High-Tech Cheating: With the Proliferation of Mobile Devices and Instant Access to the Internet, Cheating Has Become Easier Than Ever. What Can Educators Do to Stop It?

By Waters, John K. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), August 2013 | Go to article overview

High-Tech Cheating: With the Proliferation of Mobile Devices and Instant Access to the Internet, Cheating Has Become Easier Than Ever. What Can Educators Do to Stop It?


Waters, John K., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


THE 21ST CENTURY classroom is a wonder of online tools and content that students can access from an ever-evolving range of personal mobile devices with capabilities only dreamed of less than a decade ago. (Just imagine: The first iPhone was released in 2007!) But the anywhere/anytime access these devices provide to vast web resources, sprawling social networks, and real-time communication has spawned a new kind of cheating in K-12 environments--an easier, tech-enabled version of bad behavior that is as old as the classroom, but with the potential to compromise virtually every aspect of modern student assessment.

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What we're calling high-tech cheating has been characterized variously as a trend, an epidemic, and a plague. But it might be something even worse: a paradigm shift. More students than ever are using information technology in ways that break the rules of academic integrity, and a shocking number of them don't seem to think they're doing anything wrong--well, not that wrong. They're taught, after all to use these tools and resources to work together on class projects. They swarm over shared Google Docs, interact on assignment-related Facebook pages, and coordinate team efforts via text message. For digital natives, some have argued, sharing information is so natural and so often encouraged that lines that were once so bright and clear are blurring.

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Things get even blurrier when you factor in the examples presented by educators in headline-grabbing revelations of their own disrespect of the rules. In the past couple of years, teacher-related cheating scandals have erupted in Atlanta; El Paso, TX; Washington, DC; and Columbus, OH. According to the US Government Accountability Office, 32 states have reported "canceling, invalidating, or nullifying test scores from individual students, schools, or districts because of suspected or confirmed cheating by school officials [emphasis ours]" for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.

What Is High-Tech Cheating?

The web is a rich resource of shameless cheating strategies. YouTube is rife with examples. "How to cheat on all of your tests," reads the listing for one video. Click on it and you get step-by-step instructions on how to copy a beverage label and replace all the nutritional information with, say, your physics notes. "Make sure you get enough glue on the bottle," the video advises. "Once you have this done, you'll have your notes, but nobody will know except you!" Web developer Josh May makes this particular process even easier on his Pirate Weasel website, where he provides a printer-ready water bottle label onto which notes can be cut and pasted.

But the high-tech cheating ball was already rolling way back in the digital Stone Age of 2004, when this activity was briefly called "cybercheating." At that time, Santa Clara University (CA) researchers Stacey Conrad-son and Pedro Hernandez-Ramos declared that " ... the preponderance of statistical and anecdotal evidence underscores several disturbing trends, indicating that cheating at the secondary level is not only occurring more frequently, but that students are using much more sophisticated methods for their transgressions."

Five years later, a 2009 report from Common Sense Media included the results of a national poll conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group, which found that more than 35 percent of teens admitted to cheating with cell phones and the internet. The cheating involved texting answers to one another during tests, using notes and information stored on smartphones, and downloading papers from the internet to turn in as their own work.

So if high-tech cheating is nothing new, why haven't we solved the problem? According to Doug Winneg, CEO and founder of Software Secure, "On one level, the issue is simple. If left unchecked, students cheat; properly proctored, they don't. What complicates the situation is the evolution of extremely powerful, mobile technology and its ability to connect students to the web and to each other. …

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