By Ashley Koo
Almost all of us can admit to it. At some point or another, we have sat down at a computer at ten o’clock at night, trying to figure out how to write the essay that we swore a week ago we wouldn’t put off. Yet we find ourselves in front of a blank Word document, praying for time and willing the words to magically appear on the screen. When this doesn’t work—which is 99% of the time—we turn to SparkNotes, Wikipedia, or any resource we can get our hands on. This act in itself seems innocent: utilizing all potential resources to develop a great essay. But what if you had taken one step further to copy and paste a segment of an article without citation? What if you had taken an idea from a website and claimed it as your own? These questions lead us to realize that technology has greatly impacted our academic integrity. Technology has made information more accessible—at a cost. It has transformed the methods by which we cheat, the ways in which we progress, and our perception of cheating as a whole.
The advancement of smartphones, tablets, and laptops has broadened the ways by which students can cheat, therefore making it more prevalent. Traditionally, the methods of cheating were fairly limited—scribbling notes on your arm or wrist or hiding your notes under the desk. But with information accessible by typing a few keywords into a search engine, students are finding it easier than ever to cheat their way to an “easy A.” It’s just too easy to store notes on a cell phone or calculator, send text messages with questions, answers, or pop quiz warnings, look up answers on the Internet, or use a cell phone camera to take pictures of the test. Most of these tactics were non-existent 10 years ago when young students did not so readily use technology. A 2014 Pew Internet survey found that 78 percent of teenagers have mobile phones, which has risen from just 23 percent in 2011. It doesn’t seem coincidental that cheating rates have followed this upward trend. The Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics survey of 43,000 high school students found that 59 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test during the last year, and one out of three students admitted to using the Internet to plagiarize an assignment. This rapid transition into a technological era has made it difficult for students to distinguish between supplementing and cheating.
This perpetuation of cheating habits distorts students’ perceptions of their own work. With a few taps on a keyboard, thousands of resources are available. This knowledge, which can be so conveniently accessed, could potentially produce a generation of scholars. However, it has also produced a generation of cheaters—albeit sometimes unknowing ones. It has become increasingly difficult for students to recognize violations of academic integrity. In a national poll of high school students by Common Sense Media, 23% of respondents who admitted to cheating said they didn’t think storing notes on a cell phone was cheating, and 20% said there was nothing wrong with texting friends about answers during a test. Clearly, the line defining academic integrity is not so clear-cut for most students.
Our learning habits gradually form from the technology that we utilize on a daily basis. Using an online textbook, Wikipedia, or Sparknotes regularly creates a routine that becomes ingrained in our habits. In this same sense, adapting to a practice of technological cheating can lead to a lifetime of academic failure, occupational incompetence, and corrupt morals. Although plagiarizing in high school is an inexcusable offense, plagiarizing in college is treated much more severely, with suspension or even expulsion. Furthermore, cheating in college means that the information needed to be secured for a future job was not retained. In the long-term, those who are academically dishonest in college may not effectively carry out their future jobs.
Though cheating can negatively impact us externally, it may be more detrimental to us internally. Personal morals become twisted in the process of cheating. By rationalizing cheating habits, people become more prone to dishonesty, academic or otherwise, accepting it as their daily routine. At first, there is a guilty conscience, but after detrimental repetition, the act of cheating somehow becomes “normal.” This destructive habit-building can become even more infectious as students who see their peers cheat become inclined to follow suit. Even those who believe cheating to be morally unjust may feel tempted to cheat because they want to keep up with the cheaters who unfairly get an “advantage” over the non-cheaters.
Technology is inevitably transforming the academic lives of students. It is broadening the methods of cheating, hindering our progress, and redefining our perceptions. Whether or not we recognize and adjust to these changes is purely personal; however, in all circumstances, cheating is not and will never be acceptable.