On Cheating.

My friend (and boss) Patrick Larkin has been writing a lot on the topic of cheating in classrooms- and how we respond and treat such circumstances. I thought I’d offer my thoughts.

Patrick quoted George Couros in saying that if a student can answer a test question with a simple Google search, it’s not a very good question. I have to agree. In fact, I’d go a bit further, and suggest that we might begin to think about allowing Google searches and structuring the test with that taken into account. It’s an interesting idea, but not really what I want to talk about here.

Cheating is a cultural problem. Our emphasis above all things of getting the “right” answer contributes to this. Our stress on regurgitation of fact encourages this. Our artificial stress on students completing tests in absolute isolation (and at odds to the way the rest of the world functions) rewards this. We need to think about changing that culture.

As educators, we have to set a better example ourselves. We need to cite the work of others we use. We need to note where the image we took from a Google search came from. We need to cite where the article we photocopied was published. We need to credit who made the activity we adapted. We need to make it the standard operating procedure to cite work that is not ours in all venues- and we need to do this in all grade levels. In doing this, we might be able to create a culture where open citation of work and influences is the norm. We might begin to cause change.

We must think first about what we are trying to teach. Traditionally, when data was scarce and static, we distributed information. We built schools and tests to measure how much information students could accurately regurgitate. This, I would argue, should no longer be the case. We should be teaching students how to analyze.

This is a good thing on two levels: we are imparting a much more powerful and versatile set of skills AND we’re able to build assessments that are un-cheatable. If we build a test that looks at a student’s ability to analyse and explain that analysis, we are free from a cheatable set of facts.

Above all, we must to a better job with our education of the nature of cheating. We cannot hold students responsible with an ever-harsher set of punishments and expect real change. It has been long established that longer prison sentences don’t dissuade people from committing crimes. We create a dynamic of adversary and punishment which precludes learning.