Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cheating and the "technological detachment phenomenon"

The Chronicle on Higher Education recently ran a story on cheating in the sciences that places some of the blame on professors: High-Tech Cheating Abounds, and Professors Bear Some Blame. The article quotes Douglas Breault Jr., a teaching assistant (or should I say soon-to-be-ex-teaching assistant wink) at Tufts University, about professors' attitudes toward cheating on homework:
"The profs tell me to ignore it."
The article goes on to say that students and faculty are often "cavalier" in their attitudes about cheating on homework because the former group views it as busy work, and the later group knows that students will rarely pass if they cheat on homework. My guess is that some professors are scared of student retaliation, especially at some universities that offer little support for academic ethic violations. And many professors would rather be performing research, not parenting a 20 year-old; afterall, tenure committees don't count the number of students you've busted for cheating. It is certainly easier to abdicate our responsibility of shaping our students' character and look the other way.

What I found most interesting about the article was what Trevor Harding (California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo) coined technological detachment phenomenon: the moral detachment many experience in an ethical situation when introducing technology into the equation.

For example, Harding found that most students would say they are cheating if they brought a cheat sheet to an exam. But those same students would not consider it cheating if they brought to the exam a graphing calculator with the same information secretly stored on it. The use of technology, for whatever reason, makes students view the ethical situation quite differently.

Are there other areas of life where technological detachment phenomenon applies? I couldn't help but think of how mobile devices have altered what is acceptable in social situations. For example, many of us allow our devices to interrupt our conversations with others, even at the dinner table, but we would think it rude if a live person barged in between us and a friend while talking.

One last item: the article briefly mentions cheating websites like Course Hero. They have over 250K "fans" in Facebook (see the image below).

I lifted this from Course Hero's Facebook fan page:
Course Hero is the leading social learning network that strives to accelerate and maximize education breakthroughs of students -- the persistent learning gap between theory and application via a content sharing network.
Brilliant marketing: a carefully crafted statement that avoids the use of "dishonesty", "plagiarizing", and "shooting yourself in the foot".