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Trying to curb cheating

Tri-State educators work to keep up with technology

Tri-State educators work to keep up with technology

February 24, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Teachers in several Tri-State area high schools and colleges are using computer programs to scan for plagiarism, banning cell phone use in the classroom and updating academic honesty policies to keep up with technological advances.

These moves were already under way, but discussion about cheating has heated up since 12 students at the University of Maryland College Park were accused of using the text messaging functions on their cell phones to receive messages from people outside the exam hall. The people assisting the students had accessed answer keys posted on the Internet by the professor once the exam began, the Associated Press reported.

While many local educators said students are not allowed to use cell phones in the classroom and are usually monitored by teachers during exams, Wilson College officials prefer a different approach.

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Wilson College teachers aren't expected to stay in the classroom during exams and as far as Academic Dean Mary Hendrickson knows, teachers are not using computer programs to scan students' papers for plagiarism.

"We start talking with students before they come here about our honor principle and use it as a device to guide students so they know what dishonesty is in an academic setting and feel peer pressure not to cheat," Hendrickson said.

Students who see others cheat are expected to advise that student to turn himself or herself in to the college's governing body, Hendrickson said. Then educators make it clear to the student that cheating is inappropriate and what the consequences can be. This may or may not involve punishment, she said.

Many schools have honor systems, but still take other steps to prevent cheating.

Cheating isn't rampant, but there are problems that need to be curbed, educators said.

Their efforts often deal with plagiarism since the Internet has made it easier for students to get copies of full papers or to copy and paste paragraphs or phrases into their papers, educators said.

English teachers in Washington County use computer programs that scan a student's paper for plagiarized phrases or quotes, said Boyd Michael, executive director of secondary education.

"Sometimes whole papers instantly turn up. We're countering technology with technology," Michael said.

Hagerstown Community College has such software and Hood College teachers use Internet search engine Google to check for plagiarized phrases.

Officials with Chambersburg public schools and Shippensburg University are considering getting plagiarism prevention software.

In Washington County and Berkeley County, W.Va., public schools many English teachers want to see rough drafts and note cards to prove the paper is the student's work, officials said.

Because most of the high schools and colleges in the Tri-State area have small class sizes compared to UMCP they said teachers are able to get to know their students and their students' styles of writing. If a student's writing style suddenly changes, that raises a red flag, educators said.

Many Tri-State educators said students need to be better educated about citing sources, footnoting, paraphrasing and how they can and cannot use the Internet.

Public school students in Washington County, Berkeley County, and Chambersburg, Pa., either aren't allowed to have cell phones in the classroom or they aren't allowed to be turned on in the classroom, officials said. The same is true in Hagerstown Business College's classrooms and Frederick Community College's testing center.

The cell phone rules usually came up because the phones were a distraction.

Mike Harsh, Hagerstown Community College's faculty assembly chairman, said teachers need to be wary of the latest cell phone technology that allows for text messaging and photography. HCC also is studying how to prevent cheating in online classes.

FCC and Shippensburg University are updating their academic dishonesty policies to reflect technological advances.

Usually cheating on tests involves crib sheets or looking at someone else's paper, educators said.

With the exception of Wilson College, high school and college educators interviewed said teachers usually stay in the classroom and some walk the aisles during tests to make sure there's no cheating.

"When a child is taking a test, they're focused on that test paper and writing. If they're stopping and looking down on their legs or something else, something's going on," said Berkeley County Deputy Schools Superintendent Frank Aliveto.

The UMCP students accused of cheating did have proctors walking the aisles who failed to notice the cell phone cheating, the Associated Press reported.

If a student wants to cheat, he or she will find a way, educators said.

"Some how or another the students put more effort into that than learning material," said FCC's Associate Dean Christine Helfrich.

Students who are caught cheating usually receive an F on that paper or exam. If it is a repeat offense, the student could be suspended or expelled from college, educators said.

"If they screw up in my classroom, that's one thing. I'd rather they screw up once and fix it, than go out on the job and be unethical," Harsh said.

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