned a graduate glut – and a generation of students with high debt and diminished job prospects – by accepting more students into fields that already oversupplied….

….Industry, schools and students are part of the problem. Business complains about not enough graduates being developed in a new area, yet runs a mile when it has to fund university research or co-develop teaching courses. It’s easier to outsources graduate training to universities, take no risk and let taxpayers co-fund the learning. Then, whinge about universities.

Schools, too, can do more to encourage students to pursue in-demand occupations. I don’t know enough about career counselling at schools to form an opinion, but something must be wrong if so many students enrol in degrees that have terrible job prospects.

Perhaps school curriculums are not sufficiently aligned with the needs of universities. Industry berates universities for not producing enough graduates in areas with skill shortages, yet schools might not be producing enough students with the skill and passion to do engineering and similar courses at university.

Again, that’s changing as more boys and girls study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school. But change is slow and off a low base – engineering, for example, has been crying out for more students, particularly women, for years.

Then there’s students and parents. We tell our kids to follow their passion when choosing a career: think with your heart rather than your head about a degree; take a year or two off for travel before university; chop and change degrees if you don’t like them.

That’s reckless advice. I’m not saying students should enrol in degrees they have low aptitude for, or will make them miserable. They must have an inclination, either natural or an ability to develop one, in any field to succeed in the long run.’

 

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