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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Cheating Goes Digital

New tools, new sites, make classroom dishonesty harder to squash.
By Tamar Snyder
Credit: Hugh D'Andrade

Cheating in the classroom is as old as the classroom itself. But teachers need to wise up to their students' technological savvy. Peeking over their shoulders to glimpse responses on a classmate's papers and coughing in tune with answers are old school. Today's students are cheating by programming answers into their graphing calculators and beaming them to friends, texting answers to exam questions -- or sending images of the answers -- and recording cheat sheets and playing them back on their iPods during exams.

YouTube, predictably, has morphed into a mecca of cheating tips and tricks. A popular video features a teenager explaining in painstaking detail how to scan the label from a Coke bottle and replace the ingredients list with a cheat sheet using photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. The video has been viewed more than 44,000 times.

A ten-minute YouTube video titled How to Cheat in School (since taken down by the poster, "selfmadebillionaire") featured a teen cheating guru explaining the keys to becoming a good cheater in a gospel-like tone. "The first step . . . is to get to know your professors," he said, as jazzy, almost hypnotic music blared in the background. "You can get longer extensions for your papers; he'll grade easier on your tests." Other tips included hiding cheat sheets inside water-bottle labels or a baseball cap.

Steve Goffner, a high school math teacher in New York City, caught one student who had copied answers on his math Regents Exam from friends' text messages. "He did the entire multiple-choice section in pencil, most likely took his cell phone to the bathroom, wrote the answers on the back of his hand, went back to his desk, changed all thirty answers, and got thirty out of thirty right," Goffner says. "How do you like that?"

In a 2006 poll conducted by the Josephson Institute's Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, 60 percent of the 35,000 high school students polled admitted to cheating during a test at school within the past twelve months, and 35 percent of students said they'd cheated two or more times.

Why do students cheat? Because it's easy and fewer than 10 percent are caught, according to Ann Lathrop and Kathleen Foss, National Education Association members and authors of Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internet Era: A Wake-Up Call. Students' attitudes, they say, have changed from "Don't cheat" to "Don't get caught."

So, what's an alert teacher to do? First off, empower yourself by visiting Teachopolis.org, a Web site created by Robert Bramucci, vice chancellor of technology and learning services for southern California's South Orange Community College District. There, in the Halls of Justice section, Bramucci has compiled hundreds of common cheating techniques prevalent across the Web.

Some education experts, such as Howard Seeman, author of Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems: A Classroom Management Handbook, recommend that teachers do away with multiple-choice and true/false questions in favor of short essay responses. And some schools are cutting to the root of the problem by incorporating ethical and moral teachings into the curriculum.

"When you see others cheating around you, most reasons given not to -- 'You're only cheating yourself' -- seem very lame," says Michael Laser, author of Cheater, a novel about a smart high school student who gets sucked into a ring of high tech cheaters. "It comes down to a matter of integrity and self-respect." Teachers need to convey that message early on in the education process, Laser adds, by asking students, "What kind of person do you want to be?"

Tamar Snyder, a contributing writer for Edutopia, specializes in education, personal finance, and careers.

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Richard Hockett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Cheating in the classroom went digital years ago. The methodologies in use today are far more sophisticated than a few years ago as a direct result of advancing technology.

In my classroom, a university classroom no less, I do not allow cell phones to be turned on during any class period. Yet I continually find them in use during lectures even though classroom policy - which spells out the consequences and is handed out as well as signed by the students - prohibits the use of cell phones. I collected one phone Wednesday as the student was "busted" text messaging a friend during the class.

I have changed my exams to nullify the cheating challenge. Ironically, when I eliminated the need to cheat, I watched test scores and final grades come in line with normal curves and more closely match student's capabilities and behaviors. I give very difficult multiple choice exams and allow the students to take them in a collaborative atmosphere using text, notes, and small group discussion (no more than 6 in a group). Remember, I designed the exams for this environment. Cell phones, iPods or other mp3 players, ARE NOT ALLOWED - period!

Sadly, e-cheating is going to remain a challenge - OK, problem - for some time as the current generation believe they have a right to use the technology to get by. They truly believe in situational ethics and their "right" to have everything handed to them without studying!

Our challenge, to be more vigilant and to involve our students deeper into the class material in ways which mitigate the behavior; eventually eliminating it (or at least reducing it drastically).

Tarlton Gaun's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I HATE cheating! I mix up test answer choices and questions.

fredathome's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I used to cheat by writing answers very small in the blue lines of ruled paper. yes, you read that correctly. I agree with the above comment - want to stop the cheating, get off your duff and supervise!

Beverly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm old school but not a fool.Every eye closed is not asleep!I was the tech star when we were writing in stone!! I teach and I deliver a damn good product! My students can do what they are required to do by the state and my school system without the cheating part. Cheaters are always defective.Those that Cheat,please continue to do so. Cell phones ,ipods by whatever means necessary.I just hope you can read the fine print and understand it when the time comes!

Maureen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe the comments about taking an active role in your students education are obviously crucial. Just like with any learning, the teacher needs to be actively involved in helping the students process -- that even goes for test-taking time. I also agree that tests need to move away from multiple choice answers. Yes, these are easy to grade, but do they really assess knowledge? I think that this digital cheating issue really starts with a bigger issue, that of a teaching style that meets the needs of this generation. We need project-based learning that requires kids to truly think for themselves and problem-solve -- oh yes, be life-long learners!

Rob Fatland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A thought: Any educational system that results in a cheat culture is sub-optimal. Why is the cheat-culture the norm? Because education has bonded to the nasty partner of competition. Students participate in their educational system to learn and/or to compete with their peers for prizes (e.g. the best grades which lead to the best job and so on). When the prize is more valuable than the prize for not cheating (self esteem for example) then you have what we have now.

Suppose you want to separate the two, and you acknowledge that you want to keep the competition in some other form; in the free enterprise model the employer wants a simple way of picking job candidates, for example. So: Structure your classroom around learning and dispense with grades. Turn over the competitive testing to a separate organization like the SAT people and let them deal with the problem of proctoring tests and catching cheaters. I don't think that should be part of the teachers' job description.

An educator will now say: "Great, my classroom has no grades and my students are unmotivated to work. I need to have competitive objectives (grades) tied to classroom performance." Then a second educator will say: "No, you've simply made your coursework uninspiring; whereas great course material will cause students go do amazing work."

Perhaps a resolution is to head in the direction of separation of education and competition since this is essentially asking for a major cultural change that can't be mandated overnight. The change is that students understand themselves as learners separate from competitors. In addition to de-emphasizing tests this would include teaching How To Create Original Work at an earlier stage. It might undermine multiple choice as an inferior means of evaluating a student's understanding of a subject by providing a better alternative: What original work did they create? This is the portfolio approach to a resume.

Jonny's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Its pretty amazing what students will do to make up for their own laziness.

Bobby's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Seems like kids are not very smart. Why cheat when it takes so long to do it. The time it takes to cheat could be spent studying and likely to produce a similar result. A result that does not leave the person with a feeling of guilt.

Joseph Patrick Saintz the Second's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that the resources used for cheating are really good ideas I have to admit, but the more you do it, the longer you keep it going on this method, the sooner you will get caught and be severely punished for cheating.

C. Karlsson's picture

I was aware that there was cheating going on, I just wasn't aware that there was so much! I was surprised at the statistics given in the article. It is very difficult for me to cheat on this answer. This will also take more time to grade. Are we ready to make that sacrifice? We better be, technology is not going away. I think this is a moral and ethical problem. There should be some studies to find out the age of students when they start cheating or think it's acceptable to cheat. This is something that parents and teachers need to teach. Yes, there are still adults who cheat. There will always be cheating. We need to be proactive and teach moral and ethical standards plus be more diligent in the classroom. How about an oral exam? This would incorporate verbal skills which are overlooked by kids who are always using texting and on their laptops.

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