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Academic Dishonesty: How Teenagers are Using Technology to Cheat

Cheating is nothing new. Technology, however, has enabled students to take academic dishonesty to an entirely new level.

Passing notes during a test? So old school when students can text or screenshot each other answers during a test. “Teens are really good at texting,” says Scott Schober, a cyber-security expert. “They keep their phone in their pocket, and without even looking at it, can shoot a text to a friend in the room, or a confidant outside the classroom, to look up answers.”

Students use their smartphones to access shared Google Docs and cut and paste answers into their essays. Or they create a closed group, divide up an assignment, and share answers with each other by text message.

And it’s not just smartphones; it’s Bluetooth devices with two-way wireless microphones. Cameras the size of a button. “The Apple Watch gives a student more computing capability on his wrist than Fortune 500 companies had just a decade ago,” warns Schober.

So what is going on with all the cheating using technology? Maybe it isn’t all that surprising, what with national headlines about parents paying big money to get their kids admitted to college, allegations of large-scale cheating in elite institutions such as Harvard and Stanford, or scandals involving students hiring someone to take the SAT. In a survey by the Educational Testing Service, students who admit to cheating on tests or written assignments say that they do so because they are under so much pressure to succeed.

Revelations of cheating scandals fuel the perception that their peers are all cheating, and many students feel that they need to cheat simply to keep up.

“It’s partly our fault as a society,” says Dr. Teresa Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “We attach so much importance to such a small number of outcomes such as semester grades, SAT scores, GPA, that we have created a situation where there is an enormous incentive to gain any advantage, no matter how small.

“Students feel enormous pressure to get the grades and test scores they believe they need for future success.”

Who’s most likely to cheat? Often, it’s students who are under a lot of outside pressure to deliver. “If grade motivation is intrinsic to the student, it doesn’t affect their propensity to cheat,” explains Fishman. “If the pressure for grades is external—coming from parents for example—then the student is more likely to cheat. The message you are giving your children definitely has an effect on the likelihood of them cheating.”

The ramifications of academic dishonesty can last well beyond high school into college and even into the workplace. “If you cheated in high school to get into a good college, then chances are you will realize you didn’t have the skills to get in,” says Fishman, “and you will now feel you have to cheat in college to keep up with other students.”

Research shows that cheaters experience greater levels of unhappiness, insecurity, and stress.

Further, students who cheat often do not learn how to engage in the creative process or develop the critical thinking skills they were supposed to, and subsequently find that they are unprepared for the workplace.

“There’s a lot of discussion about millennials and their insecurity and lack of confidence in the workplace,” says Fishman. “Some of those kids are insecure because they know they do not have the skill set that employers expect them to have.”

On the flip side, schools are taking advantage of high-tech methods to catch cheaters. The Pocket Hound, a wireless device the size of a deck of cards, allows teachers to detect and pinpoint nearby active cellphone transmissions. Another gadget, the Mantis, detects Bluetooth devices and includes a directional antenna to help teachers locate cheating partners. Antiplagiarism software such as Turnitin enables teachers to scan and compare word phrases for plagiarized work.

“Nothing is going to completely eliminate cheating,” cautions Schober. “But the goal is to decrease the rate of cheating and hopefully prevent some kids who might be tempted.”

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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