Saturday, December 15, 2018

What is Cheating in the Digital Age?


For the past few weeks, I've heard the laments of teachers worrying about cheating. For some, it's because they are actively aware it is happening in their classrooms. For others, it's because they have heard it is happening in someone else's classroom. As I hear what others are saying I am appalled by some of the blatantly sneaky cheating that is going on by students but I also am aware of a gray area that seems to blend the lines between right and wrong. So I ask, what is cheating in this digital age? The following blog post isn't about me saying that cheating is ok, it is about my view on why it is harder than ever before to keep a student that wants to cheat from cheating. Here is my opinion why it seems more acceptable to students to work the system:

  • Hacking is acceptable and seen as a skill. Today we are training students how to code starting in preK because the future wants this skill in the workplace. According to the Techopedia website, hacking is the ability to break into a system (https://www.techopedia.com/definition/26361/hacking) but every single day as an instructional technologist I sit at my desk and wish for different educational platforms to be able to do certain things they cannot and I look for add-ons (or hacks) to make it happen. For instance, at our school, we use the LMS Canvas but it doesn't inherently lock a student into a quiz tab while taking a quiz so we have bought the "hack" known as Respondus Lockdown Browser as an add-on to do this. There is a little bit of irony that the hack is to prevent cheating but in this case, Respondus is what is known as a non-malicious hack that adds value to a product and the product readily accepts it. But do you see the irony? 
  • We are teaching students to find tools to help them in their learning. Today's students have not ever lived without the Google search engine. This means that today's students are not dependent on their teacher to pour information into them. Part of teaching today is helping students discern tools that aid their learning. Maybe it's Khan Academy for a math concept or as I type on this blog, maybe it is Grammarly. Grammarly is a writing assistant that helps you correct grammar mistakes as you type. To me, even the free version is one step beyond the red squiggly underlines of word processing software. With one click, I can add Grammarly as an extension on my Chrome toolbar and I have a benefit the person sitting next to me does not. AND if I happen to have $12/month the benefit for the paid version can truly change the way I write by leaps and bounds. But what if a teacher is grading my grammar on an essay, is this cheating or is this using the tools available to me?
  • Everyone else is doing it. Yesterday I had a conversation with a super vigilant parent that works hard to create safeguards for his children not to access parts of the internet that can lead to moral degradation. After realizing his boys were accessing gaming time more than he had set up to allow through their Disney Circle he dug a bit deeper. His boys had downloaded an app that allowed them to bypass the VPN blocks so that they could play Fortnite longer than their father deemed healthy. When asked how they knew what to do..." everyone at school does it." The father said to me "and I have good kids!" and he does. If this is so rampantly accepted by this generation how do we harness it? How do we protect ourselves from ourselves? Or more importantly, how do we protect our children as they are developing their frontal lobe from themselves?
  • There doesn't seem to be ramifications. Kids aren't getting caught. This week I heard of two students laughing in the hallway about turning in a slideshow they had pulled off the web, changing one page and then turning it in and getting an A for it. I also heard about some students cheating on exams in a classroom on a regular basis since the beginning of the school year. If it seems like people are getting away with it then the effort to do right seems pointless. Of course, this opens the door for a lot of edge-pushing discourse. Perhaps the concept of grades need to go away? Or what feels like high stakes testing? And then there is the fact that our school's average ACT scores keep going up so if students are cheating but those type of scores continue to go up where is the disconnect? And is it that the students see the disconnect better than the educators do? I realize all those questions could be read as heresy but like I said, this blog post is to help me put all the cards on the table and honestly look at what is happening.
  • The rules of plagiarism are harder to distinguish. Not just for the student but for the teacher as well. My college-aged student just finished a class in British Literature where she made a 50 on a project because the teacher said she plagiarized. That being said, she still doesn't believe she did because she had sources on every slide. Quite honestly, I'm not sure she did either. And there is the rub. The ease of access to an abundance of information makes it harder and harder for teachers to distinguish the work of their students from someone else. It also makes it harder for students to discern if that was an original thought they just wrote in their paper or if it was something they read in the last 2 hours when perusing one well-written article after another during their research phase. 
  • Access to information makes some tests seem irrelevant at best. And this is the bullet point that will get educators ruffled more than any other. Are we still testing our students as if they didn't have access to technology? In my lifetime of learning, there was value in rote memorization questions but if I can google an answer in 2.7 seconds is our question relevant in today's world? Perhaps it is time for us to evaluate our evaluations. Can we assume students will always have access to information and test them in a way that shows they have turned that information into knowledge? Critical thinking questions based on information readily available. Or authentic learning opportunities, project-based learning, inquiry-driven learning etc...all seem like buzzwords but we are in a time in education where discerning if learning is actually taking place is getting harder and harder to do. How do we change our method of operation to meet the needs of today's student so that cheating doesn't seem like the most logical way to deal with a test at hand. How do we change our questioning to force students to think about their answers instead of googling their answers? 
  • What happened to honor? How do we instill in students the virtue of being honorable in regards to testing integrity? What digital citizenship lessons need to be talked about in every classroom to show the level of importance we place on this? What expectations need to be placed on the student? What ramifications? And while we are at it, what expectations should be placed on the educator to do their part in creating an environment where integrity and honor are both expected and monitored for? 
What is cheating in the digital age? It might seem black and white to you but to our students, it is becoming more and more of a gray area. We can't ignore this. Important conversations need to be happening so that important outcomes can be produced.