Gadget Show Sony
Gadget Show Sony

WASHINGTON - Cheating on exams is not new. What is new is how students are doing it — they’re not writing answers on their hand anymore. Smart technology has transformed cheating, and stopping it requires smart, comprehensive solutions.

Smart cheating

High-tech devices are everywhere. Technology and social media expert Nile Nickel says that’s one of the major reasons teenagers are cheating with portable technology.

“When you look at a recent Pew survey, you find that 98 percent of the teenagers have mobile phones. That’s up from 33 percent just in 2011. So it’s available and easy to use. If I don’t get caught and everyone else is doing it, guess what? They do it as well.”

The problem can seem overwhelming.

“Just take the cellphone or even the programmable calculators, there are so much information that can be stored on these devices,” he said. “We also have things like Google Glass as well as smart contact lenses that have the ability to capture video and transmit it to a remote site and with things like smartwatches where they could now look at their wristwatch basically for answers to a question.”

FILE - A woman shows a prototype of the Mota Smart
FILE - A woman shows a prototype of the Mota Smart Ring at the consumer electronic fair IFA in Berlin, Germany, Sept. 5, 2014. The smart ring is designed to notify users about incoming messages and phone calls, something, experts say, can be used to cheat on exams.


Earlier this year, he said, several Thai students were caught using that technique to cheat on entrance exams to a top medical school. 

“So what they were doing was they were looking at the test with their glasses on,” he said. “It was capturing the exam questions, transmitting them to some associates they have outside the classroom. And they were getting the answers to the questions on their smartwatch. That obviously created a big problem especially when you think about medical students and what they’re tested for.”

Other high-tech devices that facilitate cheating include a watch that appears to display nothing, but when you wear special glasses sold with the watch, the screen becomes visible and you can see any uploaded content.

“You’ve also had Bluetooth devices,” Nickel said. “They’re using some super high-frequency ring tones on their phones that only young people could hear. In fact, if you’re much over the age of 30, or 35, you can’t hear it. So they are able to answer their phone where nobody knows they are answering a phone. And they’re not talking, they are just getting the answers in their ear.”

Why cheat?

Cheating is a symptom of a bigger problem in education, said Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford University and co-founder of Challenge Success, an organization that works with schools and families to improve student well-being and engagement with learning.

“It’s not the kids you would think will normally cheat,” she explained. “These are kids who are doing well in school, and they’re still cheating because they need to keep up their grades. They feel the pressure to maintain a really high grade point average. So a lot of the kids would say (there is) too much work to be done and there is not enough time to do it. Some of the kids would say they have to do that because everybody is cheating and if they don’t cheat, it’s actually like you’re being punished for not cheating!”

To combat cheating in the age of smart technology, educational institutions are coming up with innovative strategies, from banning devices from testing rooms to screening for radio signals. But Pope says improving the learning and testing process can be more effective.

“Instead of trying to chase the problem, to get in front of it,” Pope said. “What I mean by that is to create assignments where it’s almost impossible to cheat. I’ll give you some examples: asking kids to turn in the multiple drafts of their essays or their projects. So that you can know that this is their own homework and you can give them feedback.”

This is not just a way to stop cheating, Pope said, it’s a better way to teach. 

Teachers also can stop cheating if they change the way they test their students.

“When it comes to tests and assessment, it’s much more difficult to cheat on what we call constructed response assessment where you actually writing the response as oppose to circling or filling in, which is much, much easier to cheat and you have no idea if the kids did it on their own or guessed or copied from a neighbor.”

Inviting teachers, students and their parents to openly talk about the problem can be part of the solution. Pope said engaging students and emphasizing a high standard for honesty also can help prevent cheating.