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Cheating Goes High-Tech

It's so easy, some students don't even think it's cheating

by Cindy Long

Students have always found creative ways to cheat in school. They’ve stashed “cheat sheets” in their sleeves or pasted them to the soles of their shoes. They’ve written microscopic notes on their palms and up and down their fingers. Or they’ve simply copied answers from a neighbor. But no matter what the method, they knew it was cheating, and that it was wrong.

Not so in the information age. At the same time that personal technologies have turbo-boosted kids’ abilities to communicate, create, and collaborate, they’ve blurred the connection between action (say, texting quiz answers) and consequence (being nabbed for cheating).

A new poll by Common Sense Media finds that more than a third of students have used a cell phone at least once to cheat on a test, and that more than half have used the Internet to cheat. Surprisingly, many of these students don’t consider these behaviors serious cheating offenses, and some don’t consider them to be cheating at all.

The poll found that students today store notes on their cell phones to look at during tests, text their friends for answers, and  use mobile devices to search the Internet for information. Some even take pictures of the tests to share with other students. But many of the kids polled said these were either minor offenses or simply ways to help themselves or a friend get a better grade. 

“Much of what goes on in digital life happens anonymously, which can make kids think they can escape being caught,” says Rebecca Randall of CommonSense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the impact of technology and media on children. “Remote access also lessens the sense of face-to-face responsibility -- so what if you take a stranger’s paper and pass it off as your own? Then there’s the ease with which information can be found, captured, and sent to friends. Add to this an ability to communicate completely under parents' and teachers' radar, and you have a formula for kids thinking they can get away with less-than-ethical behavior.”

What can be done? Today’s students require new comprehension and communication skills, as well as updated codes of conduct to ensure that they use powerful technologies responsibly and ethically, Randall says. 

Digital literacy and good-citizenship programs, taught in schools and reinforced at home, will help students reflect on these issues, as well as learn how to respect and protect their own work and that of others, online and off.

“Right now, our kids’ technological abilities outstrip their judgment,” says Randall. “It’s up to parents and teachers to remind this generation that they have a choice: They can create an honest, open Internet and mobile world, or they can create one in which they'll always have to be suspicious of what they find and who they know.”  

Common Sense Schools is a media education program that teachers can use to help increase digital literacy and responsibility, including a tip sheet on high-tech cheating. The organization is also developing a digital citizenship classroom curriculum for students that will be available in January 2010.  Visit for more information.







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