William Pierce, Executive Administrator of Digital Innovation and Program Management for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., says schools can use technology to support academic integrity.

Jan 10 2023
Digital Workspace

K–12 Schools View Technology as a Guardrail for Good Digital Citizenship

Technologies that detect plagiarism and filter websites can turn student lapses into learning opportunities.

Jefferson County Public Schools, a one-to-one district in the diverse city of Louisville, Ky., is on a mission to bridge the digital divide and train a generation to become good digital citizens.

During a time when many students have access to personal and school-issued devices, JCPS is focused on teaching academic integrity rather than punishing lapses, says William Pierce, executive administrator of digital innovation and program management. In some cases, ed tech is used as a guardrail against student misconduct, serving as a teaching aid, Pierce says.

JCPS relies on its Google Workspace Plus subscription for originality reports, as well as digital classroom management tools from GoGuardian Teacher.

“Students are still developing, and they’re going to have missteps,” says Pierce, whose district serves more than 95,000 students in 165 schools. “We have those tools in place so a teacher can, for instance, run an originality report and see if a student has taken work from somewhere, and then respond appropriately.”

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Revamp the Assessment Models, Augment Academic Integrity Aids

Technologies that filter content, lock down browsers and detect plagiarism are nothing new. They have been around for years and work as they were designed to, says Susan Patterson, associate professor of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. Students’ personal technology, however, can easily bypass a locked-down browser, and plagiarism detection too often is used to police rather than educate young learners, she says.

“Almost all the students have phones, and now they have smartwatches too, so locking down Chromebooks isn’t necessarily a solution to cheating,” Patterson says. “The technologies for detecting plagiarism are good tools, but I’d like to see them used more effectively.”

Patterson says schools should instead encourage students to use applications such as Google’s originality reports by themselves or with a teacher. That way, they learn when and how to provide proper attribution before they submit their work.

Source: International Center for Academic Integrity, Survey of Academic Integrity Practice, March 2020

Content filters and locked-down screens are designed to enforce academic integrity within an assessment model that needs revamping, Patterson says. Instead of asking questions whose answers are just a surreptitious internet search away, she suggests “more authentic” assessments based on students demonstrating skills and knowledge in creative projects.

Privacy Is Primary When Solving for Academic Integrity

In addition to districtwide solutions such as originality reports, JCPS allows individual schools to select technologies for plagiarism detection and content monitoring, Pierce says. However, those technologies must fit within budgets and meet strict requirements for protecting student data.

“We want schools to be able to use what works best for them,” he says. “We are very careful about student privacy. We make sure the companies we work with have demonstrated that they won’t lose control of the data, and we won’t find it floating around on the internet.”

Technology is not going away in education or in life, so it is important to mitigate student mistakes and misconduct carefully, he says.

“We do this by looking for a way to reintegrate that student into the curriculum in a restorative fashion,” says Pierce. “If we don’t handle missteps well as we push students into a digital world, they will retreat. We want them to understand and operate as good digital citizens.”

DISCOVER: How schools are protecting student data.

Use of Pandemic-Proven Tech Tools Continues in Schools

Turlock Unified School District in California had just implemented GoGuardian when COVID-19 forced it to switch to remote learning. The ability to monitor students’ screens from a distance helped TUSD teachers navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

Now that in-school learning has returned, GoGuardian and other tools that bolster good digital citizenship remain integral to their classroom arsenals, says Marshall Beyer, the district’s coordinator of educational technology. TUSD serves roughly 14,000 students in 14 schools.

“Increasing our reliance on technology was essential during the pandemic, but technology continues to be more and more important in education, along with tools that promote academic integrity,” Beyer says.

TUSD teachers continue to use GoGuardian to limit student access to certain websites, and Google forms to lock down assessment instruments, Beyer says. They address plagiarism by using Google’s originality reports app or other plagiarism detection software. The district also contracted with an online tutoring program, which includes a plagiarism check in its essay reviews.

Mindful of student privacy, the district disables applications like GoGuardian outside of school hours, Beyer says.

The technologies help, but they are only part of the response to student misconduct, says Beyer. “The key is a combination of using tools, using good practices and having discussions with students about attribution and acceptable behavior.”

Nye County School District Factors in Socioeconomic Challenges

Nye County School District, which serves about 6,000 students in 18 schools spread across 18,182 miles of western Nevada, is one of the nation’s largest districts geographically. NCSD uses GoGuardian for web filtering to block inappropriate sites, including those from which students might crib information and test answers, says NCSD Technology Director Robert Williams.

NCSD uses Google districtwide, and teachers can run originality reports to check on plagiarism, including a newer feature that adds documents generated within the district to the review. This prevents siblings and friends from recycling other students’ essays.

robert williams nye county
The first time or two a student is caught, teachers go through why this is cheating, how to avoid it and how students must credit their work.”

Robert Williams Technology Director, Nye County School District

“It’s a learning process for kids, no matter what tool you use,” Williams says. “The first time or two a student is caught, teachers go through why this is cheating, how to avoid it and how students must credit their work.”

At NCSD, as at many other districts, the pandemic was a major blow to the social and emotional well-being of students, perhaps even more so than the learning loss documented across the country, Williams says.

“Coming out of one of the most difficult times they have ever faced, one of the coping behaviors some students learned was maybe cheating saves time,” Williams says. “Sometimes kids can see that as cheating, and sometimes it’s just coping with the pressures that they’re under. We have to respond to the behaviors these tools detect by understanding their context.”

READ MORE: Support social-emotional needs with self-regulation spaces.

Photography by JONBOB

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