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Jam Cell Phones In Class?

December 6, 2006

A U.K. government-commissioned study recommends that cell phone transmissions be jammed in classrooms to help combat cheating. In a Guardian Unlimited story, reporter Alexandra Smith wrote:

– “Pupils should sit exams in rooms with no mobile phone reception to combat the rise in technology-aided cheating, a government commissioned study has recommended.
It is feared that thousands of pupils may be using their phones to send text messages to friends to get answers or to access the internet during tests. Airport-style security scanners should also be installed to stop candidates taking in phones and other technology, the report recommended.”

ME: The main thrust here, clear in the rest of the article, is the prevention of cheating on standardized tests.

– “The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) commissioned Jean Underwood, a professor at Nottingham Trent University, to prepare a report on ‘digital technologies and dishonesty in examinations and tests.'”
– “Prof Underwood’s report said much of the research about plagiarism and technology centred on the internet but she warned that the web was only the tip of the iceberg.
She wrote in her report: ‘Mobile technologies make plagiarism and associated activities possible in the examination hall. In small examination sites monitored by vigilant staff, students have limited opportunities to use mobile devices for cheating. . . . However, in larger test centres with many students, mobile phones and PDAs facilitate student exchange of notes with other exam takers, the receipt of text messages from classmates outside the lecture hall, and searching the web.'”
– “Writing in the forward of the guide, Mr Johnson said: ‘We are eroding the distinction in a child’s mind between what is their own intellectual achievement and what is a rip-off. I am fairly sure that this is one of the reasons why there has been such an increase in plagiarism at all levels of education. Pupils are used to seeing stuff come off the web, and thinking of it as ‘theirs’.'” – TL

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4 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    Hm. Interesting that old, stodgy rationales for discouraging cell phone use in classrooms (e.g. – common decency, respect for education, appropriate behavior, etc.) were completely absent from consideration.

    The very tail end of the article [concerning the suspected rise in plagiarism and lack of understanding on the students' part as to what constitutes plagiarism] is something I've been looking into lately. I still need to study it more, but an initial suspicion I have is that combating plagiarism with punishment/blocking-based measures has the opposite effect than intended – it turns cheating into a cat-and-mouse game, the kind of hacking/back-door-seeking sport that pervades tech culture. By responding to bad behavior using the same rules, it gives credence to that behavior in the first place. In other words, it actually encourages students to devise cleverer ways to cheat.

    I suspect that education, especially in information literacy, will probably prove to be more productive.

    -Alexis

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  2. Alexis: I'm sure these rationales are just on top of the stodgy ones! I've found that one way to combat plagiarism is to give non-standard, unique assignments. Most of my teaching experience is in the subject of history. In those classes, I often ask students to mix objective and subjective information, such as paralleling past with present/personal events. When students try to cheat on these assignments, it's almost always blatantly evident. – TL

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  3. Anonymous permalink

    Would you say that your technique actually teaches students how to avoid plagiarizing in the first place? Do they realize that if they plagiarize on your assignments it will be obvious, and, more importantly, do they understand why it would be obvious? Being able to answer the latter question would indicate that they have a truly fundamental grasp of what constitutes plagiarism.

    Nearly any student, if asked, will agree with the statements “I am not supposed to cheat” and “I am not supposed to plagiarize.” But would the same number be able to say “plagiarizing is a form of cheating?” Would they be able to identify clearly when something could be considered plagiarism? Do they believe that taking existing ideas from multiple sources and putting them together in a single place constitutes new knowledge? What if they draw new/no new conclusions from that reordering?

    There are a million tools coming out right now that detect when plagiarism has occurred, and there are definitely some techniques teachers use that make it harder for students to plagiarize in the first place. But those cannot be the only tools in our arsenal, or we are setting students up to fail. There seem to be far fewer courses/techniques/what-have-you being implemented that teach students to consciously, and successfully, avoid plagiarism of their own volition, and I think that these are sorely needed.

    -Alexis

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  4. Alexis: What I outlined in my last note definitely does not teach students what plagiarism is, but I should've mentioned that I do talk about the subject – actively – during syllabus day. As an instructor I am ~somewhat~ responsible for 'teaching students how to learn,' especially at the community college and first-year levels, but ultimately they still have to decide whether to pay attention. I appreciate your reminder to put ourselves in their shoes, but I have to admit that I've encountered very few genuine and honest mistakes when it comes to plagiarism. – TL

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