iPods Offer Students New Ways to Cheat- or
by Alan Zisman (c)
2007 First published in CUE
long as there have been students, teachers, and assessment, there has
been cheating. New technology results in new methods of cheating;
online sale of essays has gotten a lot of attention in the past few
years, for example. Reportedly, some cell-phone savvy students
text-message questions and answers to one another during tests.
though, the media as started reported on some schools or districts
banning iPods, presumably as a result of these popular music players
being used to help cheat on exams. For instance, in late April, the CBC
offered a story, originally carried by the Associated Press, under the
headline “Schools ban iPods to stop cheating” (http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/04/27/tech-schools.html
to the story, “Mountain View (a high school in Meridian Idaho) recently
enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized
some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the
players.” The article notes other music player bans in schools ranging
from Seattle to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to the University of
The story quotes a grade 11 Mountain View student as
saying that some students had recorded test answers, adding the
resulting audio files to their iPod playlists. Other students
reportedly used the music players text notes feature to display test
A grade 12 student who said she used to bring her iPod in
order to listen to music after finishing her test noted that despite
the ban, noted that students were still able to use their iPods: "You
can just thread the earbud up your sleeve and then hold it to your ear
like you're resting your head on your hand.”
As with too many
other media accounts, it’s not clear to me whether there is a real
problem here. A school in Idaho, another in Ontario does not
necessarily indicate a widespread trend—too often if journalist find
two examples of something, they proclaim it ‘the next big trend’.
the issue isn’t limited to those few schools; recently, for instance,
staff at Vancouver’s Gladstone Secondary debated (but failed to pass) a
motion to ban cell phones and MP3 players from the school.
fact, making a recording of yourself speaking your test notes, saving
the audio file, then playing it back during the test is an awkward way
to cheat- it can require listening to a relatively long file that may
be only marginally related to the actual questions being asked. Saving
fragments of text is more efficient, but frankly it’s not clear to me
that this is a better way to cheat than having a note-laden slip of
paper in a pocket.
Because it’s really not about iPods (or cell
phones, for that matter). Tech gadgets are not inherently good or evil.
While the University of Tasmania has, according to the CBC/AP story,
banned iPods, the same story notes that North Carolina’s Duke
University has been giving iPods out to students for the past three
years as a learning tool. The news story reports that the university
claims they have been invaluable in subject areas ranging from
engineering to music to sociology, and notes that the number of
incidents of cheating have been declining over the past decade despite
the growing availability of technology- including the
Tim Dodd, directory of Duke’s Center
for Academic Integrity notes that: “Trying to fight the technology
without a dialogue on values and expectations is a losing battle. I
think there's kind of a backdoor benefit here. As teachers are thinking
about how technology has corrupted, they're also thinking about ways it
can be used productively."
So maybe it’s not really about
technology but about clear expectations. And about invigilation during
test-taking. Instead of heavy handed bans, make sure students know that
gadgets- cell phones, iPods, whatever, are not appropriate in testing
situations. And then follow up.
It’s not that hard, during a test, to notice students with wires coming
out of their ears, is it?