But schools are learning that technology can be their friend by helping them stay one step ahead of tech-savvy cheaters. In Florida's Palm Beach County school district, administrators have set up an Internet firewall so students can't use school computers to exchange e-mail and instant messages that might contain exam questions or answers. Greens Farms Academy, a K-12 school in Westport, Connecticut, uses Secureexam, which "locks" computers and prevents students from accessing the Web during exams. The software was installed two years ago, even though cheating is not commonplace. "The technology allowed us to be proactive," says Justine Fellows, coordinator of academic technology. "We wanted our students to feel they were on a level playing field."
Many high schools now require students to submit their papers to Web sites like TurnItIn.com. For about $1 per pupil per year the company analyzes writing assignments for more than 5,000 middle and high schools, comparing a digital copy of a student's composition to a database of books, journals, the Internet and previously submitted papers. Students and teachers get instant feedback with suspect material highlighted. Of the 100,000 papers TurnItIn.com checks daily, about a third contain unoriginal, unsourced "cut-and-paste" content, from a few sentences to a paragraph or even more.
Other places are taking a low-tech approach. After teachers in Gwinnett County, Georgia, noticed an alarming increase in plagiarized papers, the school district last year launched a curriculum to teach students what constitutes cheating, as well as the basics of research and writing. "We felt that a lot of plagiarism is unintentional," says Joyce Berube, a Gwinnett district director. "Kids are so bombarded with information on the Internet that many think the content is common knowledge."