Monday, January 16, 2012

Are Students Winning the Latest Battle in the Academic Wars?

            Cheating on tests sure has come a long way. Remember when you had to create a “cheat sheet” that you had to smuggle into the classroom and pull out when the teacher was looking the other way? Or how about the time-honored tradition of writing the answers on your arm? Disney’s character Mulan chose this method; unfortunately, her writing got smudged and her answers were just slightly off – and hilarious. Last, but certainly not least, was positioning yourself next to the smart kid so that you could copy her answers. That method also had its drawbacks; if you sat next to the smart kid who didn’t actually study for the test this time, you could end up copying some bizarre answers. For example, correct answers to the question “List 3 things that Leonardo DaVinci is known for” do not include “being a teenage mutant ninja turtle,” “starring in the movie Titanic,” or “being the first man in space.” Duplicate bizarre answers are a red flag to teachers, who will lol at both the answers and the stupidity of copying a ridiculous answer before giving the papers big fat zeros. Teachers know a lot more about what goes on in their classrooms than students give them credit for.

            Modern cheating works better than the old-fashioned kinds. It is basically an upgrade on the cheat sheet and arm-writing tactics. You see, you had to create your own cheat sheet, and if you didn’t understand the information or you forgot what chapters the test was going to cover, your answers could very well be useless. Bummer, huh? Cell phone cheating more or less eliminates this problem. Unless Wikipedia has erroneous information about Leonardo DaVinci – and how often does that really happen? – you are sure to find stuff about the Mona Lisa, helicopters, writing notes in mirror image, and dozens of other things that Leo is famous for. You still have the problem of doing a web search without your teacher noticing, but at least you’re going to get the right answer. Cool, right?

            Not if you’re a teacher. It’s an escalation of the academic warfare that has been going on since the first time a stone age teacher said, “…and there will be a test on making arrowheads on Friday. Make sure you study, please.” Students have added the equivalent of machine guns to the traditional arsenal of low-tech cheating tools. So what is an educator to do?

            A principal in Austria installed a signal-blocking device at his school during final exams. Cell phones were useless while the block was on, thus ensuring that there was no electronic cheating. Unfortunately, blocking cell signal is illegal in Austria (and in the U.S. in case you American teachers were thinking that this is a fabulous idea). We’ll have to think of something else to discourage our students from high-tech cheating during exams. Come on, teachers, think! We can’t lose the war now!