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8 ways to prevent cheating in the digital age

By Gillian Wilson
May 5, 2015
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For as long as there has been school, there has been cheating. And in many ways, the advent of the digital age has made plagiarism and stealing answers even easier. Some teachers will tell you that trying to prevent cheating is an exercise in futility. While it’s true that you can’t police all students at every turn, you can put some techniques and digital tools in place to help curtail problems while embracing collaboration.

Here are eight tried and true ideas for keeping cheating to a minimum:

1. Create defined pathways.

Although students should have many opportunities to find and choose their own sources, for tests and assignments that may tempt them to cheat, consider providing a limited number of sites to choose from. This will make it easier to track and highlight similarities in their answers. You could even use a visual bookmarking site like fav7 to direct the students to approved URLs.

2. Use your digital resources.

If you already suspect cheating, sites like or can help you confirm your theory. However, these tools can also return false positives, so don’t rely on them totally. Temper the results with your best judgment.

3. Encourage collaboration and choose groups wisely.

Flip cheating on its head by allowing — and even encouraging — kids to work together. Collaboration is one of the main components of a digital age workplace, and knowing how to work together, provide and accept constructive criticism, and solve problems as a team are all qualities companies are looking for in future employees. No one wants to work with a person who refuses to do their part, so student groups tend to self-regulate. If you know your class well enough, put all the freeloaders together. They’ll have to step up or fail.

4. Don’t ask “cheatable” questions.

Stick with open-ended questions. It’s very easy to cheat when there is just one right answer, but if you’re making higher-level inquiries, it becomes a lot harder to copy answers. Rethink your desired outcome. You can still include multiple-choice questions, but ask why the other answers are wrong instead of which one is right.

Another idea is to give all your students the same assignment, but make one aspect unique to each. For example, ask all your students to draw a food chain, but have them each draw one link in the chain out of a hat. Or, if you want your students to do a book talk, have each tell it from a different character or inanimate object’s point of view.

5. Communicate your expectations clearly.

Let them know when it’s appropriate to work together and how to work together. Consider applying an honor code. While this won’t work for every student, it will help them recognize that you’re serious. On the flip side, when you allow them to work together or “let them cheat” through open-book or open-internet tests, you are likely to find that your students work harder and create better end products, since they have no excuses for not getting it right.

6. Show them you’re paying attention.

This is very important to meaningful grading. If you grade based only on completion of a task, you’re opening the door to copying. Wander around your classroom and do spot checks. Ask them to explain one specific piece of an assignment to demonstrate their learning. Even if you check in with only a few kids each day, they’ll have an incentive to stay on their game since they know the spotlight could be on them next.

7. Do your research.

Once a year, open up the cheating discussion to the students, either as a class or anonymously. Ask them what they’re seeing in other classes. What do they know their peers are doing? You’ll be amazed at what you learn from them.

8. Give up!

Pick your battles and don’t get bogged down with ticky-tacky issues. “Cheating” is defined in many ways. What each teacher allows will vary, just like rules around gum chewing or listening to music. Some find that a looser system produces excellent results. Whatever you choose, stressing integrity and deciding what you can live with and what crosses the limits are good jumping-off points.

Learn more about modeling and guiding good digital citizenship for your students in ISTE's self-paced, online Digital Citizenship Academy

Gillian Wilson is a technology integrator with a focus on social studies and gifted education for Chesterfield County Public Schools, Virginia. She is a published blogger and Google Qualified Individual. Before joining the technology team at Chesterfield, she taught middle school history and language arts for nine years. You can follow her musings on life and ed tech @ItsGillianW.