Students and cheating

With all of the technology that students have (e.g., cell phones, laptops), I’m concerned about “cheating” on tests and writing assignments.
—Anne, Rochester, New York

This is a very timely question, in light of a recent report Hi-Tech Cheating: What Every Parent Should Know from Common Sense Media.
In the old days, students tried to get away with not studying or doing original assignments: turning in a “report” copied from an encyclopedia; writing notes on a shirt cuff or a piece of paper to use during a test; spreading the word about pop quizzes; discussing the content of a test; copying homework on the bus; sharing copies of old tests; forging parents’ signatures; paraphrasing information without citing sources; reading summaries of books rather than the originals.
I suspect this is a high-profile issue today because high-tech applications make it easier: copying and pasting, texting, downloading from online term paper factories, accessing online answers and solutions to textbook review questions and problems, getting online homework help, taking pictures of a test with a cellphone camera, storing information on an iPod. So is the solution to ban all electronic devices in the schools? The study indicates students still use them even in schools that do so. But there are many creative and legitimate uses of these tools in learning environments. The study suggests we need to discuss the appropriate uses of these devices in terms of “digital literacy.”
From the survey, it appears many students don’t know what cheating really means, especially in terms of these newer media, and they assume helping (or being helped by) a friend is acceptable in every situation. (The incidence of cheating was the same with honors and non-honors students.)
It might be helpful to discuss the topic as a faculty and develop a school-wide policy about academic integrity. What is your school’s definition of cheating (including examples)? What are the consequences? Is the policy published in the student handbook, on the school’s website, and in course syllabi? How will parents (who, according to the survey, are aware of cheating but not by their own children) be informed of the policy?
In addition to having consequences, it’s also important to be proactive with the students. Have a frank discussion about what is or is not acceptable. For example, in a cooperative learning situation, helping each other is desirable; in other situations, individual accountability is necessary. Review the differences between copying, paraphrasing, summarizing, and original thoughts. Set interim due dates for parts of a longer projects to help students organize their time instead of waiting until the last minute when the temptation to copy is greater. It’s easy to say “we shouldn’t have to do this” or “why didn’t they learn this in an earlier grade,” but the technology and the online resources change rapidly along with student access to them. We assume students know the boundaries, but the study suggests they do not.
Does how assignments are graded affect the temptation to cheat? Do we evaluate the process as well as the correctness of a response? Do we demand perfection on even practice assignments or is it permissible for students to make mistakes during practice exercises without a fear of failing the unit? Do we encourage students to submit interim drafts of important writing assignments for our feedback? (I realize this is time-consuming, but I’d rather have students submit original writing in need of a little tweaking rather than a perfect report simply downloaded from another source.) Do we give students interesting, meaningful assignments rather than busywork? Do students understand the purpose of these assignments?
In a practical sense, be aware or “with it” in the classroom. Resist the temptation to sit in the front of the classroom and grade papers while students take a test or work on an assignment. Use formative assessments during the lesson to check student understanding on-the-spot. There are lots of tools for creating multiple versions of an objective test (same questions but rearranged). Give different essay questions to each class—you’ll also get a broader view of what students learned. Some teachers encourage students to use their science notebooks during a test.
Model appropriate behavior yourself. Be sure to cite any sources you use for a handout or worksheet (and credit yourself if it’s original). Model how to cite direct quotes and paraphrased or summarized information. Review and model note-taking and study skills useful for your class. Resist the temptation to check your own e-mail or text messages during class. And learn more about the very positive and creative applications of these technologies that are part of our students’ everyday lives.

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