Dr. Nathaniel Frank
long ago, while tutoring students from a prestigious private school
in Manhattan, one of my students brazenly popped a CD-ROM into
his computer which revealed “answers” to review questions for
an upcoming exam. The file, which was riddled with errors, came
courtesy of former students on the football team who had clearly
not been chosen for their attention to academic detail. It was
an unfortunate case of the blind teaching the blind, with no adult
intervention and no semblance of remorse among students eager
to cut corners.
Around the same time, the school confronted a seemingly unrelated
spate of plagiarism, which resulted in disciplinary measures for
fifteen students. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, my student
was among them. School authorities responded by banning these
and other students from using tutors, based on the presumption
that too many tutors were doing too much of the students’ work.
If it seems to you that this punishment does not fit the crime,
then you are a cl7ose reader. To this day, I have not been able
to grasp why tutors were implicated in the plagiarism scandal.
But the unfortunate upshot was that the students were left with
less adult guidance and a greater temptation to rely on technology—divorced
from ethical principles—to get them through their coursework.
As long as there have been students, there has been cheating.
But the march of technology has facilitated the kind of intellectual
dishonesty that used to require both skill and bravado to accomplish.
Many universities now have networks that let students surf the
web for information while using laptops in the classroom; connected
palm pilots let friends beam notes—or answers—to each other in
the middle of classes or tests; in short, computer technology
has allowed students to share information at the speed of light.
In the past, accessing this information required a resourcefulness
that was almost as impressive as it was unethical. Now, cutting
corners—and even outright cheating—is as easy as clicking a mouse.
Technology has always challenged humans to harness its power while
containing its tendency to govern those it was meant to serve.
When people rise to this challenge, they can integrate technology
into their world in a tremendously beneficial way. How do we do
Computers are a vital part of young people’s lives today. Adults
need to recognize this and commit to introducing computer technology
in a way that habituates students to its interactive aspects rather
than its capacity to hand out answers. When I tutor students,
I use old-fashioned methods of Socratic dialogue, self-critique
and plenty of practice in critical reading and precision writing.
But I also go over to the computer and mentor the proper use of
technology. My goal is that when students see a CD-ROM, they’ll
approach it as a partner in learning, not a hired hand.
As educators, we need to ensure that the wealth of information
now available to students serves as a basis for engaged and proactive
learning rather than a shortcut to passing grades. We need to
integrate technology into our teaching methods, so as to instill
proper habits in today’s students. With that as our goal, we can
hope that new technology will facilitate, rather than impede,
the unchanging aim of shaping not just skilled practitioners,
but good citizens who know how to learn
Nathaniel Frank, an Adjunct Professor of History at New School
and New York Universities, is a tutoring partner at the Teaching
Collective. He can be reached at NF15@NYU.EDU or 718-624-5999
Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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