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Is cheating online really cheating?

A light-hearted article on the New York Times web site about online cheating made me smile last week. Caught in the Deceit of the Web described how the author, Michelle Slatalla, has pangs of conscience over using a web-based anagram tool while playing Lexulous, an online game similar to Scrabble.

Despite her misgivings, Ms Slatalla justified it along the usual lines: it isn’t hurting anyone and everyone else is probably doing it too! Oh, and by the way, she’s an absolute straight arrow when it comes to the real world. No cheating there!

The no harm, no foul justification is a good one. Calling on a little underhand help for a casual online game is certainly not a crime in my book. It’s the equivalent of shuffling the deck while playing solitaire or kicking the ball out of the rough in a friendly game of golf.  If nobody suffers and you can sleep soundly at night, I say go for it!

The problem, as always, is identifying when those shades of gray get a little too dark. Let’s say there’s no money involved in Lexulous but instead of just playing against the computer you start playing other online competitors. Your name now appears in worldwide ladders. Is it still OK to keep that other window open and let the web come up with your best play? I think not!

Of course, we can blame the Internet for providing us with so many temptations. There are thousands of online resources to help us solve any problem and at some stage we are going to use them. It’s like walking down the street and finding 20 lost wallets. Eventually the temptation is going to be too much and we’ll say: “Well, maybe just this one time wouldn’t hurt…”

Now think about how these online temptations must feel to our kids, particularly when it comes to study and homework. They are being brought up with the Internet as the great oracle. Need a few paragraphs of text on virtually any subject you can think of? Turn to Wikipedia. Having trouble adding and subtracting fractions? Go to HelpWithFractions.com and use their instant online calculator.

When it comes to schoolwork, answers are literally just a few clicks away, encouraging our kids to take shortcuts and the easy way out. It’s not just sexting and M-rated video games we have to worry about. The Internet and technology are changing all the temptations of childhood.  

Comment by Alex Henning - kimaso.com, posted 8/18/2009, 6:54 PM:

In high school most homework doesn't count (well, it probably depends on the school), what matters is test scores which measure skill. If you understand the subject and feel that you will do well on the test, cheating so that you don't have to do all 100 problems that are highly repetitive doesn't really hurt anyone (other than yourself if you over-estimated yourself). Cheating on papers that count for a large portion of your grade is a different story.
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