Although optimal use of technology to improve academic outcomes might be years in the future, in at least one way it is having an impact today. The proliferation of gadgets like smart phones, tablets and Internet information tools like Wikipedia makes cheating easier than ever for students. A recent Ohio University study found that nearly 85% of students admit to cheating at least once by the time they graduate high school, citing the ease of access to information as one motivating factor along with test pressure and increased parental expectation.
"By the time kids get to third grade, school is starting to get a little harder and more is required of them. At that time they may begin to understand what cheating is although they may not really understand the consequences associated with it," said psychotherapist Stephanie Owen of Aurora Healthcare of Fond du Lac.
As the stakes associated with good grades increase, kids tend to become more savvy at academic dishonesty with electronic devices, said Oakfield science teacher Will Manier.
More alarming, such easy access means that students can engage in behavior that meets the traditional definition of cheating while failing to recognize it as such. As an example, Manier sites catching students emailing pictures of filled-out assignments to each other without realizing that doing so meant engaging in academic misconduct.
"Cheating has mutated into something that students don't even associate with cheating. If caught, I've heard the following excuses: we were working together or just checking answers or it's due the next hour. It's gone on so long that students don't even recognize it as cheating or that cheating is wrong."
Still, teachers are not as helpless to catch and prevent cheating as students might think. According to Gretchen Feeney, who teaches high school French in a Waupun Area High School, kids' sense of security when using online homework helpers or even free Internet translation engines is mostly misplaced. She says that she has no problems recognizing when a student used one of those tools to complete their homework and will call out and penalize those who turn in such work. She says she also makes it a requirement that assignments must be handwritten, which makes students further disinclined to resort to technology for assistance.
"It creates less temptation to translate and use your own skills," Feeney said.
This sentiment is echoed by Loni Wendt, who teachers English in the same school. She says that being forced to handwrite reduced temptation for selective cutting and pasting. But to catch those who can't resist, Wendt utilizes their preferred cheating tool against them.
"When students submit essays, we always copy and paste sentences from their submission into an internet search engine and if we come up with sites that have the exact same wording or close to the same wording we will not accept it and the student has to do it over."