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Is Outsourcing Your Online Teaching Job Outright Cheating or Plain Old Common Sense?

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:00 AM

ghostly hands on computer keyboard

hobvias sudoneighm / Flickr

Marilyn Hiestand was a teacher at one of Ohio's largest online schools, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT. She lost her teaching license earlier this month after the school found out she hired a former student to do some of her work.

(See Student Impersonates Teacher at Ohio Online School For More Than a Year.)

We spoke with Hiestand and with ECOT after her license revocation.

Hiestand told us she hired a former student to grade student assignments because a medical condition made it difficult for her to see her computer screen. She said hiring a "grading assistant" was a workaround that harmed no one and left her free to do the "real" work of teaching.

Hiestand said it's not uncommon for teachers at ECOT and other schools to have other people grade student work. And, she said, since ECOT teachers aren't unionized, she believed she would be fired if she asked for any accommodations to address her failing eyesight.

But ECOT spokesperson Nick Wilson said he's not aware of other ECOT teachers hiring graders. And if they are, they shouldn't be, he said. The school's employee handbook says that "not performing all assigned duties and fulfilling your responsibilities with ECOT consistent with ECOT standards of productivity and workmanship" is a violation of school policy.

Wilson also said that if the school had been aware of Hiestand's eyesight problems they would have accommodated her, as required by law.

Beyond hiring someone to grade papers, both Wilson and Hiestand said the main reason Hiestand lost her teaching license was because she gave her ECOT username and password to someone who wasn't supposed to have them, thus potentially exposing confidential student information.

Here's Hiestand's story:

Hiestand, now 67, started working at ECOT about a decade ago. She had been doing social work for a foster care provider and was excited to be part of Ohio's first online school. She initially served as the school's director of counseling.

I was so excited about the school. I still am, it's a wonderful option... Most of my students were 18 or older. And ECOT is a wonderful option for students who dropped out and then the bell rang [and they realized they needed a high school diploma]. We're serving mainly the kids who came to their senses.

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Hiestand eventually began teaching business classes at ECOT.

In 2006, she had eye surgery and it became difficult for her to work on her computer. Her supervisor told her that at the time that no substitutes were available and she should just catch up on her work when she recovered from surgery.

That was a big high sign to me that i needed to take care of my business and not bother him any more.

(ECOT spokesperson Nick Wilson said ECOT's policy now is to provide substitutes for staff.)

Two years later, Hiestand's eye problems made it even more difficult for her to do her work online. She thought the school wouldn't help her out.

My decision was, do I quit because I can't do the job or do I modify the situation so I can keep my job?

Hiestand had hired "a local gal" to grade papers for her in the past, and "it worked really well," she said. So this time she reached out to a former student to see if she'd do the same.

The first year she was very satisfactory. The second year I fired her. The next thing I knew, I was fired.

Hiestand said she gave the former student a grading rubric -- guidelines that detailed the qualities on A assignments, B assignments and so on. Hiestand gave the student Hiestand's own username and password to log onto part of ECOT's learning platform.

Hiestand continued to interact with students in all her live, online "classroom" sessions.

Hiestand said she felt that she had good reason to hire her student assistant.

The outcome [of not hiring an assistant] would be that I didn't have a job. It didn't harm anyone as far as I was concerned.

We asked Hiestand, do you think students could tell she wasn't the one grading their work? She said:

Absolutely not. That was the beauty and the curse of it.

She said other teachers at ECOT and other schools also have other people grade student work.

Basically, they use their kids, their wives and their husbands. If you have too much work to do, you do what you can.

Besides, schools don't hire teachers because they need people to grade papers, she said.

They're paying them for their knowledge about learning and curriculum. Grading a paper using a rubric, you just need to be able to read and write and analyze.

Still, Hiestand said she was proud to have been part of ECOT.

I am so glad to say that I was part of an organization that gave parents and kids options... And we do it at 50 percent of the cost...I loved the school, I still love the school. It's just wonderful.

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