31 August 2006

Cheating or Education v Reality

"Some kids, they have camera phones, so they take pictures of the their tests, and then they send the pictures to their friends, so they can look at their phones and know the answers."

"Some students have broken into faculty gradebooks and changed their grades."

Really? Are all teachers and professors battling a world full of Ferris Buellers? This must be a crazy universe in which technology is very dangerous.

I was invited to be part of a radio discussion on high tech cheating two weeks ago - a delayed result of my highly controversial article (read the long argument that follows the piece online) on Inside Higher Ed about cheating and technology. Those two stories topped the hour of conversation on KUOW (Washington Public Radio). I was on the show with the director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University and the Vice-Provost for Student Relations at the University of Washington, both sincere academics deeply concerned about student and public honesty and with (as one said) keeping the playing field "level," that is, not letting "cheaters" tilt the grading curve.

My argument (you can listen here, but I am only on during the middle 20 minutes of the hour), was that they are fighting the wrong war. I didn't even waste time pointing out how crazy their fears are - quick everybody, take out your phone and take a picture of the paper in front of you, now send it to a friend, can they read it? - but talked instead about the need to change styles of teaching and assessment so that we are not asking students to cheat by requesting meaningless trivia. I also spoke about the need to bring technology fully into the classroom, to teach with it and about it - for the benefit of all students, but especially for the benefit of students who might have differing needs and/or strengths.

The guests agreed with all that, they even talked about how math educators at good schools had learned to stop teaching (and testing) formula memorization, but had moved onto more important things. I said "yes, at top schools they have done that, but at community colleges and high schools many teachers still ban calculators," and the students at those schools are, of course, the students most likely in need of good, advanced teaching.

Yes, I was told, changing educational practices filters down unevenly and it takes a long time. Then my time on the show was over, and they went back to their conversation - essentially, students need to change their behaviors right now.

In other words, bad teachers get plenty of time to change, students who "cheat" get no such patience.

- Ira Socol

For better teaching strategies, from
teachablemoment.org - take a look at Alan Shapiro's The Plagiarism Perplex and the same author's (and the best teacher I have ever known) Inquiry in an English Class.