Is it really cheating? How students need to be leveraging technology in the classroom

Students have access to more information than ever before. When thinking about how I accessed information in my elementary and secondary days, I am reminded of the beautiful white, leather bound with gold tree Book of Knowledge encyclopedias I had on a shelf in my living room. I couldn’t contain my excitement when the new Annual came to our house every year to update and correct their pages (Yes… I really was and still am that person!). Every time I had a research assignment I’d look forward to cracking open their covers to find the information for my project, always trying to use as many volumes as possible. Never once did I feel like I was cheating as I soaked in their information. I was a researcher, inquirer, who was developing and answering questions; I was most definitely not a cheater.

How do we stop students from cheating by looking up the answers?

So why is it when I am working with students and asking them to take their personal device out to answer a question I’m asking (whether that be a laptop, tablet, or any other piece of technology) do they sometimes immediately look at me with fear and say “I can’t, that’s cheating!”. This question about “what is cheating” has also come up during the Chromebook roll out. One of the biggest areas of concern for teachers has been “How do we stop students from cheating by looking up the answers?”. This in itself brings about many areas for discussion that do need to be addressed as we move forward in our practice and as we leverage technology in our classroom. We as teachers want our students to have access to information and learn the curriculum, but what happens when they have all of the content at their finger tips? What does that mean for our lessons when what we deliver is available through a 2 minute Google search? Are we slowly being replaced by the technology? Where do we fit now? How do we give a test when students can just search the internet for the answer?

Everyone is absolutely right – STUDENTS NOW HAVE THE CONTENT! They have ALL the information. There is no denying it, no sugar coating it, no way of trying to give a runaround answer. This truth has been there for a long time and it is a reality that has been breaking through to become a bigger part of their learning for some time now. Many of our students walk around with miniature computers in their pockets, and for many, they have their own laptops and tablets. This phenomenon of students being the collectors of information and not the receivers of information is not new. It was just one that we felt we had a lot more control over when we had domain over the when and the where of information access. If we weren’t comfortable with technology we just asked them to keep them in their lockers or their backpacks. Now, with so many devices being rolled out, students have not just more control over the when and the where, but the ability to advocate for their need to use these devices. Let us just let that sink in for a moment – students now have ALL the content and are advocating for its use.

We need to rethink what we are asking our students to do.

We need to examine and reflect as teachers what we are asking our students to do. If it’s not obtaining the information of a course, then what exactly do we want our students to learn? We need to have an honest conversation about how we are using our classroom time to deliver curriculum. Why are we asking our students to look up and memorize definitions, dates, mathematical formulas? Why are we asking them to do things they can just look up? Why are our questions on assessment worded in a way that we have to lock out internet access out of fear they may search for the answer? We need to rethink what we are asking our students to do. We need to have them think critically about the information they are collecting and analyze multiple pieces that have to be evaluated and manipulated.

During Alice Keeler’s keynote at our Connect conference, she challenged us as teachers to reexamine the way we think about our students using technology in our classrooms. She further challenged us to rethink about the questions we are asking. Have a look at the differences between the following two questions:

The first question gives all of the information and the algorithm to plug the numbers into, all of which allows students to “Google” their answer. If we word a question like in the second example, it doesn’t eliminate students searching online for information, but they do need to take multiple pieces of information and manipulate them to answer the question, requiring a strong knowledge of not just the content, but also strong problem solving skills.

We need to stop looking at students as cheating when they use technology to help them find an answer. Technology is just a tool they can use to further their understanding. I feel my job as a teacher isn’t to impart the “knowledge pieces” but to help facilitate my students in LEARNING the curriculum. If I ask better questions that do not ask them to simply define terms or use provided algorithms, but instead ask them to relate information they have learned together or use problem solving skills to take multiple pieces of information to solve an open ended question, then I am valuing their part in the learning process more. What value can I take when assessing student’s learning when all I am asking is that they memorize a list of terms and regurgitate their definitions? What about those students who do not possess strong memorization skills? I know they will forget most of what they memorized within a few days as I ask them to replace that with new terms and definitions. Shouldn’t we want longer term retention of what we are teaching. Don’t our students deserve more than that?

Recently I saw a tweet from @alford_science :

“Just because they completed (the worksheet) doesn’t mean they learned anything”.

This tweet really spoke to me. Students who can recall memorized facts or look and find information from a given text to answer a question on a worksheet ARE NOT absorbing that information in a way that they will be able to complete higher level thinking tasks later. We want to challenge our students to move away from just remembering, analyzing and understanding information and move towards taking the information they find to evaluate it, apply it, and create with it! Let’s start a new movement where technology is embraced and we encourage students to use it not just during our daily work, but evaluations and culminating tasks as well. Let’s decide that we will demand more from our students learning and require more from them than memorization. Let’s start preparing them for the world we are living in where the information is all at our fingertips, but teachers are the gateway to learning and knowing HOW to use it.

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