Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Computer-savvy students cheating more, getting caught less

Those vintage forms of academic dishonesty - crib notes scribbled on a palm, or cheat sheets tucked into a sleeve- haven't gone away, but a generation of students more computer literate than their parents is forcing teachers to re-think the way they test students and blurring the definition of cheating.

Students are more likely than ever to employ deceit to earn high grades, from text-messaging quiz answers to hacking into school networks and less likely than their teachers to call it cheating, according to a survey of 20,000 students conducted by the Canadian Council on Learning.

Based on those survey scores, The Globe and Mail composed a report card on the moral fabric of Canadian students.

Story continues below advertisement

Academic Integrity: D+

Nearly three-quarters of first-year university students reported that they cheated at least once in written work, such as an essay or assignment, while in high school. Slightly less, 60 per cent, admitted to serious acts of cheating on a test.

"We've seen evidence of [an increase in cheating] and there are concerns from principals and teachers throughout our system on how they're going to deal with it," said Todd Wright, a curriculum co-ordinator for the York Region District School Board, where just weeks ago a Grade 10 student hacked into his school's computer system and stole an advance look at one of his final exams. "...There are all kinds of issues with the new technologies. … And we have to remember that the capabilities of those kids are probably far greater than their teachers who have not lived in that world."

Original Thought: D-

Between 2003 and 2006, the incidence of Internet-based plagiarism nearly tripled at one Canadian university while the number of incidences of overall cheating and plagiarism increased by 81 per cent.

"There's so many more ways of cheating than there were before, there are more opportunities for it," said Dr. Paul Cappon, president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning. "Cutting and pasting from the Internet, that's very common. Also very common is paying other people to do your work, particular for elective courses in university where it's not central to your field of study."

Accountability: C+

Story continues below advertisement

Forty-one per cent of post-secondary faculty members in the U.S. and Canada admitted to turning a blind eye when they suspected a student had cheated.

"That I wouldn't have expected, I can understand it however given that it's a lot more work to set up in order to discourage academic dishonesty," said Dr. Cappon.

Moral Clarity: INCOMPLETE

The students surveyed didn't agree with their teachers on what constitutes cheating, and some acts that they defined as "not cheating" or "trivial cheating" were perceived as acts of moderate or serious cheating by faculty members. For example, 80 per cent of high school students rated collaborating on an assignment despite a teacher's instructions as only a minor infraction, compared to 27 per cent of faculty.

"The issue here really is generational divide and perceptions about what counts as cheating," said Sidneyeve Matrix, a media professor at Queen's University. "Generation-wise, students are more comfortable with the social and mobile web and they work collaboratively.... but we're asking them to leave all that digital literacy at the door."

Extra-curricular Assignments/Teacher's Comments

Story continues below advertisement

The survey reveals a need for institutions and educators to employ anti-plagiarism software, build honour codes for students and communicate a clear definition of what constitutes cheating, according to Dr. Cappon.

"Quite a few students don't understand what academic dishonesty is," he said. "Collaboration is one thing, but help on an assignment or an examination when you're supposed to do it on your own is another - but students may conflate those two because they're so used to working in groups."

"The whole issue of instructional design shifts in this new world," said Mr. Wright of the YRDSB. The value of testing wrote memory is diminished in this tech-permeated era, and teachers need to design more creative exams and assignments that assess more reasoning and thought processes, he said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to