Generation Z: The Biggest Cheaters Since Homer

Ancient Greek records point to two men who were the last people to recite the Illiad and Odyssey from memory before that upstart, techno-cheat Homer came along and WROTE IT ALL DOWN. Newly translated documents indicate that either Statusquoates or Progressblockus own that somewhat dubious distinction.
Much of the world celebrates that time as when Western civilization invented writing.  Educators, though, point to this period as when people lost their ability to remember.  Apparently, that portion of the ancient Greek brain withered away and died when the new writing technology was introduced, similar to when we lost our ability to add and subtract when Texas Instruments unleashed that devilish calculator.
While Statusquoates and Progressblockus have no ancient Greek statues erected in their honor (we may never know if they had arms or not), much of what they embodied survives today in the Information Age.  Few of us have really come to terms with what the Information Age means and what its effects are on today’s students, especially the Generation Z crowd that was the first generation born after the Internet went public.

Idealism vs. Realism

The Information Age and digital era in general have reshaped our lives, they way we do things, the way we think. Even the notion of cheating and what it means to cheat has changed. In education, academic idealism has collided with GenZ realism. Beliefs in student integrity and cheating are at odds with the abundance of information and the speed of content delivery.
Educators site these two offenses as being the most egregious:

  • Students using personal devices in class to access information on the net.
  • Students downloading content from the web and using as their own.

The trouble with this is that we are hanging on to a world where information was behind closed doors and came with a cost.  Similar to mining for gold and diamonds, accessing information used to be difficult and expensive.  GenZ, though, is moving relentlessly forward into an implausible world where the knowledge of all humankind is at their fingertips with a pricetag that is cheap or, heaven forbid, free.  Yet the manner in which we teach and assess knowledge has not fundamentally changed.  It’s Statusquoates meets Homer all over again.

Data in the Information Age

The Information Age has changed itself in the last fifteen years as the speed of technology delivers a staggering amount of data to us instantly 24/7.  Here’s some Internet data numbers for you, but these are the highlights:

  • 48 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube every minute
  • 100 billion photos on Facebook
  • 5.9 billion mobile Internet subscriptions worldwide
  • 1.2 billion mobile broadband subscriptions
  • 550 millions webistes, and
  • 300 million websites added in 2011.

For a good infographic on Internet data, check this out.

Delivery Is the Key

It’s not just the content that is staggering, it’s the delivery of that content that is just as amazing. While our generation (Boomers, Xs, and Ys) is still amazed by the amount of data and the speed in which we can access it, the GenZs completely take it for granted.  It’s all that they’ve ever known.
Think about these implications.  Information is not just at our fingertips.  Information is literally streaming through us via wifi and satellite signals. Yet educators don’t want students accessing information that the rest of the world is beaming to them (and through them). It’s a contradiction that boggles the GenZ mind. It’s like giving them prescription glasses, but forcing them to look through the lenses backwards.  The information is right there for them to see, but we’ve added a ludicrous barrier to stymie their efforts.

Memorization and Copyright Protection

Memorizing is a necessary skill.  Accessing our memory is indeed quicker than accessing the net.  Whether that information is accurate is another story.  The problem is that in this Information Age too many educators are only teaching and testing memory skills, wallowing in that lower end of Bloom’s. If they’re not teaching students to discover, curate, and manage information, though, they’re missing the realism in GenZ’s future.  This is also necessary before they move to the upper end of Bloom’s.  Information management is the memory’s next door neighbor.
Teaching about copyright and proper content sharing should be an essential standard.  Students should respect the work of others just as they will want to protect their own work that they upload to the net.  Although, their concept of sharing is way different than ours in their world of mashups and remixes.  Most would be greatly honored to have their content added to a mashup or remix.
As educators, we don’t want students to download Powerpoints from the net and pass them off as their own.  Remember that they were born into the world of mashups and remixes, so they will need to be taught copyright.   Many teachers think that having students create Powerpoints is a great 21st-century skill.  Given any topic, savvy students can find a related Powerpoint via an advanced Google search in less than a second.
Using an advanced Google search, I just found 1,310 Powerpoint presentations in .4 seconds on Shakespeare’s Theater.

And here are 1,130 presentations in .37 seconds for Ebola outbreaks.

I’m fairly savvy on the net, but I learned the Google file type trick from a GenZer.  Maybe a more thoughtful assignment in the Information Age would be to have students download multiple Powerpoints, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, create their own based on what they learned, and upload to the net to showcase their product for others to see and comment on, while giving appropriate attribution for the content and images they use.

Catching (up with) the Gamers

The gamer generation has reclassified cheating, just like Homer’s generation did.  Advanced gamers and game developers have created game “cheats” to give an advantage to other gamers. Gamers who develop cheats are heros in the gaming world, and using cheats are an accepted and expected part of the game.
Let me frame the argument against this concept:

But that’s gaming. Education is serious business. What can we possibly learn from gamers? Gaming already eats into the time at home that students should be spending memorizing my facts.

We can learn a lot from gamers.  Think about how gaming works:

  • Gamers are rewarded along the way.
  • They get instant feedback.
  • The difficulty slowly increases.
  • Gaming is based on mastery.  Gamers don’t advance until they pass that a level.
  • If gamers fail a level, they don’t go back to the start; they go back to the beginning of that level.
  • They work in a collaborative environment.
  • The gaming environment is immersive and visual.
  • Games focus on problem solving.
  • Cheats allow gamers to advance when they are stuck or need help.

No wonder students master complicated games quicker than they do the eight parts of speech on multiple-choice grammar exams.
Gamers develop cheats when the developers make the level “stupid hard” or with “Nazi game design.” Advanced gamers typically develop collaborative wikis and crack all the cheats codes in the first week of a game’s release, sometimes in the first twenty-four hours.  That’s the power of crowd sourcing. Cheats have turned every gamer into Captain Kirk defeating the Kobayashi Maru test.
This is where gamers find their cheats:

  • Strategy guides (sold in-store)
  • Cheat books (sold in-store)
  • Game hints (in the game)
  • Wikis and blogs (free online), and
  • Video Demos (free online).

Teachers are doing many of these things, but how can they fully embrace the gaming cheat phenomenon in order to have their students master class material like they do their games?  First of all, the educational world is not ready to embrace the “cheat” terminology any time soon.  We need to rebrand it to something like “Flexible Mobile Mastery” for it to take root.
Gaming world cheats are typically a workaround.  They are never “just do this and you win, game over.”  Cheats are some sort of extra tool, knowledge, shortcut, or extra time.
Educators and advanced students can create similar cheats.  Sorry, Flexible Mobile Mastery. Other students can add to the cheats, leave comments, and document their experiences just like on the gamer wikis.

Jetson Kids in Flintstone Schools

Does this seem out of this world or just real world?  Imagine in the work environment if a CEO gives a worker a massive project.  Would the CEO have to tell the worker that it’s okay to use the power of the Internet while working on the project or would it just be expected? What if the worker didn’t use the Internet and just used the ancient knowledge that he or she learned back in college?
Peter Williams, chief executive of Deloitte Digital, says the following:

They have been exposed to so much more information, music, movies, cultures and photos. Their capacity to absorb information is breathtaking but they like the short grabs. They become incredibly knowledgeable about their passions because they have access to a mountain of information that we never had.

So has this technology really made the GenZs the biggest bunch of cheaters since Homer?  Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe say not so fast.  Their studies have shown that the GenZs  have a “greater social conscience and notion of fairness” than the three generations before them.

But What If . . . .

Progressblockus always has one last ditch-effort to derail change.  Today’s naysayers use an emotional, apocalyptic argument against relying on the Internet.

But what happens when the power goes out?  Not like for an hour, but in one of those electro-magnetic-nuclear-pulse things?  What are these kids going to do then?

Well, for one, we will have bigger problems on our hands than multiple-choice tests, right?  In this scenario, planes will fall out of the sky, grids will go offline, trains won’t be able to move, money won’t move, economies will crash.
Who will survive that?  The gamers, that’s who.  They have the cheats ready.

Adam Renfro

Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011.

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1 Comment


Great article. Love the phrase "Jetson kids in Flintstone schools."

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