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A brief look at how students can use technology to cheat.
How Students Use Tech to Cheat
Copyright 2020 By Edwin W. Smith


Students have been cheating as long as there have been schools. I’ve probably written down a formula or two on my lower leg and pretending I had a scratch on my leg while quickly glancing at some chemistry or math formula since those were not my favorite subjects. That sounds so archaic and old school, doesn’t it? Oh, how times have changed.

I’ve been involved in various aspects of technology for a long time and as an occasional freelance writer, thought it might be interesting to research and write an article on how students are using tech these days to cheat, and how (un)aware many teachers are as to what is going on in their own classroom. Obviously, cheating is not unique to high school students. Some of you may recall cheating scandals at the Air Force Academy and Harvard University in the not too distance past.

First a few basic statistics that should come as no surprise. A recent Pew study found that 98% of teenagers have cell phones. Depending on which statistics you go by, 70 to 86% of high school students have cheated at least once, and 64% admitted to having cheated on a test in the last year. And I’m not even going to touch on more sophisticated students having hacked into a teachers’ computer or district computers to change letter grades that we hear about from time to time. Perhaps blockchain technology will prevent such occurrences in the future.

I believe it’s widely accepted that students are generally much more tech-savvy than their teachers, or are at least more up on the latest platforms, technologies and hacks that overworked teachers simply don’t have the time to get on top of. I could cite a few examples where the students not only outsmarted their teachers, but the district’s IT staff as well, but that probably has minimal value and would only open old wounds.

Before I get into some technology-specific cheating, I ran across the interesting concept of “unintentional cheating” primarily as related to plagiarism. It was suggested that some students who are using research tools they may not have used before, or have had little or no exposure to, may not even be aware that they’re cheating. Sure, they probably should have known it was cheating, and ignorance is never a good defense, but not every student is that sophisticated. A few examples of this might be:

• Rewording a sample essay off the Internet.
• Copy and pasting verbiage from the Internet without citing it.
• Keeping definitions or formulae in a cell phone, calculator or smartwatch.
• Recording lectures and listening to them during an exam.

But let’s get to how students are using tech for academic cheating. There is no question that students will always figure out creative ways to share information using the latest technologies. Sharing answers or information during a test is definitely not a problem these days, and students don’t even need the phone number of fellow classmates as long as a group of students agree to turn on the AirDrop feature on their iPhones in advance or know how to use NFC (Near Field Communication), a similar wireless technology. Yes, I understand some teachers will collect student cell phones during a test, but there are smart watches and other wearable devices that can be used for nefarious purposes. The Apple Watch is a prime example of one of the most popular cheating tools.

I read about one student who said he brought two cell phones to class, one to turn into his teacher who collected cell phones and one to use during his test.

What is somewhat scary to think about is where Google Glass technology and smart contact lenses may be headed in the future. Will Internet-connected glasses and contact lenses have built-in cameras, able to transmit images to a remote site, and mini screens to view return data? Smart students will jump all over such technology. The implications are enormous.

Students have also discovered that exchanging one of their Apple AirPods with another person allows them to communicate by entering a short message into a text-to-speech app, allowing the other student to listen to that message. Actually, the concept of sharing one’s AirPods with another person was first suggested in an advertisement by none other than Apple to show how two people could dance to the same musical tune.

When it comes to term papers and reports, buying term papers isn’t as popular as it used to be in the past. These days, auto-summarizing tools and services appear to be all the rage. They score the significance or importance of almost every sentence in a story or article so a student can quickly and easily become familiar with the salient points for study or use the prioritized concepts to write an accurate paper or report. With almost everything moving to the cloud, filesharing and online collaboration makes it very easy for several students to take turns rewriting the same basic paper to give it their personal take or style.

There are several websites that provide a downloadable template to print a crib sheet in the nutrition information portion of a beverage bottle. This assumes, of course, that beverage or water bottles are allowed in class but very few teachers are likely to ban water or beverage bottles.

Have you heard of the Photomath app which is available on both Apple’s App Store and the Android platform? Photomath claims 100,000,000+ downloads and is used to learn and understand fundamental math concepts and can “interpret problems with comprehensive math content from arithmetic to calculus.” Other similar math apps are also available.

Wait, it gets even “better”, if that’s the right word to use. How about HWpic. Also available on both the Android and App Store, HWPic stands for Homework Picture. Their website describes the app as follows: “Simply snap a picture of your question and have a Professional Tutor email you the answer + explanation in a short amount of time.” Their website claims the app can be used for the following subjects: Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy, History, Geography, Political Science, Economics, all levels of Math, and many other subjects. Their website further claims all tutors are graduates from top tier universities.

In a similar vein, websites such as Cymath solves math problems instantly. There’s no need to wait for a tutor to respond. And WolframAlpha also solves math problems instantly online but covers other subjects and topics as well and claims to “Compute expert-level answers using Wolfram’s breakthrough algorithms, knowledgebase and AI technology.”

I would venture to say that what we are seeing now is only the beginning. Students will continue to take advantage of ever-evolving technologies but it is only a matter of time before more tools become available to help teachers detect academic dishonesty.

There you have it. I’ve highlighted some but certainly not all the ways students can cheat and use technology to their advantage. The risk of getting caught cheating is generally fairly low because teachers lack the time or resources to detect academic cheating. Certainly, parents bear the responsibility to instill and talk about the importance of ethics and values with their kids. Technology won’t be going backwards any time soon so we can expect all technologies, from software to devices, to continue to proliferate and stay well ahead of whatever policies school districts currently have in place.

Draft published in May 2020 on writing.com by Edwin W. Smith
edwinwsmith@gmail.com or coachwin@outlook.com

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