Area educators' primary tool to combat cheating in the digital era is awareness

Posted at 12:00 PM, Aug 02, 2016

CINCINNATI -- In an increasingly digital educational environment, teachers are relying more than ever on one of their most basic tools to combat cheating: their awareness.

With the prevalence of tablets and smartphones and the transition to computer-based state testing, school districts are altering approaches to classroom learning. In many places, district officials are implementing 1-to-1 technology models, providing devices for every student. Others are allowing or even encouraging students to bring their own technology to use for educational purposes.

While increased access to technology enables students to learn using the digital platforms they’re familiar with, it also opens up potential opportunities for cheating on tests and homework.

“I imagine that there are some challenges that are different today than what you might have seen 15 years ago,” said Holli Morrish, director of communications and public engagement for the Talawanda School District in Oxford.

Simply paying attention is one of the most common and effective ways to prevent cheating, said Zach Vander Veen, technology director for Hamilton City Schools. Teachers in the district often create seating charts that allow them to see most screens when students are taking tests on computers and make a point to walk around the classroom during tests.

“If you’re present, you can stop quite a bit of it,” Vander Veen said.

Morrish, whose office is located at Talawanda High School, has similarly observed “a more interactive, more engaging style of teaching.”

“I could see that that could be a real deterrent for cheating, but I also think it’s kind of the style for delivering information for students today, too,” she said.

Educators in both Talawanda and Hamilton schools often prohibit cellphones on test days, or request for students to turn them in until the test concludes.

Technology itself can provide some solutions as well.

“We have filters and protectors in place in our buildings for all kinds of things,” Morrish said.

A lot of the filters are used to ensure students use devices appropriately at school, but some can help minimize opportunities for cheating.

In Hamilton, district officials created a Google Chrome app that locks down students’ browsers, so they can only visit sites approved by their teachers.

Some teachers also use services through companies like Turnitin to help detect plagiarism.

Another way educators can prevent cheating is by writing homework assignments and tests that encourage higher-level thinking. Although multiple choice questions can elicit deeper thinking, short and long essay questions often work well to determine mastery as opposed to memorization, Vander Veen said.

“Generally, a question that involves writing will more often than not have kids use higher-level thinking skills,” he said.

Questions with subjective answers or responses that require students to piece together multiple objective components are particularly helpful in guiding students to deeper thought.

When it comes to homework assignments, teachers are limited to writing good questions and relying on tools like Turnitin, but they typically employ a combination of solutions at any given time in a classroom setting.

Even with the tools and tactics available to educators, preventing cheating starts with equipping students with knowledge and making them aware of their own responsibility.

“In the digital age, it is our responsibility to teach kids how to use the tool of technology with integrity,” said Middletown High School Principal Carmela Cotter in an email.

That lesson starts by talking with students before cheating is an issue to be prevented.

“It’s also good for teachers to have conversations with their students about what is cheating and what isn’t cheating,” Vander Veen said.