When is it cheating?

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Check Out the New Blog Is it cheating when a student does a search for test answers on the internet?

I don’t mean conducting research on the Civil War in order to study for a test. I mean, what if the student enters search terms in Google to find the answers to “Mr. Johnson’s 10th grade American History Civil War exam” to find out the answers to the exact test which they will be taking in the hopes (or knowledge) that a previous student has posted the information online.

Most of us would come down on the side of “Yes, that is cheating.” or at least an attempt to cheat.

So, how should we respond when a teacher is the one looking up test answers?

We at PLB were confronted with that very question this week because someone, to remain anonymous, was searching the internet for answers to quiz questions for one of Professional Learning Board’s courses. We’re not sure why someone was looking for quiz answers as we let teachers take our quizzes over if they don’t pass and we allow teachers to review the content in between quiz attempts in order to address the questions they did not get correct. Besides, our course content is copywritten and posting our information publicly would be a violation of our terms of use and illegal.

The Professional Learning Board quiz process is all about helping a teacher understand the content because most teachers participating in our courses want to both learn the content as well as be able to demonstrate that understanding and use what they learn in their classrooms.

That being said, there are things that can be done to help ensure understanding versus memorization such as randomly pulling quiz questions from a bank of questions and randomizing the answers within the questions so every quiz attempt is different than the one before. Imgaine if you could give a test in which every student gets a different version and it is all graded automatically for you. If you like that idea, you should look into using online education tools as part of your classroom. But that’s for another newsletter.

Back to the topic of cheating. Technology is great. It can make our lives as teachers and learners far easier than in the past. You may remember having to travel to the library to conduct research from the encyclopedia Brittanica or look up books in the card catalog. Now, within seconds, a whole world of multi-media presentations, movies, articles and people await you at your computer and phone, from virtually everywhere.

That same easy access to information and great use of technology leads some to cheat who might not otherwise: students posting (and searching for) test answers online. Others copy and paste text from the web into their term papers in the belief that no one will ever know.

This week’s questions for you:

  • When does research become cheating?
  • What do you do when you find a student cheating or plagiarizing?
  • Do you see an increase or decrease in cheating and plagiarizing in your classes?
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6 Responses to “When is it cheating?”
  1. Andrew Borne says:

    What teacher went search for answers on the internet? Just call them out on it. I’m tired of this “not making people feel bad” crap. If more people faced the music and we had a little public shame, there would be less incentive to cheat. Here’s a “nice” term for what I’m talking about *transparency*.

  2. Jim lowrey says:

    I am an elementary school teacher and I found this blog very interesting. We are blessed at our school with the latest technology and we use online research a lot.
    Our students know what plagarism is but I want them to realize it is not only illeagal but cheating as well.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  3. You’re welcome Jim. Thanks for reading our posts and sharing with others!

  4. Shanon Woolf says:

    Based on your query, “What if a student enters search terms in Google…etc” I have a mini project during _Lord of the Flies_ on imagery and word choice. Golding is specific on describing the island. I ask kids to use the three specific pages (and I even give them the page numbers!) and use Golding’s words to draw the island. They finish for HW. And inevitably, the next day, I get the same dang island with the same dang details as the ones that pop up in an image search. Cheating? How about LAZY? It’s perceived as easier to Google something and go from there and it’s harder to actually synthesize information – even if the Googling takes longer. Which kills me.

    On another note, I’ve stopped calling it “plagiarism” and started referring to it as “academic fraud,” because that’s the language my college professor friends and their institutions use. It also has bite to it, and my students report that “academic fraud” sounds far more serious than “plagiarism” does.

  5. Fran Lo says:

    I teach middle schoolers. When I catch them plagiarizing, it’s often inadvertent. They forgot to cite their source. They’re learning, so I let them fix the problem and then they’re fine. The kids who cheat deliberately are another story. First, I verify (usually I just have to google a sentence), or written by adult (vocabulary, voice, and phraseology are dead giveaways). If an adult wrote it, I give the student several of the words used in the writing and give them a few minutes to define them – if they can’t (and they never can), I’ve got proof it’s not their work. I notify principal and parents, and make the student do the work again.

    I see about the same amount of plagiarizing as I did 10 years ago when I started teaching.

  6. Mary says:

    Cheating occurs whenever a person uses someone else’s work whether it’s for a test or a research paper and claims it as his own. The person who looked for the test answers did not understand that the goal of education is understanding and applying what is learned, not just getting the right answers. Our overemphasis on test results and the pressure on teachers to show their worth by having students score high on tests is part of the problem.

    In a course at a large major Southern university, I created a website where students could download and print articles as background for each class. This tool kept their textbook costs down. One of the projects in the class was to write a final paper on a major trend or issue in education. One student lifted text from 2 or 3 of the articles without using quote marks or citing the source. He didn’t realize that I had read the articles I was having them download. When I discussed this situation with my department program head, I did not realize such matters are taken all the way to the Vice President’s office. The student was called in for a conference with me, the program head and the Vice President for Instruction. I believe the consequences were for him to rewrite his final paper (or write a totally new paper) using the correct procedures with citations and references. He could not receive a grade higher than a C in the course. I could tell he was very frightened. He could have been expelled, I guess. He redid the assignment and passed the course. I was a part time assistant professor, so I was not able to follow up. I wish I knew how this experience affected him.

    Cheating occurs at all levels. When I was a public school kindergarten teacher, I learned that on the end of year readiness test (which has strict procedures), one of the teachers (who was the Teacher of the Year from a nearby state) stopped her students in the middle of the Metropolitan Readiness Test and retaught a skill, because she saw students performing poorly on that section of the test. Her parapro told my parapro. I reported it to the principal, not using a name, but just letting the principal know that the scores on all the tests were not a true representation of the different classes’ knowledge. That teacher’s students all moved from low scores to middle and high scores, which was virtually impossible, given our school population. I’m not sure how the principal used the information. She didn’t meet with K teachers to discuss it. Several years later in a conversation with the District Test Coordinator I learned that when those scores came to the District office, they were automatically thrown out because they were considered invalid. Maybe the principal alerted her.

    I did not feel like a tattletale. I felt that all the K teachers deserved fairness when their scores were studied by the principal or school district. That teacher never knew I talked to the principal. If I had done nothing, the parapros might have thought that cheating was okay. As teachers we are models to other staff members as well as to our students.

    Since I am now retired, I do not know the trend in cheating. I remember a freshman lifting text out of an article I also had read for a paper on “The Effect of Color” over 40 years ago. I kept quiet. We were on the honor system, and you were supposed to report your own cheating. I don’t think this student who left the college after the first quarter even knew she had cheated. I do believe that today’s students do not have a deep sense of honesty that my generation had. However, all generations may feel the same way, that they had higher standards than the current generation. I don’t see any consensus on this question so far.

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