High-tech cheating

One third of teens admitted using a cell phone to cheat during tests in a Common Sense Media poll.  Two thirds said other kids use a cell phone to cheat.  Yet 23 percent say it’s not cheating to use notes stored on a cell phone during  a test; 20 percent think it’s OK to text answers to test questions to their friends.

Seventy-six percent of parents say that cell phone cheating happens at their teens’ schools, but only 3% believe their own teen has ever used a cell phone to cheat.

More than half of teens surveyed admitted using the internet to plagiarize.

Common Sense Medis is releasing a white paper on Digital Literacy and Citizenship in the 21st Century.

About Joanne


  1. thaprof says:

    This is easy to fix. Here’s my way:

    “Dear students,

    Cell phones, Ipods, netbooks, and any other device capable of electronic communication or note storage may not be visible at any time during the exam. If I see you take out such a device, I will immediately collect your exam and will grade it as is, regardless of its state of completion.”

    I hear that my intransigence on this point has been noted by the cheating community, and they discourage their comrades from signing up for my classes.

  2. Yes, I think thaprof’s policy is a simple solution to this problem.

    (When I was a TA – back before cell phones were so common – I worked for a prof who required students to remove and stow ballcaps before taking an exam, because he once caught a student with answers taped under the bill.)

    Teachers and profs should be permitted to take any reasonable measures to prevent cheating, and students should not complain about it. If anything, they should be angry with the cheaters for ruining it for the innocent students.

  3. You’re generous. If a cell phone, iPod, etc. comes out during a test, it’s a zero.

    Plagiarism from the internet? I’m shocked!

  4. Amy in Texas says:

    Yes…but these kids are VERY good. We have a cheating ring at my high school doing exactly this, and somehow they continue to get away with it. All the students know who’s doing it, and they have confided in me, I reported it to the AP, but still nothing is done. The kids are high-achievers, and I suspect that they have defenders in high places.
    Other than a body search, there is no way to guarantee that they don’t have a phone on them.

  5. Maybe some of the techniques from distance learning will help:


  6. Dick Eagleson says:

    The simplest solution to the problem of technology-assisted cheating is technology-assisted test generation/administration. I’m guessing the various cheating modalities described are not a problem for tests requiring long essay answers. But I also assume that such tests are rarely, if ever, administered these days, even in English composition classes. Multiple-choice and short fill-in test items can be randomly ordered by software to provide a unique test item sequence for each testee. Texting “3 is C” to your buddy won’t help much if his ‘3’ is different than yours. For multiple-choice test items, the order of the alternative answers can be randomized as well, making even the ‘C’ part of such a cheat text useless. If the entire exam is administered, as well as composed, on-line, grading may also be wholly or substantially automated as well. If one insists on hand-grading exams, the test generation software should be able to generate a matching key for each student’s test. One of my college profs back in the Late Pleistocene (early 70’s) wrote such software for his own use based on punched cards and a mainframe computer in that pre-PC era. Present-day teachers neither have to roll their own test software nor put up with a neolithic user interface in order to deter would-be cheaters.

  7. Am I the only one who is completely and totally frustrated that we have to keep upping the ante, keep thinking up new ways students might cheat?

    I swear that it is dealing with the plagiarism and the students who either play dumb (“I didn’t know that counts as plagiarism” or “But I must have just randomly written the same words in the same sequence as what the website had”) or challenge me on it (“But in other classes it’s OK for us to collaborate!” after they hand in, uncredited, another student’s work) that will eventually drive me from academe.

    The sad thing is, I’m not sure what I’d do for a living…

  8. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Yet another reason to homeschool.

  9. I’m more and more convinced that the way around this is to:
    (1) Give out-of-class assignments where collaboration is encouraged and which comprise 50% of the course grade.

    This way, students can work with each other all they want, but be advised that if they can’t reproduce it independently on a timed exam, the 10 points they got by cheating will cost them 30 points on the exam. Then again, I’ve been doing it this way for some years now and it hasn’t stopped the cheating — but it does make rational students who are “strategic learners” think twice before doing it.

    But I’m with ricki — I’m really getting tired of designing my courses around the prevention and detection of academic dishonesty. I’m having to make pedagogical choices that are not in my or the students’ best interests because a minority of students out there think it’s OK to cheat. What kind of future is in store when these people start getting into positions of responsibility?

  10. I’m not sure what happened, but part of my comment got eaten.My numbered list should have been:

    (1) Give out-of-class assignments that are worth 50% of the course grade.

    Next time: Use the “Preview” button

  11. My list was still getting eaten, so I reformatted it.

    – Give out-of-class assignments that are worth less than 20% of the course grade in which collaboration is encouraged, and then

    – Give in-class tests and exams worth more than 50% of the course grade that draw heavily on the out-of-class assignments.


  12. This is not news. When I was in high school, over 10 years ago, we used the text mode on our REQUIRED graphing calculators to cheat in math and science classes. The only way I got through trig/pre-cal was to have a stored copy of the unit circle in my calculator. And my ancient Motorola cell phone in 10th grade had texting capacity- it wasn’t as widespread as it is now, but it was definitely possible.

    So to the commenter who thinks we shouldn’t have to keep up with students and cheating- you’re 10 years behind already.