High-Tech Cheating: Students Finding New Ways to Get Ahead

Cheating has come a long way since students used to write answers in ink on their hands or create 'cheat sheets' that they could slip out of their pockets during a test. While many technological advances are normally for the better, some students have found technology to be quite useful in self-serving ways. Welcome to the age of 'echeating'.

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Cheating an 'Epidemic'

Erasure marks on standardized tests. Altered test scores. Fired teachers and resigning administrators. Cheating is certainly not a new topic for schools to face, but 2011 saw a wave of cheating scandals unlike ever before.

It might be the national attention on these scandals, or the fact that they were perpetrated not by kids but by educators, that pushed another form of cheating off the front pages... a form that is becoming increasingly utilized by students around the country: echeating.

Vice Chancellor Robert Bramucci of South Orange Community College District in Mission Viejo, California, told USA Today in December 2011: 'There's an epidemic of cheating.'

Students Find the Easy Answer

By most standards, Bramucci is not exaggerating. Studies by the nonprofit advocacy group Common Sense Media have found that more than one-third of students with cell phones have used the devices for cheating, while more than half have cheated using the Internet.

They're doing it by simple means, including texting answers or pictures of tests to classmates, and more intricately, such as scanning a soft drink label, replacing nutritional information with test answers through photo editing, printing the new label and affixing it back onto the bottle.

The answer to why so many students are cheating might be: because they can. And it's easy. There are many sites and apps dedicated to finding answers to questions, such as Quora and Wolfram Alpha. Query a word or phrase, and at the press of a finger you have more information than you likely need.

Cheating Under Our Noses

So how are so many cheaters getting away with it? Believe it or not, in some cases teachers have no idea.

And the more sophisticated the cheating gets, the harder it is to catch the offenders. So difficult is it to catch cheaters, in fact , that as Bramucci says, 'we're not even sure it's going on.' This statement is backed by a study conducted by South Orange a few years ago.

In that study, South Orange professors were asked to observe students taking a mock test. The students were told to cheat in several different ways. The result? Not even a third of the cheating was caught, even under observation and with the professors knowing beforehand that the students would be cheating!

Outsmarting the Cheaters

So, are there ways teachers can try to prevent echeating?

Some. They can use different tests and quizzes for each class, thus eliminating texted answers or the practice of taking pictures of tests and forwarding them to other students.

Requiring students to specifically reference material covered in class might in some cases stop cheaters from accessing the Internet through their phones to find answers. Proctored exams, too, might help.

Still, even if educators get wise to echeating methods now, they'll most certainly have to face new and creative ways in the future. Technology is ever-changing, and is sure to become only more sophisticated and innovative as years go by, making it even more difficult to figure out how students are cheating...unless, of course, they design an app for that.

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