High-Tech Cheating

High-Tech-CheatingIt should go without saying that as technology has advanced, so has the use of such technology for less than noble purposes. In education, cheating by students now routinely involves the use of some type of technology. As Waters (2013) wrote, “More students than ever are using information technology in ways that break the rules of academic integrity.” The practice is known as “high-tech cheating” and it has been described “variously as a trend, an epidemic, and a plague” (Waters, 2013).

As Rochman (2012) reported, “more than 1 in 10 kids between the ages of 6 to 10 already have their very own cell” and the average age at which most children have personal access to such technology is age 12 (Rochman, 2012). In addition to the proliferation of technology, there is growing access to and use of social media tools by students. Such an environment is causing increasing confusion among some students as to the appropriate use of technology in their school assignments and academic pursuits (Rochman, 2012).

For example, as Lang (2012) noted, the traditional definitions of plagiarism are “confusing to students who must abandon their normal habits of Facebook sharing or re-Tweeting in order to conform to the complex rules of scholarly citation.” Furthermore, a growing number of students don’t even recognize they’re cheating because they so frequently use social media and other tools and resources to collaborate with fellow students (Waters, 2013).

As Waters (2013) wrote, “They swarm over shared Google Docs, interact on assignment-related Facebook pages, and coordinate team efforts via text message. For digital natives, some have argued, sharing information is so natural and so often encouraged that lines that were once so bright and clear are blurring.”

Nowhere is the issue of high-tech cheating more of a concern than in online education. Operating outside the traditional confines of a classroom, online education raises specific concerns regarding verification of student work and testing. At MIT, they are utilizing electronic fingerprinting, employing facial recognition technology and developing programs to specifically identify and verify student’s writing styles (Young, 2012).

As Young (2012) reported, some colleges and universities are “using products such as the Securexam Remote Proctor, which both scans fingerprints and captures a 360-degree view around students, and Kryterion’s Webassessor, which lets human proctors watch students remotely on Web cameras and listen to their keystrokes.”

Despite such concern over high-tech cheating, there was actually very little attention given to this issue during the drafting of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. As Kolowich (2013) reported, “Federal official specifically avoided detailing proctoring requirements for online education and instead chose a minimum standard for compliance—a secure login and password—that has left online programs largely to their own devices.”

Some educators, however, are not concerned with this lack of oversight by regulators and instead suggest that the best way to curb high-tech cheating is to improve the overall quality of coursework and curriculum. As Lang (2013) stated, “Poorly designed assignments, like poorly designed classes, will engender dishonest work in any environment, from traditional to online.” As such, many educators today advocate efforts that encourage active engagement of students in the classroom, promote more creative teaching approaches and call for increased efforts to inspire students to focus on mastery of subject matter not simply academic performance (Lang, 2013).

While efforts will undoubtedly continue to address high-tech cheating, the reality is that ever-changing technology and the nature of students in general may make eliminating such cheating impossible. As Lang (2013) proclaimed, “We’ll always have some small degree of cheating; that’s just human.”


Waters, J. (September 9, 2013). From Texting to Plagiarism, How to Stop High-Tech Cheating. The Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/09/02/from-texting-to-plagiarism-how-to-stop-high-tech-cheating.aspx

Rochman, B. (August 20, 2012). What’s the Right Age to Give Your Kid a Cell Phone? TIME Magazine. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/20/whats-the-right-age-to-give-your-kid-a-cell-phone/

Lang, J. (2012). Why the hottest trend in online education already has a cheating problem. The Daily Dot. Retrieved from http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/lang-MOOC-cheating-online-education

Young, J. (June 3, 2012). Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Cheating-Goes-High-Tech/132093

Kolowich, S. (April 15, 2013). Behind the Webcam’s Watchful Eye, Online Proctoring Takes Hold. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Behind-the-Webcams-Watchful/138505/


8 thoughts on “High-Tech Cheating

  1. moirawalsh says:

    It’s true that cheating has always gone on. Students hide notes in the palms of their hands; girls leave open purses on their laps; students text each other via cells in pockets; and they sometimes try the open-note- on-the-floor trick. It’s no wonder that web assessment would mirror onsite assessment.

    Somehow, it seems much healthier to promote active engagement as opposed to all of these detective-like programs to catch non-ethical assessment-takers. Being observed by a web cam while taking a test is insulting.

    To rectify the problem, I really like Lang’s (2012) suggestions of mastery of subject, creative assessments, and interactive engagement. All of this would be accomplished by more creative responses to material, such as performance assessment (a project). I think that the field of education is going to have to meet these issues head-on by creating assessments which show mastery as well as originality.


    Lang, J. (2012). Why the hottest trend in online education already has a cheating problem. The Daily Dot. Retrieved from http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/lang-MOOC-cheating-online-education

  2. Denise Butts says:

    As an educational leader, blatant and intentional cheating in any form is both an ethical and moral issue. From my many years of experience, students know when they are cheating which is why so much thought is given to clever and elaborate schemes to hide, elude and conceal. I am not convinced that students are innocently using devices to share academic information. For me, that is too much of a leap. However, personal cell phones and technological devices not deemed necessary for academic purpose are posing major safety and security issues in schools.

    Currently, my secondary program (grades 6-12) prohibited the use of cell phones or technological devices during instructional hours. Students must store all technological devices in their secured combination lockers. Even with these measures in place, students violate our school’s technology usage policy quite often.

    Cheating is cheating and this is where I support a zero tolerance approach in schools. Does research show a rise in cheating and cheating scandals in schools with the advancement in technology?


    • jvap2013 says:

      Sadly, Denise, some research does indicate an increase in cheating.

      In fact, cheating is not only on the rise – but also at some of our nation’s top schools such as Harvard University and The U.S. Air Force Academy (Perez-Pena, 2012). As Perez-Pena (2012) reported, “Cheating has become easier and more widely tolerated, and both schools and parents have failed to give students strong, repetitive messages about what is allowed and what is prohibited.”

      Additionally, a study conducted by Roberts and Wasieleski at Duquesne University “found that the more online tools college students were allowed to use to complete an assignment, the more likely they were to copy the work of others” (Perez-Pena, 2012).

      More communication on what is appropriate and what is not must take place – both at home and at school, in my opinion. And your school’s policy of prohibiting the use of cellphones and PDA’s from the classroom will certainly send a clear message that high-tech cheating is not tolerated.


      Perez-Pena, R. (September 12, 2012). Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/education/studies-show-more-students-cheat-even-high-achievers.html?_r=2&.

      • “…And your school’s policy of prohibiting the use of cellphones and PDA’s from the classroom will certainly send a clear message that high-tech cheating is not tolerated.”

        Or send the message your program is behind the times. I am not for a total ban, but rather designated times when mobile is allowed and when it is not (…not unlike in earlier times when I had laptop open / laptop closed time periods in my class…). My Spring 2014 syllabus contains the following statement:

        Laptops / Smartphones in the Classroom: We encourage the meaningful use of laptops and smartphones to support learning. If you have a laptop / smartphone you may use it during class to support activities directly related to learning in the course. Computing activities not directly related to learning in the course are discouraged during class time.

  3. arizona126 says:

    I concur with my colleagues that cheating has been occurring for years and will likely continue in new and innovative ways as technology use continues to grow. It is interesting that proctors are using technology such as the proctors’ use of webcams to fight against inappropriate use of technology in test-taking… I agree that the best thing for schools to do is to lock the cell phones and other devices up during class and to revert back to the “old ways” of test-taking. If the students are anything like me, they are likely to go into phone withdrawal, but I think that is something everyone needs to experience every once in a while!

  4. Your opening comment – “It should go without saying that as technology has advanced, so has the use of such technology for less than noble purposes” – reminded me of a recent talk in which the author noted that after the invention of the printing press, the first published scientific journal occurred 150 years after the first published erotic novels.

    I too prefer the idea over engaging assessments rather than policing against cheating. After a Masters level course in which students solved real problems in the community, our students noted that they had never worked so hard for a course…and yet totally forgot it was for a grade. They became invested in solving the problems.

  5. …a follow-up, at the SLOAN conference a few weeks ago, there were quite a few vendors who were selling solutions to the cheating problem. Not sure they were actually “solutions”, but a lot of people are looking to cash in on the problem.

    • After reading many of the posts this week, I believe I have found some trends. While policies create systems and environmental change to promoting ethical behavior, it is the education and more direct promotion of behavior change that may have a bigger impact. We all want the immediate fix as seen in the “solutions” being sold. What needs to happen more often is a dialogue where critical thinking is involved, solutions are worked out in a democratic process, and ethics are promoted.

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