Cheating is common in high schools and colleges. According to the International Center for Academic Integrity, surveys of more than 70,000 US high school students conducted over a 12-year period indicated that 64% of students cheated on tests, 58% plagiarized, and 95% percent engaged in some form of cheating (tests, cheating, copying homework, etc.) Additional surveys of over 71,000 US undergraduate college students found that 68% plagiarized or cheated on tests, compared to 43% of 17,000 graduate students surveyed. Academic dishonesty is a problem. Unfortunately, the digital age makes cheating easier than ever.
Three Ways the Internet Enables Cheating
- Tests. In a physical classroom cheating is all about smart devices. Students can use smart phones during tests to find answers, text information to friends, or take photos of the test to share online. Digital calculators can be programmed with formulas, and test-takers can wear invisible Bluetooth earpieces to listen to audio notes or take a call from someone with answers. Some students embed wireless spy cameras in eyeglass frames so they can transmit pictures of test questions to friends who are standing by, ready to send answers to the smart watches worn by the test-takers. Students can learn the latest cheating techniques by searching the Internet—YouTube has plenty of helpful videos.
- Plagiarism. Whether the classroom is physical or online, the Internet makes it easy to copy the work of others, to alter documents in order to hide plagiarism, and to find someone to do the work entirely. Students can find free papers on websites like MonsterPapers. Apps that enable translated plagiarism are available; they reduce the chances of finding plagiarism by translating written content into another language, and then back to the original language. Students who are concerned about getting caught for plagiarism can contract original work (for a fee) from services like AssignmentMasters and SuperiorPapers.
- Impersonation. In online courses, student identity can be an issue. Federal definitions allow verification of online student identity via (a) secure login and pass code; (b) proctored examinations; and (c) new or other technologies and practices that are effective in verifying the identity of students. Most schools issue a secure login and pass code, and some courses require proctored exams. However, there is no certainty that the person completing the work in an online course is the person enrolled in the course. Some students might ask a friend or family member to help with assignments. And, with a guarantee of a B or better for about $1,000, others might be tempted to hire an impersonator from a business like No Need to Study.
Reasons Why Students Cheat
According to BestCollegeReviews.org, students cheat for many reasons. Some plagiarize unintentionally because they do not know how to cite sources or paraphrase, or because they fail realize the expectation for individual work. Others might cheat if they do not see the value of an assignment, or if they don’t have the time or knowledge to complete the task. Students might rationalize that cheating is the only option, given the unreasonable amount of work demanded by their teachers. They may feel that the ends justify the means—good grades are needed for a good future, and to meet the expectations placed upon them by others. Students might think the benefits of cheating outweigh the harm, especially if the consequences are insignificant. To make matters worse, Internet cheating sites leverage these reasons to market their services. Fortunately, states like New York and Pennsylvania prohibit the unlawful sale of academic papers.
Three Possible Solutions
- Create policies, procedures, and processes. Recommendations to combat cheating often suggest tightening the rules. In the paper “Using Technology to Detect and Deter Electronic Cheating at a Large Public University” Ball, Wood and Allen (2016) advise having clearly defined academic honesty policies, administering consequences for violations, and using automated detection tools like Turnitin and Grammarly. Colleges can also implement robust identity checks for online students and use exam-proctoring services. Some entities control the items brought into testing environments; even mechanical pencils are prohibited from the LSAT. With smart contact lenses on the way, though, we will soon be checking test-takers’ corneas. Policies, procedures, and processes might deter students from cheating, but they do not necessarily remove the desire to cheat, or change the behavior.
- Create a culture of academic integrity. Students receive mixed messages when it comes to cheating. Some parents endorse cheating by doing their children’s homework, or scaling school walls to pass cheat sheets through windows. A teacher might look the other way, sending a signal that cheating is okay. School administrators have altered student answers on system-wide tests, and public figures have been called out for plagiarism. UC-San Diego Academic Integrity Coordinator Tricia Gallant says that “cheating has gone from morally reprehensible to merely morally disagreeable” (Gallant, 2011, page 5). Gallant encourages schools to view cheating as a learning opportunity, and foster academic honesty through strategies that focus on the ethical development of students. As Gallant points out, if the current approaches are not producing the desired results, it is time to try something new.
- Remove the incentives. One possible approach is to remove the incentives that motivate cheating. A lot of cheating seems to occur during tests. Do we need them? Students like Erica Goldson argue that tests build memorization skills that are no longer necessary, at the expense of expanding creativity. James M. Lang, author of the book “Cheating Lessons”, posits that extrinsic motivations like grades increase the likelihood of cheating, whereas intrinsic motivations like the desire to learn something decrease the probability. Intrinsic motivation is fundamental to theories like inquiry-based learning and project-based learning. Take it a step further by combining intrinsic motivation with the open, social, participatory nature of the Internet, and learning occurs in a networked environment. This is where connectivism, a learning theory proposed by George Siemens, might be able to help students thrive. In connectivism, the connections that enable learning, and the learner’s ability to recognize which connections are most important, are critical. In a networked world, could a learning model based on connections nurture intrinsic motivation and reduce the desire to cheat?
A New Approach
Employers are not demanding graduates who have good test-taking skills or the ability to work alone in an unconnected world. The Global Markets Institute reports that the jobs of the future—the jobs we are preparing students for right now—require skills like creativity, judgement, teamwork, and sense-making. This view is supported by an analysis of 2.3 million LinkedIn profiles, a report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2007), data from the Institute for the Future, and others. Businesses need workers that can leverage the Internet to work collectively and agilely in a fast-paced, connected world.
Might it be possible to offer the education that students need to flourish in a digital world and foster ethical behavior at the same time? This would require a complete rethinking of how we teach and evaluate students, but that seems to be needed anyway. Time to try a new approach.
Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2007). College learning for the new global Century: A report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise. Washington, DC: AAC&U. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org
Ball, N. L., Wood, R. E., & Allen, G. (2016). Using technology to detect and deter electronic cheating at a large public university. Issues in Information Systems, 17(4), 82–90.
Gallant, T. (2011). Building a culture of academic integrity. A Magna Publications Whitepaper, J. Garrett (Ed.). Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Retrieved from https://www.depts.ttu.edu/tlpdc/Resources/Academic_Integrity/files/academicintegrity-magnawhitepaper.pdf