Educators want to make sure technology’s rise is not learning’s downfall

Everyone cheats in school: a quick glance at a classmate’s test, copying a friend’s homework, writing answers on your hand.

It seems harmless. But is it?

Technology has changed the way students do homework. Pencils and paper have been replaced by computers. Students rarely complete homework without help from the internet. When it comes to education, technology comes with many positives. But teachers, students, and experts warn of its dangers.

Pros and cons

Technology makes homework more efficient. It’s easier to write and research for assignments. The internet allows students to explore and expand their minds while encouraging independent interests.

J.R. Masterman Spanish teacher Jennifer Gentlesk believes the internet helps more than it hurts. Her students discover information she may not know herself. But Gentlesk believes a teacher should be involved to guide the process. “The Internet is a helpful tool, but has to be used properly.”

J.R. Masterman Spanish teacher Jennifer Gentlesk sees both the positives and negatives of technology as it relates to her students’ work.

Technology can also hinder learning. It’s easy to find sites with homework answers. Plagiarism is also a possibility as is copying questions into Google to find answers.

Some websites offer free complete research papers. J.R. Masterman’s high school dean and history teacher, Elana Solomon, believes students cheat on work when “they do not think it is valuable to their learning.”

Use of technology

Technology is so normalized that some students don’t realize they’re cheating. They believe they’re simply finding help. David E. Pritchard, a physics professor at MIT labels this as “technological detachment phenomenon.” As long as there is technology between the person and the work, the person does not feel they’re cheating.

First Take conducted an anonymous survey with J.R. Masterman students. Eighty percent stated they use the internet as a shortcut to answers. One hundred percent used homework sites and Google. The main reasons students cheat: They are too busy, they feel pressured to get good grades, and they have no idea what the answer is.

Some blame teachers. “I often use the internet when my teacher fails to teach,” one student said.

How teachers feel

Cheating is most obvious when a student’s test doesn’t mirror their perfect homework. Gentlesk reminds students that cheating can only take you so far.

“It will eventually catch up to a point where the student can no longer cheat their way out of a situation.”

Gentlesk believes the solution is open communication. If a student could honestly not figure out an answer and found it online, they should tell the teacher. If the teacher sees perfect homework, they won’t assume the student doesn’t know the material.

Experts say teachers must place more emphasis on honesty and learning than on cheating and grades. Solomon suggests, “Don’t cheat. You often get caught and it isn’t worth it. Take the 0 or ask for more time.”

Changing homework

With technology’s rise, teachers have sought new ways to combat cheating. Students are less likely to cheat when homework contains individualized questions. Engaging and thoughtful work can prevent shortcuts.

Gretchen Brion-Meisels, a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education, says, “We want schools to be interactive in a way that forces students to think and grapple with real problems in real ways. The more we standardize the strategies and formats we’re using to engage young people in learning, the more likely we are to lose them.”

Solomon believes a solution is to create homework that is more essential to learning. She finds students cheat less on projects, research, or class assignments.

Homework directly related to tests makes students responsible to prepare for the exam and work becomes more meaningful. Solomon also assigns “why” questions that require thought and opinion. “Research is important. You can paste it into Google, but how do you know the response is valid? Questions need to be asked that go beyond the Google-paste-insert.”

Is it really cheating?

There’s a fine line between using the internet for help and cheating.

Tracy Mitrano, the director of information technology policy at Cornell University, want policies that assign appropriate punishments for certain violations like homework copying or cheating on an exam. There should be a set style of teaching to prevent cheating and assign work that makes cheating impossible.

Students have their own views on what crosses the cheating line.

One student wrote:

“I don’t think homework should be graded, to begin with, so I don’t believe students should be penalized for using the internet or it should count as cheating. Many students are overburdened by extra curricular activities and hard classes. They shouldn’t have to do extra practice when they already know the material. Also, when homework is graded for correctness it just incentivizes internet use because students are not comfortable practicing for practice’s sake or making mistakes. They use the internet to be sure their answers are correct. Many times the teacher’s resources are not enough to understand the content and internet resources can be very useful. If in the end, students know the content what is the difference?”

J.R. Masterman student surveyed by First Take

Technology will continue to advance. Answers will only become more accessible. Will this lead to technology dramatically increasing our knowledge, or will it lead to the downfall of education? If learning is the goal, experts agree the concept and content of homework must evolve with technology.

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