While many were appalled at the celebrity college entrance scandal, there’s another scandal that gets minimal attention. Students cheat with technology! Cheating has always been a problem in school but with technology it runs rampant.
In the classroom, teachers curtail cheating by supervising students in person. They learn about students and become familiar with their daily work. Teachers try to avoid circumstances where students feel tempted to cheat, but cheating with technology can still be a problem.
Cheating became more of a problem with standards and high-stakes testing.
In 2011, an NEPC report about virtual learning described concerns about the authenticity of student work online. They said, in a virtual classroom, how does one—the teacher, the superintendent, the college admissions officer, the employer—know that the student who signed up for the course actually did the assignments and took the tests?
In 2019, there are still few solutions to cheating. Technology has made cheating easier. It seems almost expected that students will cheat.
Here are examples of cheating with technology.
- A professor teaches an online course at a state university. There are no controls—no way of determining if the student who signed up for the course did the work. There’s no proctored exam where the student has to take the test in person.
- Likewise, a student signs up for a high school virtual course. There are no checks to ensure that it is the student who does the work.
- According to the Wall Street Journal, hundreds of websites offer online homework tutorials for college and high school students. It’s called “contract cheating.” Students pay for others to do their essays! Owners of tutorial groups tell students not to use the work for a grade, but there are few checks.
- Students plagiarize by copying and pasting online text into reports instead of conducting their own research.
- Sites meant for tutorial assistance provide answers to math problems which might then be texted to other students.
Here are the inadequate solutions.
- Some universities and high school online courses require students to show up for course testing. But proctoring students still isn’t always done. Distance learning might make it difficult for students to travel to the testing site.
- Some online schools rely on an honor system. They expect the student not to cheat. But when public schools are shuttered due to test scores, it’s unfair and unethical not to demand proof that online instruction works.
- Providing students content that they care about is encouraged, but there’s no proof this deters students from having someone else do the work.
- Turnitin is a controversial program to detect plagiarism. But students look for ways to trick the program. Turnitin partners with the College Board for SAT writing practice through Khan Academy. It’s found in countries around the world. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is on the board of Turnitin.
- Despite its controversy, Turnitin is taking a new step to weed out students who don’t do the schoolwork. But in “Another Terrible Idea from Turnitin,” John Warner describes the program as one that exploits students.
- Cameras are used to monitor students working online at home. In 2016, I described in Losing America’s Schools …The computer is locked while testing takes place, and fingerprints are authenticated. Webcams and a microphone are placed in a reflective, ball-like ornament that records audio and video feedback. Instructors watch and note student movement.
- Parents might be expected to monitor their student’s online work at home. Unfortunately, some parents might help students too much.
- Some colleges use course codes to track students as described in the WSJ report. But tracking always raises privacy concerns.
How online companies handle cheating (Hint: Not well).
K12, an online school used by homeschoolers and some public and private schools, raked in over a $1 billion in revenue this past year, despite its notoriously bad track record. How do they handle cheating? They use Turnitin but note that cheating is still a problem. They say, Firstly the student usually gets to pick the invigilator [proctor] who is trusted with overseeing the exam. There is a chance that this trusted person will administer the test according to protocol, but there is also a chance they are in cahoots with the student and will allow them to use the text book as an aid, or let them cheat in whatever way suits them best. The exam software is easily out-maneuvered using two different computers one with the exam software and exam and the other with all relevant information, chat programs to consult other students, and prepared questions and answers.
Connections Academy, the Pearson blended learning online program, has little information about cheating. They have teachers who sometimes ask students questions over the phone in an attempt to detour cheating, but this is hardly foolproof.
Summit Online Learning collects information about students to create a personal profile. This is sometimes seen as a way to predict if a student will cheat, but it raises student privacy concerns. In 2018, two students were highlighted in a Washington Post report, where they described many concerns about the Summit program, including that it was too easy to pass and even cheat on the assessments.
All of this raises serious ethical concerns. With the availability of unregulated online courses, and companies that offer services that assist students to cheat, young people could cheat their way into a career where they’ve had little preparation. That’s a scary thought. Still, online learning is being promoted by colleges and high schools, all the way down to preschool, and cheating continues to have no complete checks, only inadequate solutions.
Some solutions to the cheating problem.
- According to James M. Lang who did a three-part report for The Chronicle of Higher Education (Here, Here, and Here) on cheating, the most important cheating prevention is the learning environment. Students, according to Lang, learn best with frequent questioning about the material. While online advocates might believe that involves frequent online multiple choice questioning, it would appear to be, instead, more about teacher-to-student and student-to-student dialogue. Teachers are able to determine how well and how interested a student is in a concept when there’s face-to-face discussion. Most teachers recognize when students react favorably about the subject.
- When students are caught cheating, study the reasons that led to their cheating. After students at Stuyvesant were caught cheating The New York Times considered the reasons. Some students were Googling facts on an iPhone or snapping a photo of test questions to send to a smart friend for help. Students needed more time to learn the material, and they shouldn’t have been wasting time on learning meaningless facts.
- Better checks and balances are called for to ensure that students do the computer work. Learning in the classroom with a real teacher still seems best to avoid cheating.
Tawnell D. Hobbs, “Schools Go After Online Cheating,” The Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2019.
Nancy Bailey, Losing America’s Schools: The Fight to Reclaim Public Education. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 2016), p. 124.