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A Web of Lies?

Jane Wilshere explores the effect that the world wide web is having on school life.

The incredible growth of the Internet over recent years has caused problems for parents and teachers. Parents worry about which sites their children spend time on, who they chat to online and the possible effects that computer games might have on them. For teachers, meanwhile, the main worry is the way the Internet makes cheating easier!

Schools and universities say there has been a huge increase in plagiarism- taking other people’s words and ideas and pretending that they are your own. In the past, anyone who wanted to copy had to go to a library, find the right books, read through them, find the sections they needed and then physically write down the words they wanted to use. Nowadays, though, students can simply copy extracts from websites - while really desperate students sometimes copy whole essays! As if this wasn’t bad enough, sites offering to actually do homework – at a price – have also started appearing.

Despite all this, we shouldn’t assume that the Internet only brings problems. Indeed, you could say that for every problem the Internet creates, it also brings a solution. Parents can now use sophisticated controls to stop kids accessing sites that might do them harm, whilst new software helps teachers to detect copied work immediately. Many, of course, are already able to recognize when someone is cheating! “Some students suddenly start using words they can’t possibly understand like ‘dialectical antagonism’”, explains one teacher, “or parts of their essays feel different. In fact, one of my students recently gave me an essay he’d copied from the Web and it even contained Web advertisements – AND the name of the original author!”

One of the hardest things for teachers today is deciding how to mix modern technology with traditional study skills – and how best to use the Web in class. As more and more schools install computers in every classroom, the role of the teacher is changing. Making sure students don’t just copy things and do learn how to quote copied work properly is part of their job, but so is designing suitable projects.

My 13 – year – old son is currently working on a project that involves listing all the trees in our town. Along with three other students, he has to photograph them, write about their characteristics, describe the fruit and flowers they produce and so on. This is all uploaded onto a website, and his group discusses their work on Messenger. Finally, they’ll give a PowerPoint presentation about their ideas to the class. Instead of helping him cheat, the Web is actually helping him learn about school subjects, while also helping to develop his life skills and social skills!


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