Biometrics, Nanotechnology Could Help Combat Cheating On Exams - InformationWeek

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12/6/2006
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Biometrics, Nanotechnology Could Help Combat Cheating On Exams

The main high-tech culprits in cheating are Internet plagiarism and the use of mobile technology for crib sheets or communicating with peers, according to a British study. The report proposes solutions ranging from positive pressure and physical monitoring to the more high-tech means of identifying, discouraging and preventing cheating.

The group that oversees Britain's curriculum and examination systems published a report this week that recommends consideration of biometrics, nanotechnology and other high-teach means to combat cheating during academic and professional exams.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority commissioned the report, "Digital Technologies and Dishonesty in Examinations and Tests," from Nottingham Trent University. While debate continues over whether digital technology is contributing to an increase in cheating, it points out that technology is providing new means for cheating and challenges for those trying to stop it.

Jean Underwood, who authored the university report, identified Internet plagiarism and the use of mobile technology for crib sheets or communicating with peers as the main culprits. The report, released this week, proposes solutions ranging from positive pressure and physical monitoring to the more high-tech means of identifying, discouraging and preventing the practice.

Underwood wrote that test encryption, biometric identification, signal jamming, signal detection, software and even nanotechnology can be put to work to fight what some researchers claim is an "epidemic of cheating."

Underwood cited statistics from the Center for Academic Integrity that showed 70 percent of students in a survey of 50,000 people from more than 60 campuses admitted cheating at some time.

"While the debate on the extent and rates of change over time of malpractice remains active, there is an increasing consensus that the mode of cheating has changed, that is the Internet has changed the dynamics of dishonest academic practice," Underwood wrote.

Although digital technologies are not the only means, they "have brought equity to cheating," Underwood said.

They can also bring help to those trying to stop it. In addition to traditional means of cracking down on cheaters -- warnings, guidelines and physical monitoring -- Underwood said that biometrics could be used to verify identities and prevent impersonation in large test centers, where test monitors are unfamiliar with the people taking examinations. Underwood said that signal jamming and the use of nanotechnology in paint that can filter some signals should be explored, but may prove costly and have legal ramifications. The report stated that signal detection devices are inexpensive and easily obtained and could identify students sharing information during tests.

Underwood recommended field trials for the various methods as well as an approach that would identify institutions where the problem is rampant rather than trying to single out particular students.

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