Cheating and Technology

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What can we do?

Technology is wonderful. I mean I can chat with my friends thousands of miles away for free, collaborate with teachers from all around the world, and watch hilarious videos on YouTube any day of the week and twice on Sunday, but with all this goodness there comes a price. People can use technology to cheat, and this has never been easier and what can teachers do about it? Well read on past the break to get the cheat sheet.

Cheating is easy. Most people know about copy pasting, sending answers through email, text messages, or even BBM! You can put homework on Skydrive, Dropbox,, and share it with anyone else who has an email account. You an also have a word document on Google Docs or Zoho and share it with just about anyone as well. So what can we do as educators?

Cheating – the definition
First, things first, what is cheating? Here’s a definition.

​Obviously, we’re talking about cheating that concerns a game, money, or sexual relationships, so I’ll have no answers for you, if someone is rigging your weekly basketball game.

When it comes to cheating there are some obvious and indisputable examples like: copying and pasting on a paper, cheating off someone on a test, using a cheat sheet, copying someone’s homework and passing it off as your own and the list goes on. Of course there are some grey areas too (there are always grey areas). For example, a homework assignment is assigned, but there is no grade for the work done. If a student copies another student’s work is it really cheating? Where is the harm or the unfair advantage that is gained? If you allow someone a cheat sheet in class are they really learning anything or merely copying facts and view points on a paper for a test. Hmmm, let’s keep those in mind as we move forward.

Why do students cheat
I’ve been reading scores of blogs and articles to find out why students feel the need to cheat. There are conflicting conclusions, but in all the studies, students try to rationalize their cheating with one of these four excuses.

  1. Everyone is doing it
  2. I am too stressed out and overworked and need to cheat to keep up
  3. My parents put unreal pressure and this is the only way to not disappoint them
  4. I want to be the best and sometimes I need to do this to stay ahead of my peers

Of course these are not valid reasons to cheat and no excuse can truly justify it (at least none I can think of)

How to stop the cheating
The short (and not happy reality) is we really can’t. We can’t monitor electronic communication of any kind between students. I am in favor of people’s rights, an even if we could (hello 1984) who would do that job. In my middle school we have over 400 plugged in students. If we could monitor all their electronic communication, how would you do it? Where would you start? How do you monitor 400+ Facebook accounts, gmail accounts, hotmail accounts, BBM’s, I think you get the idea. It is a ridiculous notion. So the question we keep coming back to is, what can we do to combat all the cheating that can be done electronically?

Devalue mundane tasks
If you give a lot of homework and you have some evidence that people are cheating, then make it worth less. Devalue the importance of the homework grade. Make it have minimal impact on the overall grade. Of course if students don’t see the value in doing homework, they may cease to do it altogether a dangerous notion as homework can be a valuable tool to practice and hone skills. It’s a fine line to walk for sure.

Authentic assessments
Make the grades count for real and authentic assessment. Give them something that they cannot easily cheat with, certain essays that require a specific point of view that is supported with facts, projects that require personal knowledge and input as it relates to the subject material, tests that ask more probing questions, and make tests that push students beyond their abilities. A test that contains questions that are require students to apply the knowledge in a slightly different way than they have seen before. Make multiple versions of the test. It’s not the easiest answer but it’s the only one I can think of.

I’m a lucky one. I teach IT where students do lots and lots of projects, collaborative projects, and we use programs that a lot of students don’t have at home, so we don’t assign a lot of homework. Getting authentic assessments is a bit easier for me than a core teacher (math, science, English, and social studies). These authentic or alternative assessments are certainly easy to write and read about, but pulling them off with success takes a bit of risk, courage, and lots of planning.

Why am I writing about this?
I’ve seen people talking about this and it got me thinking about how to combat possible student cheating. The bottom line is we can’t. We need to attack it a different way. Sites like are great, but it only covers plagiarism. There is no way to stop. It’s like combatting an oncoming avalanche with a snow blower. I think we need to stop trying to stamp out cheating and find other ways to circumvent it. Let me know what you think by leaving some comments.

1 thought on “Cheating and Technology”

  1. Good post Patrick –

    While there are a number of new social and collaboration technologies coming out that theoretically make it easier to cheat, there are also new technologies coming out to combat cheating.

    In Japan, for example, Universities are working with NTT to implement Key Touch Pass, a new software application that is able to authenticate student’s identities during online exams and exercises based on the way they use the keyboard. Our technology, BioTracker, runs in the back end to make this continuous authentication possible. More information about the product and the benefits for educators and students can be found here:

    Would love to hear your thoughts and perspective on the potential of this type of technology in the classroom.


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