How edtech companies are enabling academic misconduct

Making practices more ethical to combat student dishonesty

There’s no doubt that edtech is an unspoken hero of the pandemic. Its accessible nature, together with limitless resources and formats, makes many platforms a virtual paradise for students across countries, age groups, interests and even economical backgrounds. But are things in edtech actually as picture-perfect as they sound?

In 2020, edtech in the US saw a 30% year-on-year growth in investment, a clear testament to the general recognition of the sector’s flexibility and appeal to ensure continuity of education for millions of students worldwide. However, there’s an emerging problem on the horizon; rather than encouraging a deep understanding of a subject, uncontrolled growth of edtech may introduce a culture of easy wins and mechanical copy-pastes. This could adversely impact a student’s overall level of understanding and will only give a superficial grasp of the subjects being studied. 

However, there’s an emerging problem on the horizon; rather than encouraging a deep understanding of a subject, uncontrolled growth of edtech may introduce a culture of easy wins and mechanical copy-pastes”

So, how are some edtech platforms unwittingly encouraging cheating, and what can the industry do about it?

What we know about cheating

Cheating and education go hand-in-hand – that’s a fact. In a survey rolling over 12 years, 95% of students admitted to cheating on tests or homework or to committing plagiarism. There are various reasons for this brutal statistic: students desire better grades to increase their chances of getting accepted into elite schools, to pass a mandatory subject they care little about, to save time, or simply because everyone else does it.

Interestingly, this is further aggravated when students either don’t feel engaged by the subject they’re learning or lack a sense of belonging within the learning community, whether face-to-face or online. Such detachment (and a subsequent dehumanisation) from learning, as well as from the people that surround it, is more likely to trigger the pursuit of self-interest.

In the online space, this is particularly dangerous. While edtech brings new opportunities, being the Netflix and Uber of education, it also tears down further barriers to achieving real knowledge, making the process of not studying or doing the coursework easier than it has ever been before. Access to immediate answers, particularly on platforms that blindly chase profits, creates new opportunities for academic misconduct.

The problem with edtech

Many students say that remote classes have deteriorated their ability to learn and retain information, and they only intend to cheat in the short-term. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but what is already obvious is that platforms giving easy answers have benefited massively – and that edtech can, indeed, do better.

“Access to immediate answers, particularly on platforms that blindly chase profits, creates new opportunities for academic misconduct”

According to Imperial College London, during April to August 2020 alone, there has been an increase of almost 200% in questions and answers for five STEM subjects posted to online ‘cheating’ platforms. This demonstrates both the growing popularity of these tools, as well as students’ inclination towards fast, simple solutions to their educational progress. Technology is always bound to bring the good and the bad, and while edtech can’t be fully to blame, there needs to be stronger mechanisms in place that encourage engaged learning and the development of actual critical thinking, first and foremost.

Better learning experiences benefit all

Rather than diving into deep discussions about ethics, we need to ask ourselves how edtech can deliver better products, and collaborate with educators, in order to alleviate the cheating epidemic and promote a healthy learning environment.

It all starts with realising that platforms making education ‘easy’ isn’t negative per se – but when those platforms disconnect students from learning in the first place, that’s when problems arise. Just like that, the quality of material on the site doesn’t necessarily correspond to the impact the platform has on a student. Instead, tools and solutions that can provide answers while walking the student through and allowing them to choose their preferred format and delivery, asynchronously, will thrive. 

Rather than advancing empty solutions, edtech needs to prioritise the value it delivers to its users. It’s time for us to make clear distinctions between services that promote cheating and solutions built around what education actually stands for. To minimise cheating, we simply need to teach better, and in today’s world, this means delivering content in a way that’s personalised to the needs of all students.

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