It used to be that copying a friend’s homework was the only option for those desperate to turn in a completed assignment. But technology has changed that, making it easier than ever.
Education professionals aren’t completely behind the curve though. Many realize that the opportunity to cheat on both homework and exams is greater in the computer age. Enter David Pritchard, a physics professor at MIT.
Pritchard conducted some research of his own on the topic of cheating on homework and found that those who regularly copied homework were three times as likely to fail his class.
“Homework copying is severely impeding students’ learning, and teachers don’t take it seriously enough,” said Pritchard, coauthor of a brief study on cheating that appeared in Physical Review Special Topics–Physics Education Research earlier this month. “It’s a killer for the grades and a killer for the students.”
As more universities like MIT utilize an online system for completing homework, professors have more data at their disposal about how students engage their homework. For example, Pritchard and his team were able to narrow down cheaters by looking at how much time passed between when the question was first presented and when it was answered.
They found a subset of students who answered the complex questions in under a minute, raising flags that the students had access to the answers and were copying them. That the online system utilized by MIT presented the questions one at a time ruled out the possibility that students were working out the problems all at once and merely entering the results.
In the end, the team found that those who copied more than 50 percent of their homework typically received grades two letters below those who only copied a little or none at all.
Such copying is simplified with a growing number of Web sites dedicated to providing answers to textbook problems. The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out in its article the existence of Course Hero, for example. The company claims to offer “over 500,000 textbook solutions” on its site, offering procrastinators yet another avenue to get their homework done.
Such methods of copying typically mean that students are left not understanding the methodology for solving the problem, leaving them vulnerable to failing exams. As Pritchard said, the most important part of learning comes from the actual “doing,” especially in the sciences.
Technology has also made plagiarism easier for many, enabling students to find bodies of text on the Web for their writing assignments and use them as their own words. But that same Internet technology has also made it easier for professors to check for plagiarism by allowing them to run papers through a scanning process, looking for the text online.
Using technology to fight back against copiers is only one possibility though. Noting that students participating in large lectures with little contact with the professor often resorted to this sort of technological cheating, Pritchard changed his class structure. He moved to a more “technology-enabled active learning format” with groups of students interacting with each other, the teacher’s assistant and the teacher. The more intimate learning atmosphere made it easier for students to understand and “do.”
“We came upon homework copying through our research on learning in an online environment, rather than through moral concern,” Pritchard told MIT News.
“But our results are so strong that they place a moral imperative on teachers to confront homework copying and to reduce it. Fortunately, we found some changes that dramatically reduce copying without turning teachers into policemen.”
As research into the importance of cognitive development of children expands, educators are finding new ways to incorporate cognitive development in the classroom.
A recent example of this practice can be found in Gary, Indiana, just outside of downtown Chicago. In January 2010, the Gary Community School Corporation adopted the use of cognitive learning software in Bailly Preparatory Academy, a middle school in the community. The school district was able to implement the software with the help of donations from two prominent citizens of the community.
The software, called BrainWare Safari, is designed to improve the mental processing skills of children and is reportedly being used in over 200 school districts across the nation. Scientific understanding about how children mentally develop is used in the software’s methodology, which incorporates a number of animated characters into 168 levels of a video game format.
“Our children are more drawn to technology,” Bailly Principal Lucille Washington told the Post-Tribune. “Anything like that is a hook.”
Washington’s point about children being drawn to technology is valid, as evidenced by the U.S. Census statistics on computer and Internet use. Computers are commonplace in the household, and they are becoming more commonplace in schools. With such adoption, it makes sense that more schools are implementing technology and the Internet in the classroom.
Though the administrators at Bailly Preparatory Academy claim to already see positive results in students’ daily 45-minute sessions using the BrainWare Safari software, it’s still early. They hope that additional language arts and mathematics assessments in May will yield a clearer picture on the efficacy of the software.
Regardless, it’s encouraging to see more educators recognizing that when carefully assessed and supervised, many technologies can effectively be incorporated into the classroom.