Teens Ace IT Shortcuts - InformationWeek

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3/7/2002
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Teens Ace IT Shortcuts

Students use tech tools to succeed in school but may face problems at work.

A freshman at Branham High School in San Jose, Calif., recently found himself in a pinch. He'd waited until the last minute to do a research report, so he downloaded an entire paper written by another student, turned it in as his own work, and got an A. "Yes, it's wrong," says a classmate, who frequently gets papers from the Internet. "But it's easier, so I don't care."

Tomorrow's workforce is getting through school with the help of technology. In many cases, that's creating savvy young adults with an ability to quickly master the newest tech tools. At the same time, technology makes it easier than ever for students to break rules and take shortcuts to get ahead in the classroom. That raises a question: Will some members of the emerging workforce, who know how to use technology to cut corners, take the same approach to work assignments once they're out in the business world?

"The Internet is one of the biggest advances to education in the last 50 years, but it's na?ve to think that students aren't going to use that to gain a competitive advantage over peers," says John Barrie, founder of iParadigms LLC, a company that lets teachers pass students' work through its Web site, http://www.turnitin.com, to check for plagiarism.

While plagiarism is as old as the written word, never has it been so easy to do. Web sites such as http://www.screwschool.com, which offer term papers for as little as $5 to $10, make it easy for students to get out of doing work by cheating. Many are taking advantage of that easy access to shortcuts--70% of 4,500 students admit seriously cheating on written work, and 52% say they've cut and pasted full sentences from Web sites, a survey by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University reports. That attitude could be detrimental in the long run, child psychologist Konstantinos Tsoubris says. "If a kid later in life can try the same thing at a job and know he won't get caught, then he'll do it," he says. "There's something to be said about people who've done all the work, who don't take shortcuts."

Cheating On The Rise

The problem the academic world faces is the same misappropriation of intellectual property that affects the business world, only the ramifications differ, Barrie says. For the business world, the issue is monetary. But academicians worry that students who copy work will lose their ability to think critically, and that's a serious problem future employers will need to consider. "Do we want the engineer that's building our cars to not have critical thinking skills?" Barrie asks.

Teens today have a plethora of sources of information readily available, but finding, deciphering, and using that information requires skill sets and a higher order of thinking, says David Thornburg, founder of the Thornburg Center, which specializes in technology used by teens. "Today, context is king. 'What's this information for, and how does it relate to the bigger picture?' is a key issue with young people," he says.

Some teens also understand the difference between using the Internet to do research and stealing the work of others. Saied Ghaffari, a 17-year-old from Vienna, Va., recently researched a paper on George Washington and found hundreds of sources of information on the Internet. "Instead of copying and pasting, I read a lot and learned a lot," he says.

The boundaries broken by technology go beyond the cut-and-paste world of plagiarism. Students surveyed at Branham High also admit to other infractions, including bringing to class a calculator programmed with answers to a math test, a Spanish translator for a language test, and a Jornada PDA with answers stored as files. In one instance, a teacher left the room during a test and students pulled out cell phones and called friends for answers.

While the next generation may be adept at using technology, there may be problems when they enter the workforce, says Jonathan Shames, a partner at Ernst & Young LLP who works with the technology and entertainment markets. "Clearly, this generation likes things in little sound bites, so will they be better multitaskers and less tolerant of long drawn-out things?" he asks. "They may be more prone to use technology to solve problems, but that's a bad thing if you're expecting detailed work and they're not used to that."

--With Tischelle George and Tony Kontzer

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