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Creating, Connecting and Digital Cheating?

As a mother of two teenagers, I didn't need a research report to tell me that my children were mesmerized by digital tools and the Internet, but I must admit that the results of a study released by the National School Boards Association still took me by surprise. Entitled Creating and Connecting: Research Guidelines on Online Social -- and Educational -- Networking, the NSBA study examined the use of social networking tools by teenagers, and revealed how new communicating and collaborating technologies are changing the way today's youth socialize and learn.

The data from that study, obtained by surveying 1277 students ages 9-17, unexpectedly showed that

  • 96 percent of students with access to the Internet build social networks.
  • 50 percent of teens say they talk to their peers about schoolwork online.
  • 60 percent indicate that they discuss education-related topics, such as college and career planning.
  • The students report spending almost as much time on social networks as they spend watching television.
  • More than 40 percent of students post comments at least once a week, and more than 20 percent do so every day.

As these technologies have taken hold in today's classrooms, the amount of time students spend online has increased. More significantly, their ability to create and connect using wikis, blogs, online bookmarking, Skype, podcasting, and social networks such as Facebook has exceeded the expectations and comfort level of their teachers and parents.

The learning benefits that accompany Web 2.0 tools are not without their snags and risks (Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). Publishing one's thoughts and work online can lead to unforeseen problems for students. A recent example of that is the highly publicized case in Canada, in which a first-year engineering student was accused of cheating when he set up a class FaceBook page for group study and questions. Many of the 147 students in the class used the FaceBook page to share tips about regular assignments that were worth 10 percent of the grade for the course.

The university claimed that the establishment of a FaceBook page to collaborate on class assignments was an act of cheating and that the university needed to ensure that students were doing their own homework. The engineering student faced one count of academic misconduct for helping to organize the group, and another 146 counts for every student who used the group. The media was abuzz with discussion about whether it was a case of cheating or academic exchange, as well as questions about how a FaceBook work space was any different from a group of students getting together over coffee to tackle difficult homework questions.

After deliberation, university officials decided to assign the student a zero for the assignment and allowed him to continue his engineering studies.

Incidents like that one likely will continue to blindside a generation of students who are inclined to see the endless creative and collaborative possibilities that come with Web 2.0 technologies. And it serves to remind educators that in spite of our enthusiastic embrace of 21st century technologies, we still carry residual expectations from our past -- expectations that can put limitations and judgments on how our students use the very technology advances we promote.

Reference: Knobel, M., Lankshear, C. From Web 2.0 to School 2.0. Retrieved on April 21, 2008.

About the Author

Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.

Author: Brenda Dyck
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