Candid Cheating with the Camera Phone?

I was looking at a meaty post by fellow Georgian Jeff Giddens at SEGA Tech entitled, “No Internet for You.”

In this post he says:

Professors at Bentley College are able to use what is called a “classroom network control system” as an internet kill-switch. Instructors can, without a lot of fuss, bring Ethernet and WiFi service to a screeching halt.

I was thinking about a discussion that I had with some recent college students about current forms of dishonesty on college campuses. I do understand that there are “kill switches” for cell phone signals as well. (I read a recent article on how China is scrambling cell phone transmissions to curb cheating on entrance exams.)

I am not sure that Internet access is the majority of the problem.

Candid Cheating on the Camera Phone!

From what I'm told the biggest problem is that students literally use their cell phone to take photographs of the most important pages of their books or a rewritten copy of their notes. Then, during the test, they just have the pages on the LCD of their cell phone out on their desk. They are not learning anything but simply regurgitate what they see on the screen.

This is where I think two things become very important: authentic assessment and honor codes.

How does Authentic Assessment figure in?

In my recent post about Virtual Schooling, I stated my concern about parents doing the work for students. Michael Barbour, an advocate for virtual schooling in my home state of Georgia, had some interesting things to say after he researched my concern about such well meaning parents. Here was Michael's well thought out response which has, quite honestly, changed my opinion on virtual high schools:

The reason I'm not as concerned about this as a used to be is because of the movement by virtual schools towards these more authentic forms of assessment. The use of these kinds of assessments is a move away from the discrete knowledge that is required by the standardized multiple-guess tests that are so popular with conservatives these days. Students will still do well on these multiple-guess items, because they know and understand the material well – they have to in order to perform well on these authentic assessments. But it fosters a movement away from teaching to the test – which is always much easier for a parent to complete anyway.

My experience with authentic assessments

Our school has moved more towards authentic assessments. We still test and all of our tests are cumulative, but we've moved away from the more formal “exams” to authentic end of semester assessments that require students to display knowledge that they have. (You can see our 8th grade portfolio, 9th grade portfolio, Computer Science portfolio on the Westwood wiki.)

These assessments required that students actually knew the material and understood things much better than the 200 question semester exam I used to give. From a college (Georgia Tech) that tested heavily when I was there, I moved in this direction “kicking and screaming” but now that I'm there I believe the results are much better than the exam model of assessment.

The point is, with authentic assessment, it does not matter that they have a copy of the material, if the student does not have the material in the brain, they will do poorly on an authentic assessment. We are trying to TEACH, aren't we!

AS I hear David Warlick speak, I always see his emphasis on moving away from industrial age thinking. I think rote memorization is a holdover from those days. We need thinkers now!

Secondly, we need to resurrect honor codes.

My students in National Honor Society get no warnings. If they are caught cheating, they are out. My and the administration's enforcement of this policy has done a lot to help the problem of academic dishonesty. (C students do not usually want to cheat off of another C student's paper so hitting the “top of the academic food chain” helps significantly!)

It is important that students are taught the importance of honesty both at the secondary and post secondary school levels. In a July 2003 article about a Josephson Institute of Ethics survey of youths found:

In a survey of 12,000 high school students across America, 74 percent admitted they cheated on an exam at least once in the past year, and 38 percent said they had stolen something from a store in the past 12 months…

In a recent May 2006 article about final exams in college, the Guerilla News Network reported:

At Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, N.J., students must clear their calculatorsÂ’ memory and sometimes relinquish their cellphones before tests. At Brigham Young University, exams are given in a testing center, where electronic devices are generally banned.

In some classes at Butler University in Indianapolis, professors use software that allows them to observe the programs running on computers students are taking tests on. And some institutions even install cameras in rooms where tests are administered.

What are we missing here?

We're paying for kill switches, security cameras, aplagiarismism checkers ( to keep students honest! How about kids just being honest?

Internal self-control and self-respect is the greatest form of cheating prevention that I can imagine! I am not perfect but I will say that I recall the one time I cheated on a test (about 5th grade). I looked at a spelling word on another child's paper, not really on purpose. The guilt that racked me and tore me up was enough to prevent me from wanting to ever do that again. My parents always said they would rather have an honest F than a “cheatin'” A.

Now, when I catch children cheating, sometimes the parents make excuses! It is my job to 100% hold them accountable to our school's honor code. Cheating, when caught is punished! If you cheat, you get a zero with no opportunity to redo the work.

Others say that it is not fair that only those who get caught get punished. Well, that is life. They say that we could never wipe out cheating. Well, we can never wipe out robbery, is that an excuse to stop locking up those who steal? It is the risk of being caught and being punished that is a deterrent for many good kids. If there is no punishment, there is certainly no deterrent (except an internal one.)

Is it a prison or a classroom?

The monitoring behavior that is being exerted during exams at the high school and college level seems more along the lines of what would be meted out to prisoners, not students! What has happened?

Why authentic assessment and honor codes are so important

Would you want to go to a doctor who cheated on his anatomy exam or a druggist who looked at his cell cam on his Pharmacology final?

The case for authentic assessment and academic honesty goes to the very roots of our society as a whole. We must make sure that purveyors of knowledge actually have the knowledge to purvey. We must know that those who come out of the education system have learned something. We must have the honesty to make contracts, take vows, and keep our word.

The importance of being a person of your word

Every banker I know in our small town says they loan money on character more than a credit report. This is because they know if a person with character has a bad year farming and has no crop, that they will work until the debt is paid off. A man or woman without character will file bankruptcy and default on the loan. “A good name is to be more valued than great riches,” is the quote I have hanging beside my bed. It is the first thing I see in the morning. I teach it to my children. I want them to know that our word is important and we keep our word to the best of our ability.

In Conclusion

We will have many more Enron issues to come if we cannot learn how to instill honesty in our students and actually assess that they have learned the topic at hand. This is a fundamental problem that is not going to go away. Behind the dishonest wranglings of Enron executives were many people who were hurt terribly and will suffer poverty during their elder years when they should have enjoyed retirement! Many are returning to work when they could have been traveling the world.

It is a mistake to think that no one is hurt when cheating happens. A life pattern is established that will ultimately hurt someone, or many people as in the case of Enron.

Authentic assessment and honor codes are very important, in my opinion.

How are you authentically assessing knowledge? Does your school have a consistently enforced honor code?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Roger June 6, 2006 - 10:32 pm

Hi Vicki – great blog.

I agree with your thoughts on Authentic Assessment – and I also think Authentic Learning is just as important.

If learning and assessment are meaningful to students then perhaps we will see more integrity and honesty from students because as educators we will be modelling authenticity, integrity and honesty.

I suspect for many students learning and assessment processes are seen as a third-rate game to be played out – not meaningful, not engaging and therefore not worthy of honesty and integrity.

I believe students stick to value systems when they value the system within which they apply them.

Students can see through artificial learning and assessment processes that themselves fall short of the values they espouse…

PS An aside on camera use… I wonder how educators think they can control students who have photographic memories? :-)

David Warlick June 7, 2006 - 9:49 am

I agree with Roger, this was a great post, Vicki. I agree whole-heartedly that the solution is not in the technology. We can’t geek honest and reliable assessment from our students. It’s just a challenge to them. It’s like Internet filtering. The better our blocking becomes, the more resourceful they become at getting past it. Eventually, all we’ve done is bricked up our classrooms — again.

Assessment is the same way. If we continue to treat assessment as a laboratory endeavor, then all we’re doing is teaching students to act like lab rats. Assessment has to be real world observation. We have a unique opportunity today to remove classrooms walls as a barrier between learners and the world they’re learning about.

Finally, I also agree with your call to instill honesty in our students. This was the reason that I included ethics as one of the four components of contemporary literacy. Information has become so important to our endeavors and even our survival and prosperity, that the honest, respectful, and protective use of information must become as critical as a literacy skill as the ability to decode text on a piece of paper.

Here is a link to an Student & Teacher Code of Information Ethics. It is an MSWord file so that educators can tweak the document for grade level and even turn it into a contract.

Again, great post, my friend.

T Fitzgerald June 7, 2006 - 12:13 pm


It is great to see that even as we are finishing school calendars all over country you are still blogging with passion. I just found your blog through David Warlick’s post and I think it terrific.

I agree with your take on Authentic Assesment whole heartedly. I feel in the age of standardized testing and NCLB we have lost sight of our original purpose as educators. Regurgitating facts is no proof of knowledge gained. Practical application of a class worth of knowledge should be our mission.

Part of the problem with the students is that they have been programmed to learn to the test. Cheating is a by product of the learning not having any meaning for them.

I really believe that the educational system as a whole needs to focus on real solutions and strategies to prepare our students for the world. Scores and measures of accountability has become a way of life for our whole country. This needs real change and blogs like yours get the ball moving.

Blogger January 18, 2008 - 3:50 am

I think the students cheating isn’t as big as an issue as teachers cheating. The system needs something totally new. Here’s an article from I just read. Check it out:

Renee January 21, 2008 - 1:41 am

I just read an article about children cheating as well that was intriguing at talking about children cheating more now than ever before. It is really informative so check it out!

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