With the introduction of more and more technology into the classroom — from computers to iPods and now the iPad — students have more tools to enhance their educational experience and take learning to a new level with opportunities to process concepts in a variety of ways. But they also have more opportunities to bend the rules and obtain answers dishonestly.
Cheating has always been a problem in one form or another through every level of education. But the days of writing cheat sheets on the palm of the hand or looking over the shoulder of a fellow test taker seem quaint and antiquated.
Options for today’s cheaters abound: From pre-programmed equations on graphic calculators to recorded answers and notes on iPods and iPhones to text messages of answers to test questions or math problems.
YouTube has become a billboard for sharing ideas about how to cheat on exams, including a detailed Another report finds that even professors have become complicit in the cheating, looking the other way when they know that homework has been plagiarized or the answers have been obtained unethically.
The problem in some cases, especially with math or science homework, is that the cheating becomes almost impossible to detect. Students can not only find the answers, but they can also find the detailed methods by which to arrive at the answers — thereby being able to “show” their work, making it appear as their own.
The use of technology also presents several ethical gray areas. Is it technically cheating if a student pre-programs a graphing calculator with an equation? After all, won’t useful devices and shortcuts like these be used in the professional environment? Also, many students are not even aware of their dubious nature of their actions when they do things like cut and paste information, sometimes slightly modifying the content. It is often a case of misunderstanding the need to identify sources or of not knowing how to properly construct research.
Solutions to the problem
Many schools already have policies that bar cell phones and other technology in the classroom, but those policies are often ignored or subverted. And newer technologies — such as tiny bluetooth ear pieces — make subverting those rules ever easier.
The answer lies in more vigilance, both for parents and for professors. Parental monitoring may be easier for those with underage children who still live at home — allowing parents to monitor their electronic devices for any inappropriate content. That won’t be as easy for those with college students living away from home and in the dorms. But discussions about the value of ethical behavior and the proper use of technology early and often will help inhibit those behaviors later in life.
Professors have multiple resources available to them to help determine whether cheating has occurred. These can range from sites that can cross-check content for any plagiarized work to using online monitoring systems for test-taking or homework submission that can perform tasks such as logging the time it takes to submit a math solution (so if it takes the student a small amount of time to perform each task, it is a strong indicator of digital assistance or some other form of cheating).
Eliminating electronic devices or materials of any kind in a test-taking environment can also discourage cheating. Re-designing tests or assignments to require creative problem-solving or complex responses can also inhibit the ability to use outside sources to arrive at solutions.
Technology provides many useful tools that can be used to enhance learning — it shouldn’t be used to find a shortcut to it.