On average, US teens send and receive more than 2,000 text messages a month, according to Nielsen figures, and a new study sponsored by Common Sense Media found that – despite many school policies to the contrary – a quarter of those texts are sent and received during class! Common Sense zoomed in on the opportunities this represents for cheating on texts, pointing to these key findings: 26% of students surveyed have stored notes on a cellphone to access during a test, 41% of the students surveyed say doing so is cheating and a ‘serious offense’,” and 23% don’t think it’s cheating; 25% of students have texted friends about answers during tests, 45% says this is “cheating and a serious offense,” and 20% say it’s not cheating at all; 36% “say that downloading a paper from the Internet to turn in is not a serious cheating offense” and 19% say it isn’t cheating at all. “The results of this poll show a great need for a national discussion on digital ethics,” Common Sense says in its press release. Hear, hear! There is no question a national discussion on digital ethics is needed – has been needed for some time – but not just with regard to cheating and plagiarism. What needs to be understood nationwide (worldwide, actually) is that ethics and the respect and civility associated therewith is protective as well. Ethics is protective of individuals and the communities – online communities and school communities – in which they function. And not just legally protective. Ethics, civility, respect, and citizenship mitigate aggression toward and disrespect for individual and collective rights and responsibilities. That is another national discussion we need to have, I feel.
But back to the important academics question. The other side of this needing to be addressed is what testing should look like in the digital age. As my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid writes in the San Jose Mercury News today, “Cheating is cheating regardless of whether you use technology or old-fashioned paper notes. But in addition to admonishing kids about why it’s wrong to cheat, perhaps it’s also time to rethink what it means to evaluate students in the age of the Internet and omnipresent mobile devices.” Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle on the Common Sense study, mentioning the organization’s great new work in media literacy). [Here’s my earlier post on the Nielsen teen-texting figure.]