High-Tech Cheating: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Gadget

High-Tech Cheating: Where There’s a Will, There’s a GadgetGone are the good old days of traditional cheating methods — cheat sheets, writing answers on your hand or whispering to your neighbor have now gone the way of the inkwell. The modern student is bringing in-class cheating into the 21st century with the likes of programmable calculators, personal data assistants, cellular phones and two-way pagers.If you’re thinking, “My students can’t even string together a complete sentence — there’s no way they could master all that high-tech stuff,” ask yourself this: Does your VCR almost always display a blinking 12:00 as the correct time? If so, what’s the age of the person who fixes it for you?
All the gadgets mentioned above are highly accessible to college students, easy to use and effective ways of bypassing the hard work of studying. On the theory that forewarned is forearmed, herewith are some of the gadgets a malicious student could use to cheat on an exam — and some recommendations about how to short-circuit them.
q Programmable calculators/calculators with memory
Risk: Students can program mathematical formulae into the calculator to help them complete the test faster. Actual text also can be stored in the calculator’s memory. A student potentially could have an entire essay or book at his or her fingertips.
Solution: If a calculator is absolutely necessary for a test, have students remove the batteries prior to taking the exam. Once the batteries are replaced, reset each calculator. The reset button is a small pinhole located on the back of most calculators — usually in the battery compartment.q Two-way pagers
Risk: Unlike the traditional pager, two-way pagers can transmit and receive alphanumeric messages. It’s the modern equivalent to discreetly passing notes, except now, instead of being restricted to the classroom, the reach of the “digital” note is greatly increased. One pager could potentially transmit answers to another pager in a classroom elsewhere on campus.
Solution: Two-way pagers should be out of sight and out of the reach of testers.q Cellular phones
Risk: Someone could hypothetically phone in answers to a test-taker, but that’s a little obvious — even with the phone set to vibrate silently. But cutting-edge cheaters also can exploit other technology packed into today’s cell phones. Many phones have the capability of connecting to the Internet and accessing Web sites that may help a student looking for answers on the sly. Using phones to send and receive e-mails containing answers also is not unheard of. Some phones can even use “instant messaging” programs such as AOL’s IM.
Solution: My undergraduate education was polluted with irksome rings and chirps during test-time. Cellular phones should be turned off and made inaccessible during a test.
q PDAs
Risk: A personal data assistant is a mini-computer that can fit in the palm of your hand. Current versions can store at least 8 megabytes of data, and some can be expanded to more than 1GB. With this massive storage space, students can store text documents, spreadsheets, databases, graphics and computer applications. To make things worse, many PDAs, such as Palm and Pocket PC, can beam information to each other. Yeah, kind of like Star Trek. PDAs equipped with an infrared port can be used to send data to other PDAs with an infrared port. Although this technology has its limitations, it would be pretty easy for a tester to send files to someone else within a classroom.
Solution: Prohibit PDAs in a testing environment. Perhaps some of the above has given you pause. Do you remember being mystified by a student fervidly typing away on a PDA during the middle of a test? Have you ever wondered what that kid in the back of the class was doing thumbing his cell phone in the middle of a final? Awareness of the capabilities of these devices is pivotal to the enforcement of honor codes and testing policies. Be wary out there.  — Black Issues webmaster Aaron Richardson, MCSE, MCDBA, is a Microsoft-certified systems engineer and multimedia Web developer. He can be reached at aaron@rubberdoor.com or at his Web site, <www.rubberdoor.com>.

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