Do you remember how you may have cheat-ed in school? Let’s see if I can guess... you wrote the answers on a out-of-view part of your body like your ankle or palm; you put together a “cheat sheet” that you could pull in and out of your sleeve; or maybe you passed notes or looked onto someone else’s work to get the answer you were looking for. Like just about everything else, cheating has also gone high-tech. As a middle school counselor in the 1990’s, I remember my first glimpse of this when kids would bring pagers to school. Others students could page them with numbers corresponding to the test questions and answers. Looking back, that seems archaic now as compared to cheating techniques that take advantage of more capable and sophisticated technologies.
The student uses his or her cellphone to text message the questions from the exam to a friend inside the classroom or outside the testing room. The friend then looks up the answers and sends them back. The student’s phone is in silent mode the entire time. Also, the student can enlist a friend enrolled in an earlier section of the same class to take a picture of the exam using a cellphone. The student has time to transfer that photo onto a computer, enlarge it and have all the answers before taking the test.1
A student must write a paper in a foreign language such as Spanish or French. What should require significant work over several hours is a breeze and can be accomplished in minutes with the help of online language translation services such as Google Language Tools (http://www.google.com/language_tools) or AltaVista Babel Fish Translation (http://babelfish.altavista.com/). The student simply writes the paper in English, pastes it into the translator and then replaces his/her original paper with the results. It may not be perfect although a quick grade of “C” may be better than an earned “A.” Other online tools exist to help in various school subjects. For instance, Google also allows users to solve complex mathematical expressions, conversions, and lookup dictionary definitions to name a few (see http://www.google.com/help/features.html). Another website, Math.com includes a variety of tools to help with equations, graphs, inequalities, calculus and more. Cliffs Notes, guides that present and explain literary and other works in pamphlet form are now available online (and for free!; http://www.cliffsnotes.com/).
Some students use handheld computers, calculators with memories, iPods, mp3 players and other gadgets to store formulas, dates, spelling words, and other data likely needed during a test or other learning/assessment activity. The data can be transmitted via infrared or Bluetooth wireless networks to others in the class or even down the hall, through concrete walls. These gadgets are small and may be perceived by adults to be used for purposes other than cheating.
A 15 year old student got stumped on a summer reading assignment and went to a website (http://www.sparknotes.com) for help. She used its primer to complete the assignment, but never cited the source of the information. Like dozens of other English honors students at her school, she failed the assignment and was accused of plagiarism by her teacher. The alleged plagiarism also highlights the struggle by teachers to keep up with tech-savvy cheaters in the digital age, when term papers can be bought online and the right answer is usually just a mouse click away. 2
Plagiarism is probably the most misunderstood no-no in the school rulebook. Ask kids what plagiarism means and they usually rattle off “you can’t copy right off the Internet or out of a book without identifying the source.” When pressed about what exactly that means – like can you copy a sentence, a phrase or a word – most act rather astonished. They have never stopped to think about it and it usually leads to a rather uncomfortable silence. Yet, the consequences of plagiarism can include diminished academic achievement, failing grades, and – in college – being expelled or dismissed from school. So what does plagiarism really mean? 3
Plagiarism – the attempt to pass off the ideas, research, theories, or words of others as one’s own – is a serious academic offense. Most students know when they are intentionally plagiarizing, for example copying an entire essay out of a book or buying a paper off the Internet. Enterprising students can find papers on everything from euthanasia and terrorism to master’s-level term papers on biophysics and Shakespeare. Some students lift entire passages from online sites such as http://www.123helpme.com and http://www.CheatHouse.com, where term papers and school projects can be downloaded and copied. According to the Center for Academic Integrity (http://www.academicintegrity.org/), 41% of students admit to “cut and paste” plagiarism and 50% admit to some level of plagiarism from the Internet.
Many kids who plagiarize do so accidentally by not giving proper credit for others’ quotes, facts, ideas, or data. Intentional or not, they must still face serious consequences nonetheless. We need to educate our children so that they can save themselves from a great deal of high-tech trouble while respecting the intellectual property rights of others.
There exists a great deal of tips, resources and handouts that you may find helpful in teaching children about the nature of plagiarism (and how to avoid it). Here are a few carefully reviewed websites to help get you started:
- Avoiding Plagiarism from the Purdue OWL http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/03/
- How to Avoid Plagiarism from the College Board http://www.collegeboard.com/student/plan/college-success/10314.html
- Turnitin Research Resources http://www.turnitin.com/research_site/e_home.html
- McGill University Student guide to avoid plagiarism http://www.mcgill.ca/integrity/studentguide/
- Prentice Hall: Understanding Plagiarism http://tinyurl.com/2tpp7r
Cracking Software Codes
I didn’t realize it until one day I was having problems with a piece of software and searching online for a solution. In my search results I came upon peculiar words like “cracks” and “warez” which caught my attention. As I visited these sites, I quickly realized that what the sites were providing are ways to get around purchasing software, sometimes expensive software. Indeed, this is another form of theft punishable by law.
Software that is highly targeted among “crackers” is usually (a) popular and (b) comes from a company that allows people to download a trial version of its software. A trial version is usually time limited (30 days or so) or has some of the features disabled. If you like the program, you can purchase a code or key that unlocks it and allows it to run without restrictions. Some websites are providing working key codes, key code generators, or re-engineered trial versions that are actually unlocked and fully functioning. 4 Accessing and using software cracks is a much more clear-cut and undeniable example of theft.
In addition to paying hefty fines and facing other criminal consequences, using cracked software can also be problematic in that it often introduces the user to viruses, keylogging software (which logs your keystrokes including passwords to bank accounts or other systems, for example), or other viruses, worms, trojan horses, and bugs. One does not even have to download the modified software, only visit the website on which it is resides and it may automatically begin to download spyware and viruses.
Throughout history, technology has introduced battles between good and evil, right and wrong. Evolving electronics and the Internet affords us very powerful means for accomplishing great things more effectively and efficiently than ever before. At the same time, the same tools are used to wage terror, war, and scandal. A battle between right and wrong is also being waged in the halls and offices of our classrooms in regard to cheating and plagiarism. Students need to be aware that schools are increasingly using high-tech methods to combat cheating. For instance, teachers can ask students to submit their papers in electronic format which they can submit to plagiarism detection services such as http://www.turnitin.com. Affordable software is also beginning to emerge that analyzes student work to determine if students have plagiarized material from the World Wide Web (e.g., see http://www.canexus.com/eve/). Also, schools are banning electronic gadgets such as cell phones and digital cameras from the classroom. Test sites are using surveillance cameras and cell phone signal jammers. Courses that are taught online are incorporating procedures to verify a student’s identity throughout the administration of an exam.
What You Can Do
First of all, don’t ignore reality. As tempting as it might be to deny that your child would cheat or plagiarize, or to attack his teacher or the school for wrongly accusing him, take a step back. Some parents are simply in denial, and they need to entertain the idea that their kid could be doing this. 5 Awareness of high-tech cheating methods is certainly an important first step in guarding your child against this risk. Take some time to also educate your children/students on the perils of all forms of high-tech theft and the risks in which they put themselves (and you). Also, make sure that they have learned to properly reference the work of others and understand the limitations of using others’ words. Encourage kids to pay for and download music, movies, and software from legitimate online services. 5 There are also available plenty of sites that offer legitimate and legal music at no cost such as:
• iTunes free download of the week (http://www.itunes.com); and
• SpiralFrog, a new online music destination, offering ad-supported legal downloads of audio and video content licensed from the catalogs of the world’s major and independent record labels (http://www.spiralfrog.com/).
• Also check out Synthopia (http://tinyurl.com/2mrce6) for a list of other sites giving away music mp3s.
1. Parker, R. (November 7, 2005). High-tech options helping students cheat. The Arizona Republic. Available online: http://tinyurl.com/2re3t8
2. Cormier, A. (September 09. 2006). Honors students punished for plagiarism: Parents worry “mistakes” will tarnish reputations. Herald Tribune. Available online: http://tinyurl.com/2rjje2
3. Kendall, D. S. (Retrieved January 24, 2008). Nobody’s going to check parenting and plagiarism. Power to Learn. Available online: http://tinyurl.com/2lghj8
4. Software cracking. (2008, January 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:41. http://tinyurl.com/37hzpd
5. Pitterman, C. (Retrieved January 24, 2008). When your writing isn’t your own: Get the lowdown with answers to commonly asked questions about. plagiarism. Available online: http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=1604
6. For example, see http://tinyurl.com/2q9vno or http://www.campusdownloading.com/legal.htm