BY ANNABEL MONAGHAN
The vast majority of Americans – 95 percent – today own a mobile phone. In 2015, 64 percent of American adults owned a smartphone and that percentage has grown to almost 77 percent in recent years. For adults aged 18 to 29, a whopping 94 percent own smartphones, according to Pew Research Center.
While the growing popularity of smartphones is often seen as “progress”, it is also having a monumentally negative impact on the tertiary education sector. The increased use of technology has contributed to the simplification and ease of copying homework assignments – and cheating in general – across schools and tertiary institutions around the world. Despite the fact that repercussions for cheating are severe, involving possible suspension or expulsion, 62% of U.S. students have reported seeing or hearing of another student using a connected device to cheat on an exam, quiz or project. In the U.K., there has been a 42% rise in cheating cases involving gadgets such as mobile phones and hidden earpieces since 2012, and in Australia cheating via technology is also on the rise at universities, with engineering and international students the most likely offenders. In one study across eight national universities and four colleges in Australia, it was found that a “widespread tolerance for cheating” existed among students and staff, with 68 percent of university staff admitting they had found “suspected contract cheaters” among their students in the past.
“Contract cheating” is perhaps the most serious form of academic dishonesty, involving students putting out a tender for others to complete their homework, coursework and assessments. But most students are cheating in a far simpler way: by switching on their mobile devices and snapping a photo of a classmate’s work, enabling them to copy that homework almost word for word in order to avoid doing it themselves. Students are also using mobile phones or earpieces during exams, by activating their device’s infrared, Bluetooth, or texting applications to share exam information with other test takers.
With the rise of technology, academic cheating is becoming more and more prolific, with hundreds of thousands of websites now offering custom-written papers, selling cheat aids and publishing how-to-cheat videos, teaching students anything from how to load programmable calculators with exam responses to how to replace a water bottle’s nutrition information with mathematics notes. Students are cheating in extremely advanced ways – with some even resorting to the use of a virtual private network to protect their activities.
But teachers are catching up, quickly.
The learning center Happy Numbers notes, “using new technologies, including text-matching software and plagiarism websites, webcams, biometric equipment, as well as drawing on strategies such as virtual students and cheat-proof tests, it is ever so slowly becoming harder to plagiarize other students work”. Surprisingly, teachers often find they have the most success in identifying plagiarism by simply Googling phrases they find in students’ papers. But more tech-savvy professors and teachers set up web “honey pots” – phony Web pages that answer specific questions allocated by them for homework with blatantly out-of-date or inaccurate information. Innovative technologies like Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) provide a way of improving the accuracy of assessment by addressing cheating concerns, by using an algorithm to choose test items based on students’ strengths and weaknesses. Using this method, every student takes a different test. As a result of new “anti-cheat” innovations like these, the U.S. has seen the percentage of students who admit to cheating – which rose from 20 percent in the mid-1900s to over 50 percent in 2002 – drop down to around 10 percent in recent years.
But the reality is, advances in technology will continue allowing for easy, accessible sharing unless significant steps are taken to address the problem.
Some attribute the rise in student cheating to an ever-increasing workload, others see it as a changing work ethic seen in the Millenial and Gen Z groups. Some see a direct correlation between the rise of standardized testing and cheating. Others hold accountability policies responsible: they have pressured educators to raise test scores. Whatever the cause, it’s evident the education sector needs to address the phenomenon soon before cheating becomes the status quo, as opposed to a rare lapse in judgment.
To ensure you don’t find yourself falling for the same traps other students have and “accidentally” plagiarizing your next assessment, try to implement the following measures. Develop a more efficient weekly schedule so that you can spend more time on each subject – and assessment – so that when deadlines approach you aren’t tempted to find a “quick solution” to completing your work. If in doubt, don’t copy and paste a piece of work found online but if you must, ensure it is correctly referenced. Don’t give in to peer pressure and share your work with others, because developing a habit of cheating – either for yourself or for others – creates a poor work ethic that can damage your future. And lastly, always remember your ethics. They will get a lot further than an A+ will.