Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Are kids today worse than ever?
by Martha Brockenbrough

Here's something discouraging for anyone who knows and cares about high school students: According to the 2006 Josephson Institute Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, almost all of the high school students surveyed--98 percent--say it's important to be an honest and honorable person.

Likewise, most of them--92 percent--say they're satisfied with their own ethics and character.

So why is this discouraging?

Because these same kids admitted to lying to their parents in the last year about something significant (82 percent); lying to a teacher (62 percent); cheating on a test at school (60 percent); and plagiarizing off the Internet (32 percent).

What this means is that most kids are shredding their ethics, but not that many feel bad about it. What's more, 16 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys (who are more likely than girls to cheat) reported that they thought cheaters were more likely to succeed in life.

So it's not at all surprising to learn of a 2001 report in the Journal of Education for Business that showed that people who cheat when they're students are more likely to cheat on the job, on their taxes, and elsewhere.

The report focused on college students, who reported as high as a 96 percent cheating rate, according to one survey. The Center for Academic Integrity says that on most college campuses, the cheating rate is 70 percent. High schools aren't much different; the cheating rate on tests is over 70 percent at public schools, and more than 60 percent of the students polled admit they've plagiarized. At private high schools, things are a little better, but not great: Just under half of the students polled admitted to cheating, either on tests or papers.

The Journal of Education for Business report noted that the best predictor of cheating in the future was cheating in the past--so logically, those high school students who reported taking unethical shortcuts will keep on doing it.


So much for putting political and corporate scandals behind us. It seems there is a new generation of cheaters waiting in the proverbial wings, and they're taking advantage of new technology in ways teachers can't always predict or guard against.

Like the bionic man of a popular 1970s television show, these cheaters are "better, stronger, and faster" than before. But all is not lost. With the right messages and incentives, these cheaters can use their creativity for good.

High-tech cheating
If there's one thing that's as elusive these days as Bigfoot, it's a teenager who does not have at least one of the following:

*an iPod
*a cell phone or pager
*a PDA
*a graphing calculator
*a computer equipped with instant-messaging software
*a water bottle

A water bottle? That's a joke, right?


Water bottles are apparently the get-ahead weapon of choice for some cheaters, according to a fascinating report I read called "Academic Dishonesty in a High-Tech Environment," put together by a group of professors in the Computer Science and Mathematics departments at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

The report included a photograph of a water bottle tricked out with a piece of paper fastened to the inside, on which crib notes had been printed in 4-point font, which appeared magnified by the water inside the bottle. You have to admire the creativity of it, though producing the cheater bottle might have taken longer than memorizing the information on the card.

And, while an iPod, cell phone, and other battery-operated wonders wouldn't have the same hydration benefits as an adulterated water bottle, these devices are apparently even handier for the cheating heart.

The Drexel University report noted a variety of ways these high-tech devices can be used to give a student an unfair advantage on a test. Though not all devices have the same features, they can be used in the following ways:

*Storing and sending text
*Looking up answers online
*Storing images (let's say, a map of Ancient Greece) or taking pictures of tests
*Holding recorded audio, hand-written class notes, or huge quantities of text

The modern world has also given the ethically challenged other temptations such as:

*Wireless networks that make it easier than ever to gain access to someone else's files or notes;
*Online repositories that make it easier to plagiarize, whether it's an academic paper purchased from cheater.com (an actual site created by a high schooler!) or code for a course in software engineering; and
*Some students are seeking unauthorized help on assignments by asking questions at newsgroups, and even of professors and experts at other schools.

As technology gets better, smaller, and more closely wed to our bodies, this problem will only get harder to detect. Anyone who's read M. T. Anderson's Feed, in which something like the Internet was hard-wired into the characters' heads, can imagine how that world could look.

Cheating is bad for a variety of reasons, the most important of which are that it's unfair to the honest, and the cheater is rewarded without having actually learned the material.

But the news isn't all bad.

The good news about cheating
A variety of things can make a person cheat. There's pressure to get good grades, of course. And then there's the belief that everyone is doing it. These are some bad reasons to cheat.

The good reason to cheat--taken with a grain of salt--is that learning is hard work. Cheating lightens the load.

This doesn't mean, of course, that I'm advocating cheating. But I am a proponent of wanting to conserve energy, for one big reason: Laziness can often breed creativity.

Consider the person who made the crib-note water bottle, for example. Yes, it's evil genius. But it's still genius.

And the fact is many of our most useful inventions are those designed to save labor. You don't find many people who say, "Hooray. I get to walk 20 miles to work."

Instead, you find people who drive, ride bicycles, take the bus or subway. Each of these inventions came from someone who wanted to shuck off a little of the burden of being human. As one wise teacher told me, "Just because something's more difficult, doesn't mean it's better."

Let's face it: Those same creative impulses that inspired our caveman ancestors to create labor-saving devices like the wheel are the ones we see at work in the mind of many cheaters.

So the trick is to put their creative energy--and desire to avoid unnecessary work--to good use.

What a good teacher can do
Learning basic material is not unnecessary work. Good teachers can motivate students to learn the basics so that they have the tools to make connections beyond one class. Good teachers can make cheating harder by not reusing tests, and by using tools for detecting plagiarism. They also remove the temptations to cheat by knowing how students are doing it and punishing cheaters. Academic honor codes also work, the Center for Academic Integrity says. Students at schools where codes are in place are about 30 to 50 percent less likely to cheat on tests, and about 25 to 30 percent less likely to cheat on papers.

According to the Drexel University report, one professor who started using software to detect plagiarized work used to have 30 to 45 kids per class cheat (in a 300-person course). Once he started cracking down, the number plummeted to nearly zero.

And finally, good teachers help students find reasons to enjoy the subject at hand--something that makes learning a labor of love instead of a chore. It's possible; I've found such teachers in every subject.

Once those tasks are done, though, good teachers should reward the clever: the easiest mnemonic device, the shortest paper that made the best point, or the most economical way to conduct an experiment.

Ultimately, that's how we're going to get the next great labor-saving devices--the wheels of the 21st century. I'm quite sure that cavemen would approve.


  1. Hi Admin
    Thanks for unique info on high tech cheatinings and best guidance for teacher to control it.
    Thanks again............. Really Unique

  2. Thanks for reading Isolinx and I hope you check out the rest of our posts about cheating under the label "Who Cheats?"


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