Redefining Cheating

Today’s early #edchat on Twitter was about the use of mobile technologies in the classroom.  During the course of discussion, someone mentioned that they worried about the rise of cheating with the use of mobile technologies in the classroom.  I mentioned that maybe we needed to redefine cheating.  In my mind, if a student is using the resources they have available to find an answer, and they are successful at it, we shouldn’t call it cheating…it’s smart!  It made me think about “cheating” in general and why it happens.  In my experience, cheating occurs when a student doesn’t feel successful in their learning.  They may not have mastered the concept, or more commonly, they aren’t good at memorizing.  Cheating on a test or a homework assignment reveals more about the classroom model than anything else.  Cheating reveals a shallow test/quiz/ homework assignment that asks students to memorize and regurgitate facts.   This isn’t learning.   I would argue that if a student used their mobile device to find the answer, they are much more likely to remember and understand than if they had memorized the answer.  We need to rethink the way the classroom is structured.  We need classrooms that aren’t so focused on memorization and instead require deep, meaningful interactions with learning.  When a child cheats, there is a lot that leads up to the decision.  The child doesn’t feel adequately prepared and yet they want to succeed.   How have we helped them to get prepared?  What deeper learning has been made possible? What connections have we helped them make in their learning?

You know what cheating tells me?  It tells me that my assignment or test was inadequate, it tells me that I didn’t adequately prepare the “cheater”, and that the “cheater” is more innovative and creative than a grade may reflect.  It takes creativity to cheat, students have to put a lot of thinking into how to do it without getting caught.  Students who cheat are thinking outside the box.  They may not be good a memorization, but they are excellent thinkers.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning cheating.  There are some character and value issues that must be worked through with a student who cheats.  I just don’t think that the type of behavior we consider “cheating” is actually cheating. I think using resources to find an answer should be encouraged for every student.   Kids who cheat are trying to survive a broken system.  The kids who aren’t good at memorizing are stuck in the same system that prizes kids who memorize well.  As a way of surviving and making it through school, the student believes their only option is to cheat the system.   This shows us that the child cares about succeeding, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t cheat, they would drop out.

Maybe we should encourage “cheating” (and by cheating I mean using resources) for all of our students.  If we are going to test students, let’s find out what they know and if they know how to hunt down what they don’t know.  Don’t we do that in the real world on a regular basis?

Let’s redefine cheating.  Cheating is when a child doesn’t contribute their strengths to a collaborative project.  Cheating is when a child puts the responsibility of their learning on someone else. Cheating is when a child acts dishonestly in a way that takes advantage of others. Searching for an answer to a test using a mobile device is not cheating, it is a creative solution to a problem.


  1. Interesting thoughts. I agree that the assessments cause a good deal of the cheating because they are inadequate. It is hard for a student to cheat when we require them to create, defend, or many of the other tasks on the high end of Bloom’s.

    Be sure not to minimize the character flaw that comes with cheating, though. There is something to be said for following the rules. It shows respect and submission to authority. I know our culture teachers us to buck authority if we don’t agree with it, but we should be teaching them to change the system rather than cheat it.

    Thanks for your input into the community! God Bless!

    1. Trevor, I couldn’t agree more, the act of cheating can’t be minimized. There is a character issue here that must be dealt with. I am suggesting that if a child is cheating, it is up to us to reconsider our classroom structure. I am all for building students of high character, ethics, and values. These are vital and have to be taught and nurtured. I don’t agree with the classroom model and school system that we have built, and by blogging thoughts like this, I am hoping that we can change the system. I teach my students to do the same. When we are blocked by the filter in our building, I know that my students and I could “cheat” the system and find a way around it, but that isn’t the legacy I want to leave them. Instead, we find ways to change the system like writing a note of request as a class to our tech department head.

  2. I agree, if a student must find a way to cheat on a test, is that a true assessment of what they know? Think about how many time in life you have needed to know how to find an answer and then how many times you needed to have a memorized fact.

    1. We need to have both. At some point a student will memorize the basics because it is necessary for survival, but at the end of the day, what has not been memorized will be looked up. I can’t tell you how many adults I encounter who don’t know how to do this. That is a problem!

  3. I believe your question is relative to the type of testing you are conducting. A test for certification or “high stakes” testing has a different purpose all together and no form of “cheating” should be allowed. I agree with your theory that a student should be taught problem solving skills, which is what I think you are alluding to, but I also believe they need to know the theory or constructs behind what they are learning.

    Some cheating occurs for the reasons that you stated, but I believe cheating also occurs because of choices that students make.

    I have never really cared what a student’s overall test score is because it is simply a point-in-time reference (many factors influence the overall score). A score should be a measure of a student’s progress against a set of pre-determined goalsand objectives. I also like to think of it as a measure of instruction AND your curriculum against those pre-determined goals. A test is a great measure of what we are doing as well.

    Cheating can be re-defined according to your terms, but it really depends upon the situation.

    1. Kerry, you are correct, I didn’t specify what kind of testing. A certification test is different in that there is basic knowledge critical to a career choice. That basic knowledge does need to be shown as mastered. There is a foundation of knowledge and understanding that I want my doctor and mechanic to have before working on me or my car. But I also hope that both know how to use the resources available to them if they don’t know what is wrong with me or my car. I won’t address high stakes testing because I believe that this type of testing is so flawed that it isn’t worth the discussion in regards to cheating.
      Yes, the point that I am trying to make (perhaps unsuccessfully) is that students need to know how to find answers, problem solve and think critically. Memorization for a test does not provide any of these. I would say that if students don’t have a basic working understanding of theory or constructs of what they are learning, they won’t be able to use resources available to them successfully. I have to have a basic understanding of a concept in order to find out more information about it. I need to have a basic understanding of theory and construct so that I can analyze the information I find and know whether it is correct or flawed.

      Cheating is always a choice. Why are students making that choice? What has led them to the conclusion that cheating is their solution? This is what we need to ask ourselves. If students feel the need to cheat on something it is because they don’t feel that they are successful. What have we done to make them successful? How have we set them up for success? Not all students are good at taking tests no matter how hard they try. It isn’t because they are stupid or inadequate, that isn’t how they display knowledge.

      Good for you for using tests the way that they should be used, as a point-in-time reference of where a student is. This is the right way to test because it shows that you intend to use that information to help each student move to the next level.

  4. Hii, i think that i would completely disagree when u said that “we should encourage cheating in the classroom”. This is because when cheating is allowed, no one would study hard to achieve higher in an honest way, everyone will be be doing the same thing which consequently results to poor quality education. It doesn’t mean that when a student cheats, it is the inadequacy of the teacher to teach, to give tests and is the inadequacy of the students to cope with the lesson. We don’t need to blame teachers because in most of the cases, teachers do their best for the students. But what usually happened, students just took it forgranted, don’t want to do it hard to learn, and just want it in an easy way through cheating which is unfair for the others who are working who are honestly working hard on it. It is not a matter of memorization that these students drive to cheat, it’s a matter of attitude. They are thinkers in a way that is unethical in the field of education and even in other aspects of our life like business and others, cheating is wrong and unethical. Using technology in the classroom to find the answer is right and fair when everyone is given the opportunity and resources to use. In fact, we should teach them how to use it, how to do research. Yes, I would agree that they will learn more from it easier. But in cases, like tests, using mobile phone and other devices to find the answers is inappropriate in the sense that we are not helping them to be critical thinkers on their own, we are not developing them to be creative problem solvers on their own because we let them depend on the technology. Education is all about surviving our life in the real world in all field with or without technology in an honest way as possible as we can. What if an individual who used to do cheating in the class and homeworks will be caught in a situation or problem wherein no one else could help him/her and there’s no technology available to find the answer? I would not say, that he will not survive but for sure he will have a difficulty coping it because he’s not used to do it, he’s not used to be an independent and creative thinker..Well, of course there are many ways to survive life, not just from technology, not just from studying hard in the class but surviving life without cheating is most precious…Just an opinion 😉

    1. Charlou, I’m not recommending that we make our students cheaters. What I am suggesting is that what we consider “cheating” (using resources on a test) should be allowed for ALL students. They shouldn’t have to be sneaky about it, all students should be given the opportunity to use what they have to come up with an answer. For some students memorization is easy, they have no problem memorizing a lot of facts and regurgitating them on a test. For other students, memorizing is not easy. These are the students who “just aren’t good at taking tests”. I have taught these students, they study for hours and hours only to fail a test because they aren’t good at keeping a lot of facts in their minds. It isn’t an inadequacy that the student has, it isn’t a skill that they have. I’m not a musician, I could practice for hours and hours and still not be a musician. It isn’t a skill set that I have in me. It isn’t that I am so inadequate that I can’t cope with a lesson. It has more to do with my make-up. We aren’t all good at the same things. I don’t necessarily blame teachers (although I think there is some blame for us), more accurately I blame the school model. We have a school model that values the student who can memorize well. We place a number on them and say that they have learned. I can give you personal examples of how this isn’t true. I am one of those students who can memorize all day long and then tell you what you wanted to know in the form of a test. I was a straight A student. I always passed tests with flying colors. Even though I always got high scores on my history tests, I never learned history. I knew how to memorize, regurgitate, and repeat to get the goal of “high score”. I think teachers everywhere truly do what they think is best. But maybe we are taking for granted what is best because we repeat what was done to us. But is memorizing for a test really best? Or, might it be better to give students authentic learning opportunities where they can demonstrate what they have learned in multiple ways? I would argue that students who cheat don’t do it because they don’t want to work to learn, I would argue that they want to be successful in this model of education but because they don’t have the gift of memorization, they are deceitful to make it through and play the numbers game. Does this cause them to be unethical? Yes. Should that behavior be addressed? Absolutely. But as teachers, it is our job to look into why students cheat and reflect on the practices in our classroom. What could we change so that a student doesn’t feel the need to cheat and can still be successful in their learning? This is an opportunity for us to take a look at the “why” of cheating and come up with better solutions for ALL of our learners.
      I would also disagree with your assessment that by using technology it is the “easy” way and we aren’t training them to be critical thinkers. Quite the opposite, when technology comes into play, students must be taught to be critical thinkers. They have to learn to discern what is good information and what is not. They have to be able to filter out all of the “garbage”. Education is about surviving in the real world. In the real world we have these resources. Even before mobile technologies I could use the telephone to call a friend and ask advice or an answer, or I could head to my library and find the answer in a book, or I could go to my nearest expert to ask the question. The resources have changed and make it easier, but we always have resources. We don’t live in a bubble. If an individual finds themselves in an instance where they haven’t memorized the periodic table and it is life or death, they are going to have to find a creative way out of it. I can’t think of an instance where something that had to be memorized for school would put someone in a situation where they wouldn’t find a way to cope until they could find the answer.
      I didn’t intend for my post to condone cheating, I intended it to make us think about what cheating is. Cheating is not using the resources available. That is smart.

  5. I think you’ve made a valid point about “facts.” However, copying and pasting entire chunks of the internet isn’t in the same category. That’s not inability to memorize, that’s either not understanding intellectual honesty or just plain laziness.

    1. I’m not suggesting that students copy and paste entire chunks of the Internet. What I’m suggesting is that we shouldn’t be prizing memorization the way that we do in school. If a student knows how to look up an answer, they should be allowed to do so. This isn’t laziness, it is using what a student has available to them. Some students will be great at memorization and some will not be. Those who aren’t naturally gifted memorizers shouldn’t be penalized for it, they should be taught how to use resources wisely so that they can keep themselves educated and learning.

  6. In my mind there are actually several kinds of cheating. What you are referring to is if a student plagiarizes from something they looked up on the net. That has at least a little bit of merit because they are looking it up. The other kind is where they just copy it from their peers. That is a complete waste of everyone’s time. I’m not sure if it’s worth it to try to distinguish between the two though.

    1. I would agree with you, there are several kinds of cheating. I guess what I was trying to get across is that using a mobile device to search for information shouldn’t be considered cheating. It should even be encouraged. I would rather that my students know and understand how to use the resources available to find answers than to cram and memorize for a test. I also am not condoning plagiarism, I don’t want students to copy straight from the internet just like I wouldn’t want them to copy out of their textbook. I don’t understand the requirement that EVERY student must memorize every fact to show us that they know it. I think if they are able to look it up and can show that they know how to use resources (whether that is a mobile device or a textbook) they should be able to do that.

  7. I love the conversation you have stirred over your blog post. I think it should make us all think not about “cheating” but how are we edcuating our students for the future. We can no longer rely only on older ways of delivering content to students and expecting them to regurgitate facts. We need to rethink not only how students learn but how they will work when they become part of our society. Much of this will mean altering the entire model of education. However, so many can not break away from the model of “traditional” education.

    1. Ldouthit, you hit the nail on the head. This is exactly what I was hoping that teachers would consider as they read the post. It isn’t about students cheating, it is about the way we are cheating our students by defining the school model based on the old rules. It is time to rethink education, including what it means to cheat. Cheating is an act of dishonesty. I’m not encouraging dishonesty, what I hope is that teachers will take a look at the current model and allow students to think deeply, to use the resources available to them and make that okay in their classroom, give students permission to do it so that it isn’t an act of dissent.

    1. In response to your post: I think that you misunderstood the nature of my post. I am not encouraging students to be dishonest in any way. What I am suggesting is that teachers re-evaluate what their classrooms look like. I am suggesting that instead of considering using resources cheating and banning students from using them, that they should actually be given permission to use the resources available to them because that is what we do in real life. I am disagreeing with the current school model. I don’t condone cheating, but when a teacher says that using resources like Google on a homework assignment is cheating, I disagree. It should be allowed for ALL students because that more accurately prepares them for the real world. I would rather have students who can think and use resources to find an answer than a student who has memorized a list of correct responses. So, let’s allow students to use the resources available to them and let’s redefine cheating to describe what it actually is. Cheating is a dishonest act that is an attempt to get out of learning. We cheat students every day by making them memorize, this isn’t learning. I don’t want students who are blatantly disobeying the rules, I want the school systems to look at the rules in place and change those that are outdated.

  8. I think the overall thought is missing. The fact that a student is resourceful in his or her approach to cheating..overlooks and rationalizes the thought that the person is cheating. I definitely agree that testing should be reevaluated BUT that does not forgive cheating. If someone is resourceful in using a tool during a test that he/she knows is not allowed is not resourceful it is cheating. Rationalizing cheating is part of the problem. And, regardless of whether you agree with the rules of a game, cheating is cheating if you know the rules and dont follow them. Yeah for the student who can sms google on a cell phone for an answer. If you have a juror who is told not to read or listen to the news about a crime..what happens when he/her rationalizes accessing info from a different resource? Do you praise him/her for being resourceful or do you say… hung jury?

    1. I’m not rationalizing that students SHOULD cheat. I’m suggesting that maybe teachers need to rethink what we consider cheating and actually allow all students to use the resources available to them in the classroom the way they would in real life. I have listed the items that should be considered cheating and should be dealt with as a character and moral issue. I’m not in any way suggesting that students should be encouraged to “cheat the system” instead I am hoping that the system can be re-evaluated all together. If there is a school rule against cheating, students shouldn’t be breaking that rule. We all have to respect the rules and authority that we are under. However, I think that the rule should be challenged and re-evaluated, students can be a part of doing that in a respectful, well thought out manner.

  9. Yes, there are subjects/courses which require technology/resources during tests and many instances in the classroom that we need our mobile technology to assist us for answers. I understand that because I’m a teacher too at the same time a graduate student. But still it is not appropriate to do this everytime and in every test, maybe for short exercises, it’s fine, because we can not really avoid plagiarism. Are we willing to cross-check every sentence and every answer against the resources whether they copied them or not, considering the number of students and the frequency of test??
    There are different type of tests that would not require memorization that would truly measure the extent of student’s understanding and learning. These type of tests don’t necessary require technology/resources but rather these will develop HOTS without violating academic honesty.

    1. Plagiarism is a different issue all together. Plagiarism cannot be tolerated in any form. This is something that we don’t teach enough of. Whether or not you allow students to use resources, plagiarism still exists and must be dealt with appropriately.

  10. Interesting ideas. We are certainly at the crossroads in terms of an entirely new way of learning and that means redefining every part of learning.

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