Heloise Pechan’s heart rose when she read the essay one of her students, a seemingly uninterested high school sophomore, had turned in for a class assignment on “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The paper was clear, logical, and well written — a sign, she thought, that she had gotten through to the boy.
Her elation passed quickly. What came next was suspicion.
Pechan, then substitute teaching at a McHenry County, Ill., high school, went to Google, typed the paper’s first sentence (“Kind and understanding, strict but fair, Atticus Finch embodies everything that a father should be”) and there it was: The entire essay had been lifted from an online paper mill.
“I went from amazement and excitement to ‘Oh my God’ in the space of a half-second,” Pechan recalled.
That feeling is going around a lot these days. As technology puts massive computing power and the near-sum of human knowledge within a few taps of a touch screen, educators and students say young people are finding new and increasingly devious ways to cheat.
They’re going to websites that calculate the answers for their math homework. They’re snapping covert photographs of exams and forwarding them to dozens of friends. They’re sneaking cheat sheets into the memory banks of their calculators.
Isha Jog, 17, a senior at Hoffman Estates High School, said she has even seen some of her peers getting quiz answers off their cell phones — while the quiz was in progress.
At the same time, technology also is helping to foil digital desperadoes.
Teachers are running essays though automated plagiarism detectors. They’re using systems that allow them to observe what students are doing with their wireless classroom calculators. And they’re using programs to shuffle test questions so every class gets a different version.
Still, experts say cheaters have the upper hand, leaving some educators to look for teaching techniques that are harder to game. But in the file-sharing, cut-and-paste world enabled by the internet, some say the biggest challenge might be convincing students that what they’re doing is wrong.