I spent some time last week talking with a group of high school teachers concerned about the use of mobile devices such as cell phones and iPods in classrooms. One of the concerns raised was that handhelds can be used to cheat.

My response?

Your students are cheating. They’ve always been cheating. And they’re not going to stop cheating.

The difference in 2010 is that if we as educators try teaching in “traditional” ways, cheating becomes easier. Easier because if I’m a kid, there are all sorts of things online that I can find that help me cheat.

To get a sense of how much is out there, do a quick YouTube search for “how to cheat.”

Can and do kids cheat using handhelds? Yes. Can and do kids cheat without handhelds. Yes.

That’s the point.

Kids will always try and find ways to survive by doing less. It’s not really about handhelds so much as us rethinking how we do our jobs. Traditional forms of instruction will always encourage cheating by focusing on basic, low-level sorts of learning. And if we continue to use strategies that encourage simple rote memory and fill-in-the-blank sort of thinking, new forms of technology such as handhelds will make it even easier to cheat.

A recent Reader’s Digest article (and others) document the trend. It’s not going away. But we can work to change how we do our jobs, including the use of handhelds, so that cheating becomes more difficult and less frequent.

One of the first things we can do is re-think how we define the word. It’s interesting that people who play a lot of video games use the word differently. Cheat becomes not just a verb but a noun, as in – a cheat is any help when solving a problem. This help could be a web site, a video or another gamer. The idea being that working together is a good thing.

And while academic dishonesty will always be wrong, we should begin thinking about “cheating” in the sense of collaboration and cooperation. K-12 schools and our assessments should look more like that. We need to encourage kids to “cheat” in a positive way – working together, sharing resources and collaborating with outsiders.

What might that look like?

  • Student designed graphic organizers
  • Newspapers
  • Historical resumes
  • Comic strips
  • Illustrated childrens books
  • Public service announcements
  • Digital stories
  • Video games
  • Primary document analysis

All of these require high level thinking and collaboration between students without providing an easy way to cheat.

Jason Stephens and David B. Wangaard have a useful article titled Teaching for Integrity that shares strategies for preventing cheating. You can also find some handy tools and resources on my Social Studies Central site.

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