Assessment

Students Often Use Technology to Cheat, Poll Finds

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 18, 2009 2 min read
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Cheating using cellphones and other mobile devices—such as sending friends test answers by text message or searching the Internet during quizzes—is widespread among middle and high school students, according to a nationally representative poll released today.

The prevalence of cheating on tests, plagiarizing online content, and helping classmates do the same using digital devices suggests a growing need for school lessons around technology use and ethics, argues a report from Common Sense Media, which commissioned the poll.

More than a third of teenagers with cellphones, for example, admit that they have used them to cheat in school, while just over half have used the Internet to do so. Most of the students who responded did not think that storing notes on their cellphones to use during a test, or downloading online materials to present as their own, was a serious offense.

“We need to have a serious conversation about how technology is changing what we do in education, both the pros and cons, because the technology has redefined what it means to cheat,” said James Steyer, the founder and chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, a nonprofit media-literacy organization. “The solution is that we have to really teach digital literacy and citizenship to students, parents, and educators. We have to modernize the curriculum to deal with it.”

The poll, conducted by the New York City-based Benenson Strategy Group, is based on online interviews with a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 students in grades 7-12, and parents of children in those grades, conducted from May 28 through June 5.

Two Sides to Cellphones

Many schools have strict policies governing cellphone use by students, or outright bans, yet some 65 percent of the students surveyed, who were between the ages of 13 and 19, say they use them during school regardless of the rules. Texting at school also appears to be common practice, despite policies that try to curb the activity. The poll found that teenagers send an average 440 text messages in a typical week, more than 100 of them during school hours.

Some experts in educational technology are promoting cellphones as potentially powerful learning devices for students, and calling for fewer restrictions on their use in schools. But many administrators and teachers say strict usage policies are needed because the devices can be disruptive and make cheating easier.

New policies and student training on acceptable and unacceptable uses of mobile devices in school are the best way to deal with the issue, Mr. Steyer said.

“You can’t just have this knee-jerk reaction that these things should be banned,” said Mr. Steyer, who believes that mobile technology can aid learning. “Cellphones are really important parts of students’ lives, so we need to set clear rules and guidelines for using them.”

Those rules need to be communicated to parents as well, the report says. More than three of every four parents in the poll said they are aware that high-tech cheating occurs at their children’s schools, but just 3 percent think their own children are involved in the activity.

A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week

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