There was a report on the local news here yesterday about students using their mobile phones to cheat in school. My first reaction was, yeah, duh. Kids have been cheating in school since the beginning of time. The tools they use to cheat isn’t all that interesting. Whether it’s writing answers on the palm of their hand, filling a graphic calculator with programs to automatically perform physics equations, using Google on their iPhone to check Wikipedia, or simply whispering to the kid behind them, students cheat. Not exactly breaking news there.
The report centered around a 19-year-old college student who said, yeah, I cheat all the time using my phone, no big deal. If the teacher doesn’t catch me, who cares? I’m just one kid in a city of millions trying to get a slightly higher grade on a test.
Another student said something along the lines of, well, people lie and cheat all the time, so why can’t I? Athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, big corporations cook the books and reside in offshore tax havens, banks make loans to people they know will never be able pay back, etc. There’s next to no honesty in any sector of life, so why shouldn’t I try to take every advantage possible?
The beauty of the report is, if there were any students who didn’t think of running to Google during a history test (which I would find hard to believe), now they know. “Oh, so that’s who was the Union commander during the Battle of Antietam. Thanks, Internet!”
There’s a few ways to beat mobile phone cheating. One is simply to ban phones from the classroom. Will there be a few people who sneak them in? Yes, of course, but if the majority abide by the ban, then the minority who ignore the ban will be easier to catch. You could also, say, buy (or build, I suppose) a cell phone jammer. They’re not hard to find, only cost a few hundred dollars, and would prevent the use of mobile Internet access. (Cell phone jamming may actually be illegal, so best to check on your local laws and such if you don’t want The Man on your case.)
In conclusion: cheating students will cheat, whether with a phone or with a scrap of paper. You can either ask students to be honest (but why should they?) or enclose your classroom inside a Faraday Cage. Or you can just resign yourself to the reality of the situation…