Cheater, cheater: How does technology play a role?


In this March 12, 1999 file photograph, a student fills in his answer to the practice test question for a standardized test, in Roswell, Georgia. (Anitta C. Charlson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)

Payton Moore

John, a sophomore business management major at Kent State whose name has been omitted to protect his identity, at Kent State, admits he’s cheated in nearly every class he’s taken.

It starts with enrollment; John makes sure he’s either taking an online class where he can use search engines for answers, or a traditional class one of his friends has taken before. John admits he’s bribed friends with money and even favors to have them take tests and write essays for him. And in the worst cases, John doesn’t have a problem looking off of student’s scantrons for some quick answers. 

One might say John’s success at Kent State is essentially credited to everyone but him: a student who switched seats with him in class so he could have the same test as the other people in his row, websites that offer tips and tricks on how to cheat in proctored exams and finally his friends who will take $5 for a semester’s worth of notes. 

However, technology seems to be complicating things for many students, rather than making things easier because when it comes to cheating and plagiarizing off the Internet, is the inaccuracy.

“Technology is wrong sometimes,” John said. “If I have to write a full paragraph, I might Google something, but I’ll have read up on it before class.” 

It’s inaccuracies like these that can get students in serious trouble.

At Kent State, cheating and plagiarizing is not a light topic – even if a student accidentally incorrectly cites something, instructors are able to send said students off to Plagiarism School.

No, Plagiarism School isn’t a mysterious building you’ve never seen before – it’s a hypothetical school, a one-on-one session between students and an instructor, provided by the library to reeducate the student on plagiarism. Students discuss how the problem happened, study pieces of plagiarism and do a bit of homework on a plagiarized piece they will correct.

The Plagiarism School was implemented in an effort to give students a chance to, in a way, redeem themselves from their lazy mistakes.

Michael Hawkins, a representative from Kent State’s library, says many of the students who come through the Plagiarism School use technology in a careless manner.

“A lot of technologies that students use to plagiarize are also used to get them caught,” Hawkins said. “Things like Google, Wikis, and other online search engines do make it easier for a student to plagiarize, however, it also makes it just as easy for the professor to discover the plagiarism.”

Hawkins said roughly 30 students come through the school every semester – with the exception of last semester, where some whole classes were sent through the school for plagiarizing, totaling around 80 students.

Plagiarizing can be intentional or just from not budgeting enough time to check over citations and bibliographies. Hawkins recommends staying organized and working ahead of time to make sure students avoid a horrible mistake.

“Taking careful notes and allowing yourself time to proofread are of two of the easiest ways to prevent (plagiarism) from happening,” Hawkins said. 

With an insurmountable pool of information on the Internet, it is possible a student could be plagiarizing without even knowing it. And here’s where technology really complicates it all – websites such as TurnItIn or iThenticate, can pick up on chunks from a paper submitted through the website that have matched outside material, making a student eligible for plagiarism.

In worst cases, students face expulsion for plagiarizing, and cheating is no different.

Cases of cheating in many classrooms often result in the student receiving a zero as a grade on the given piece, and if caught again, fail the course. Some instructors have a no-tolerance policy and will automatically fail students for peeking. However, to J, cheating comes as a no brainer – very literally.

“I cheat because I can… I’ve gone above and beyond to cheat before,” John said. “I’ve probably put more work into cheating than to study, and it’s not always easy, but a lot of the time it is.” 

Students are given online homework, whether it be assignments, projects or quizzes, to turn in to Blackboard Learn – and Blackboard has no way of determining if the turned in assignment is a little too similar to other students. It’s nearly impossible to determine cheating in cases of online quizzes, where the answer is either correct or incorrect.

Student-athlete academic advisor Angie Hull said it’s here where things get complicated in academic honesty.

“Online classes in general create a problem for students. There’s that temptation there… I have a hesitation with online classes because I don’t think you can prove what student did what work, or that you didn’t work with another student on that. In class assignments are proctored, it’s easier to tell who’s doing what,” Hull said.

Hull works with student-athletes in all forms of academics – whether they need a tutor, scheduling assistance or have an academic dispute. In this case, Hull also works as a mediator for student athletes and academic dishonesty advisors at Kent State.

On the other hand, some developing technology has made it harder for students to cheat in take home exams. Even John refrained from speaking about website ProctorU because he was afraid more teachers would be interested in the website, and thus implement exams through the program.

Websites like ProctorU provide a real-life person to watch over a student during an exam and have risen to popularity at Kent State.

ProctorU is a human proctored program that students take an exam through – while someone on the other end watches you. These proctors are not average college students. Going through a minimum of two weeks’ training to learn the language of cheaters, proctors watch through webcams and screen-sharing software to see what students are really doing during online exams – and can document an offense for cheating to your instructor for suspicious behavior.

ProctorU has foiled many students like John’s first thoughts about how to cheat on an exam:

  1. The company requires your picture ID upon the start of taking your test. Your proctor will also ask questions only you will know – so no one can sit in and take a test for you.
  2. The company requires you to use a CD or DVD to reflect what’s behind you – sometimes a 360 degree scan of the room you’re in.
  3. The company uses screen-sharing technology to make sure you’ve got all browsers and Word Docs closed out for the test.

Closely mimicking the classroom experience is what ProctorU strives to achieve. Making it harder for students to cheat is an added benefit.

“Our live proctors are able to see the student through a webcam, are able to see what they are doing through screen-sharing software and know that they have the correct student,” Franklin Hayes, a media services manager from ProctorU said. “This approach is designed to mirror the experience students would have in a classroom with someone at the front of the room making sure the student is who they say they are and are submitting their own work.”       

It’s websites that take the extra step to solidify academic honesty that make advisors more comfortable, and students a little less excited. 

“If teachers read this they’re gonna start using ProctorU because it is harder to cheat,” John said. “I honestly want to use reverse psychology here and say it’s easier to use it so teachers steer away from ProctorU.”

According to their privacy policy, proctors only view the student and their computer screen after being granted permission, during the exam or during identity authentication. Once the session is closed, the proctor can no longer watch students or access their computers.

Technology has redefined our lives in all aspects – a phrase most of us are tired of hearing. The way people carry out their days revolves around cell phones, computers and services. Staying honest, even with these added benefits, is a task the majority of students have no problem doing. Except for John.

“I’ll keep cheating because I have gotten away with it for so long. I think if I got caught I would tone it down, but now with so many tests online it’s just easier to cheat and look up answers or have help.”

Contact Payton Moore at [email protected].