Cheating and the 'Net Generation
As students become more tech-savvy, they become better equipped to implement more clever – and difficult to detect – methods of cheating. The author offers insight and ten methods teachers can use to level the playing field.
|by Alan Haskvitz
Regular to the Gazette
November 1, 2008
Valerie Milliron and Kent Sandoe recently published an interesting article, “The Net Generation’s Cheating Challenge.” It is a must-read for all educators as it clearly shows that there is a growing disregard of right and wrong by students who have used technology to boost their test scores and enrich their future earnings, among other things.
This addiction to cheating is almost a game to some students who text message answers to questions, plagiarize, and even print cheat sheets in ultra small type and place magnifying glasses under their water bottles to be able to read them. Students can easily destroy attempts by teachers to achieve honest assessment, rendering invalid a measurement designed to determine what was learned.
Cooperative (group) learning may have proven of value in the classroom in preparing students for working together in life, but it has also equipped them for successful collaboration when cheating on tests. Along with peer pressure, the Net Generation’s ability to use electronic communications, teachers who are beleaguered by rapid changes in technology, and the cooperative spirit have helped make file swapping an accepted means of ragging against the educational machine, as alluded to by Donald McCabe. The cheating culture is powerful; those who stand by their values are overwhelmed by the rewards that are reaped by those who have gone over to the champs side, leaving the non-cheaters wondering whether they are the chumps.
It is not a big jump in logic to conclude that what is happening in government has also solidified cheating as a way of doing business. Everything from sexual misdeeds to lying about weapons of mass destruction is quickly swabbed over by the business-as-usual approach of citizens interested only in bottom lines. It can only be surmised that this attitude hasn’t escaped the Net Generation that is used to political, radio, religious and sports figures hiding the truth without sacrificing any financial consequences. Indeed, some are even rewarded for them.
Add to that the fact that the Net Generation has been exposed to illegal music and software copying, as well as game swapping, and they have lived to tell the tale. Stealing software from a store is perceived as a crime, but downloading a copy isn’t. No wonder the older generation has difficultly relating to this new form of ethics.
And, don’t forget that cheating has been well rewarded throughout history. Some of the most successful Americans have circumvented the law and, because their reward was wealth, they are honored with a place in the history textbooks. Out-running the law has given rise to NASCAR and the success of such movies as Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball, and countless others, as doing the right thing suffers in a winning at any cost atmosphere. Martha Stewart, Oliver North, even Rush Limbaugh have been caught doing the wrong thing only to end up financially secure with even more name recognition. Crime doesn’t pay is a good old saw, but for some these characters have made the challenge attractive.
Students exposed to a lifetime of these news stories may tend to believe that cheating is a victimless crime. They don’t mind that cheating on tests might give them a higher grade and open up a college acceptance even if it deprives the student who does not cheat from that opening. There is also the rationalization that “everyone is doing it” so I have to do it too in order to keep pace. It is logic reinforced by news articles about athletic steroid use, NASCAR cheating, politicians refusing to cooperate with investigations, referee tampering, and perhaps closer to home, income tax statements that have been fudged.
This lack of remorse is interesting in a country whose citizens consistently report that they are religious while a study by Jean Twenge and a book by David Callahan are cited by Milliron and Sandoe as revealing that “generational cohort” cheating is widespread, with percentages form 80 to 90 percent of college-aged student confessing to using electronic communications to cheat. And high schoolers, according to Milliron and Sandoe’s report, also have high cheating rates with over 60 percent cheating on tests and 90 percent on homework. Other research has suggested the reality that those who cheat in high school will probably cheat in the future.
The tech-savvy Net Generation is going to grow bolder if the problem is virtually ignored and there are good reasons for failure to enforce the rules. First, the time it takes to prove there was cheating. Second, the threat of parent law suits, and third, the negative aspects of exposing cheaters to the school. There is a fourth, overarching element that is not related to the others and that is the financial cost to pay for plagiarism software, cell blocking hardware, and even attorneys. Many school districts are paying good taxpayer money to pay for services that check for plagiarism… money that could be spent educating the straight arrow students rather than catching crooks.
Of course, there is also the question of what is cheating. Is copying a peer’s notes illegal if you have their permission? If you pay them a quarter for the notes would it be legal? If you text message answers to a test to another student, is that just an exercise of free speech? Thus the root of the matter is how easy it is to accept the fact that cheating is prevalent because it is expensive, and perhaps, unrewarding to stop.
Missed by the researchers is the fact that the majority of educators have never been taught how to deal with cheating. Shamefully, the importance of this subject has been shoved aside in the rush to prepare students for the ordeal of standardized testing and the quality assurance plan government leaders have inflicted on a nation more interested in numbers than creating honest citizens. What universities and school districts should be offering are classes and in-services on preventing cheating for all teachers as well as classes in logic and ethics.
Entering the Net Generation’s Bailiwick
I remember applying for a library reference position. I had worked my way through graduate school in this same capacity and was well qualified. During the interview the head librarian asked me where I would find information on a certain topic. I went into detail about several possible places where the data could be found depending on how the question to be answered was worded. I didn’t get the job. The librarian was looking for one specific answer to one specific question. In other words, she was interested in finding a resource that agreed with what she had in mind and not a variety of sources depending on the nature of the question. In a nutshell, that is the difference between the non-netters and the Net Generation. Knowing the answer is good, but knowing how to retrieve it is better. In other words, if someone asked that librarian who invented the airplane she would have no problem finding the answer. But what if they were after those who also claimed to have invented the airplane first? The Net Generation is interested in variety and more whys instead of whats. Right is right, but what if right is wrong? Cheating is wrong, but if it makes you happy and rich, isn’t it right?
Indeed, the best way to stop cheating is to restructure the nature of assessments so that electronic resources can be used in real time. In other words, the way the question is answered and defended is more important than the way the question is asked. For example, a question about why the Founding Fathers considered the Articles of Confederation inadequate could be turned into one asking the students to prove or disprove whether the merchant class and other professionals provoked the call for a new form of government so that it would protect their assets better. The Net Generation students could use any resources to provide an answer with the assessment based on how well the student backed up his or here conclusions with the research they found and how they validated that research.
Ten Steps for the Net-Fighters
Here are ten steps teachers can take to help curtail cheating outside of punishments, although admittedly, each also has weaknesses. Nevertheless, these might be a starting place for a teacher, school, or district.
Cheating is addictive. Even with an essay test, easy material, and plenty of time, some students find that it is difficult to break themselves of the habit. These addicts are going to be meeting with others on or off-line to share questions. The only way for these students to learn about the consequences of their actions is to take the test over with the teacher and others who are suspect. If the scores of the two tests are different, further action is needed, such as special tests for those students.
Turn a negative to a positive
What I do is try to turn the concept of cheating into an advantage. By doing a variety of tests over several days, the students quickly isolate the most important elements that the material contains. They start sharing possible answers. I couldn’t ask for a more motivated student than one who thinks he or she is cheating by going over questions that have already been asked without knowing they aren’t going to be the same ones.
Sadly, with such programs as No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on testing there seems little relief in sight for teachers who don’t rely heavily on testing as a way to measure progress rather than projects or other creative endeavors. Ironically, No Child Left Behind with its constantly rising standards, has provoked some schools to - you guessed it - cheat. The saddest part of all of this is what Einstein said: The only source of knowledge is experience. These students are learning how to cheat and inculcating that into their culture and perhaps through osmoses, into society as a whole, or hole if you are using a spell checker.
Explaining Why Students Cheat
How to Improve Test Scores
How to Legally Improve Test Scores
Cheating among college and university students: A North American Perspective.
Cheating Rampant on College Campuses. Katherine Poythress
Is Plagiarism a Forerunner of Other Deviance? Imagined Futures of Academically Dishonest Students.
How Do High School Students Justify Internet Plagiarism?
The Cheating Culture Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead David Callahan