Monday, an article in University Affairs Magazine by Alex Gillis led me to a study by Julia Christensen Hughes and Donald McCabe (2006). The study showed that 53% of nearly 15,000 Canadian undergraduates “reported having engaged in one or more instances of serious cheating on written work” in the previous year (p. 10). Although the study was published in 2006, the data was gathered during the 2002-03 academic year, which means that the ‘cheaters’ made up the majority of students a full 12 years ago. According to Gillis, the researchers are preparing to release a follow-up study that shows that cheating has ‘likely’ increased still more.
Institutions struggle to combat these numbers through awareness campaigns, strict academic misconduct policies, and expensive plagiarism detection tools. Still, the numbers suggest the problem is far from conquered.
It’s easy to attribute the increase in cheating to the advances in technology that have facilitated access to information, but I’m not so sure that’s the real problem.
Maybe the reason why these numbers keep going up is that we haven’t yet adapted our instruction and assessment measures to reflect the ways that we engage with information now. The classic model, still employed by some instructors, is that the instructor holds and controls the course information. The assessment that follows measures how well the students have stored and processed that information. However, this model may conflict with student experience which tells them that they can find any information they want any time they want it.
Maybe a new model needs be developed, one that surrenders the illusion of control over information and instead empowers students by teaching them how to find, understand, evaluate and productively use the information out there. Assessment, then, would be less about the answer and more about the process for finding that answer.
Who better than Google, the company whose name is now a verb that means ‘to find information on the internet,’ to explore this idea further?
Once a day, Google asks a question that Google itself can’t answer–a stroke of beautiful and deliberate irony, in my opinion, and a clear statement about what Google perceives as ‘true’ information skills. It’s not what you know that matters. It’s what you can discover.
Here’s one Google-a-Day: ” An 11-foot bird lives less than two miles from 30.891383,-102.885032. What’s his name?”
This isn’t a question. This is a puzzle. It’s learning in its most active form. It’s problem solving and critical thinking. It’s the stuff that actually matters and makes it possible for us to live productive, successful, and meaningful lives.
So riddle me this: why are we asking questions that Google can answer when Google itself knows that that’s not what really matters?
 In actuality, problem-based learning is far from new. For more see Queen’s University’s overview.
 This line of thought was inspired by a session I plan on attending at Connect 2015, Canada’s Learning and Technology Conference. The presenter is Kendra Spira and the title of the presentation is “If you can Google the answer, are you asking the right question?”
Hughes, J. C., & McCabe, D. L. (2006). Academic Misconduct within Higher Education in Canada. Canadian Journal Of Higher Education, 36(2), 1-21.