TUNISIA: Universities to act against high-tech cheating

Tunisia's Ministry of Education plans to counter student cheating with measures including cell-phone jamming and campaigns that warn of dishonesty's consequences. The battle will begin by preventing wireless cheating during baccalaureate examinations, which are the passport to higher education.

"But it must be extended to universities as well," Mohammed Kuchari, higher education consultant, told University World News.

Continuing technological advances and the widespread use of devices such as picture phones and mobile devices with texting and internet capabilities, have made cheating easier and more widespread in higher education worldwide.

Students have stopped hiding crib sheets and whispering to neighbours and started swapping test answers using electronic devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), which perform many of the functions of a computer including web browsing and e-mailing.

Having a browser in the cell phone puts a dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia and a search engine into the hands of every student. It is also possible to use the camera feature on a cell to copy another student's test paper or taking pictures of notes to use during a test. Text messaging is also used by students to send exam answers to others.

"Universities are fighting back, with many revamping their cell phone policies, banning wireless devices from testing environments and issuing penalties," Hilmi Salem, a higher education consultant and director-general of applied sciences and engineering research centres at the Palestine Technical University, told University World News.

As cell phone jamming equipment is illegal in some countries, because it can interfere with other equipment, other means may be needed to fight high-tech cheating.

These include using metal detectors to prevent students entering exams with cell phones or installing body language detectors to monitor the expressions and activities of students undertaking exams, similar to those used in airports to seek out suspicious-seeming people.

But cell phones and PDAs are heavily used in universities, where students are expected to check campus e-mail accounts and access course materials online from almost anywhere.

Also, after incidents such as campus violence at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech, instant campus-wide communication became necessary. Many universities and colleges now have students, faculty and staff register for safety-related communications through cell phones.

"The ideal solution would be if students could use new technology with integrity. Universities must teach students the ethics of using cell phones," Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a researcher at Cairo's National Research Centre, told University World News.

Also, exams should not be designed to test memory, but to test understanding and techniques. This would allow the use of technology openly and internet research to answer appropriate exam questions. In other words, research gathering and techniques rather than memory could be tested.

"Cell phones is here to stay. We must do our best to use them as a learning and research tool and modify the examination system to cope with their bad effects," Abdelhamid concluded.