Student cheating, most notably within higher education, has reached new heights. The speed in which students can access and share information is unlike any other time in our history. Technology, specifically mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, has changed the way people view, consume and share information. Today’s college students grew up during the digital boom and tend to be very tech savvy individuals. According to a 2012 eMarketer study, by the time the class of 2016 graduates, close to 90% of college students in the U.S. will own a smartphone, compared to 58.5% of the total U.S. population.
In August 2012, Harvard University made headlines for a huge cheating scandal involving 125 students in an undergraduate government class. The full details of the case weren’t disclosed but school officials have sighted electronic communication between the students involved as the root of the cheating. Also in 2012, the University of Florida reported 242 instances of cheating in a computer science course. In this instance, project files submitted by students had hidden markers that helped identify documents used in previous exams. More than one marker was found across multiple student submissions, which was how the cheating was uncovered. This type of cheating isn’t exclusive to higher education. High school students in Newport Beach, CA purchased information designed to help teachers assess student learning on Amazon.com. This information included answers to an upcoming history test, enticing some of the students involved to try and sell the answers to other classmates.
With research stating as high as 75% of college students have admitted to cheating, one must focus on how they are cheating. One of the biggest shifts in student cheating is the practice of purchasing everything from question banks to lecture notes online. Teacher’s edition textbooks are very difficult to purchase in the US, but there are dozens of international trading sites that sell these the same day the publisher releases the student edition textbook. Crowd sourced sites are another culprit, as they organize and sell questions banks, course documents and lecture notes. They do this for any textbook or test based on the information uploaded by members.
Google Docs has often been the go-to platform for cheating. With Google Docs, students can collaborate within the same document in real-time. As one scenario was shared with The Chronicle of Higher Education, students would alternate who would go first for each test in the online course they were taking. The Google Doc would be updated with the right and wrong answers after each person completed their turn. Subsequently, the grades would improve for each new person taking the test.
So how did we get here? As I mentioned earlier, today’s students view the internet as an open information market. With so much information readily available, free or otherwise, academic integrity is often hard to classify. Some students feel that if they can find course information online, it is okay to use and don’t consciously view it as cheating. Others knowingly cheat by taking advantage of social sharing to deliberately get ahead. Either way, instructors have a difficult time trying to stay ahead of the latest cheating methods.
Instructors looking to expand beyond the publisher’s question bank can find the process challenging to manage across multiple classes and terms. With cloud-based student engagement software, instructors can now easily create and manage a single master question bank. By developing their own question banks using software that works across any mobile device – i.e. laptop, smartphone or tablet, instructors can keep content fresh which helps keep students more engaged and honest during the learning process.
These new question banks also provide a lot of flexibility; questions are created once, and can be used across any section or term. When needed, questions can be easily edited, remixed and reordered from class-to-class and/or across students within the same class. This process makes it harder for students to know which questions they will be asked for any given homework, quiz or major exam. If they do not know the specific questions, or even the order of the questions ahead of time, they will have a much harder time trying to cheat the system.
Other benefits of cloud-based student engagement software include the ability to push questions both in and out of the classroom. Asynchronous homework can be deployed based on synchronous in-class polls, while instructor-to-student communication occurs in real-time. In addition, attendance and assessments are easily integrated with the school’s learning management system.
As long as there are students, there will always be some level of cheating within our education system. However, if instructors and school administrators leverage the same technology platforms used by students to cheat, they will have a better chance of helping reduce the number of instances that occur.