Laptops, iPods and cell phones - oh my. The ways that a student can smuggle test answers into a classroom, scour the Internet for pre-written papers, or manipulate their grades via technology seem almost endless. Accordingly, professors now have to be extra-aware of what their students are doing and how they are doing it.
Unlike in most high schools, where cell phones, mp3 players and other devices are not allowed in class, college students have more freedom over what they are allowed to bring to class, many of which take place in computer labs. Teachers and professors alike are having to step up their game in the fight against electronic cheating.
Jason Ellis, an English composition instructor at Kent State University, shared some strategies he and fellow instructors use to prevent cheating. He said that catching a student cheating is only the beginning. "The English department is very supportive of teachers who catch plagiarism and provide proof that plagiarism has taken place. However, I will also say that it is difficult to catch plagiarism," said Ellis.
Ellis said he combines many tactics, such as knowing a student's writing style, arranging the students so that he can view their computer screens, and running lines of students' essays and test answers through Internet search engines to see if they are cases of plagiarism. "I pay attention to the writing style and any formatting quirks that might flag that essay as containing plagiarized work."
Ellis and other instructors have their work cut out for them. Internet term paper sites, or "paper mills," which churn out pre-written term papers, book reports and other materials, are just the beginning. Cell phones with Web browsers, mp3 players that can be loaded with text and audio materials, and portable flash drives can all be used by students to cheat during an exam, or to produce a plagiarized assignment. Ellis also said that students can "outsource" their homework to others via Web sites, for a fee of course.
The Youngstown State University Graduate Assistant Handbook suggests student teachers "avoid creating a situation which is conducive to cheating. Vary your assignments and examinations each time you teach the course. Distribute examination questions in duplicated form and keep the students separated and monitored during the examination."
Methods of electronic cheating:
- Using a cell phone or mp3 player to store test answers or classroom materials
- Using a portable flash drive to load a school computer with test answers or source materials
- Using a cell phone or mp3 player to search the Internet for answers
- Using a cell phone to text answers to other students
- Using a shared folder on a university's server to store or swap test answers
- Using Web sites to buy, sell or trade pre-prepared term papers or reports
The university has strict penalties for academic dishonesty, which can go from a warning, to an F on the assignment, an F for the course, to a review by the Student Academic Grievance Subcommittee. Either way, it is a mark that will tarnish a student's academic record.
What can a teacher do to prevent cheating, while at the same time encouraging the use of new technology in the classroom? A recent New York Post article discusses a Manhattan high school that uses metal detectors to scan students preparing to take a college-prep exam. Not all schools can go to these levels, however.
Bob Mackey, also an English instructor at KSU, said, "I make the students turn their monitor off during quizzes. I set up the classroom so I can see what they are doing." Mackey also adds that instructors are required to put the university's code on academic dishonesty in the syllabus for the class. Like Ellis, Mackey also uses Internet search engines to check for plagiarism. "I take a line (from a paper) and Google it," he said. Mackey wants his students to use the Internet for research and discussion during class, but also wants to prevent them from abusing this privilege.
While the temptation to cheat, given the opportunity that electronic devices offer, may be hard to resist for students, it is up to the instructor to be proactive, to recognize the signs of electronic cheating, and to know how to prevent them. "I believe that it is each teacher's responsibility," Ellis said, "to inform students that (cheating) is wrong, explain why it is wrong, remind students that it is wrong, and deal with individual cases when they occur."