Cheating Online Exam by Teen

Teen using phone to cheat on test..Mom wonders what to do next.

This is an image of a cellphone with a cymath equation posted on it.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Cheating on an online exam? I walked into my daughter’s room when she was supposed to be taking a math test in Algebra II. She had her computer open but on her lap, sort of under the table, was her smartphone with notes. I’ve since learned (from other Moms) that kids go to a site called Cymath to get the solutions. She is a sophomore and needs to do well in this class to get into college, so I am torn whether to say something to her teacher. BTW, what makes it worse is that she goes to a religious high school associated with our synagogue. Roslyn, Encino

Dear Roslyn: First, realize that this is a small transgression in the schema of bad. You and your daughter are not going to go to jail like Loughlin Lough or Felicity Huffman, who schemed their way into your nearby school, University of Southern California.

So, begin with an open conversation. Tell your daughter what you saw but ask if you have the details straight. Have her explain what took place from her perspective. Did the teacher say it was an open book test, did her friends goad her to try it, or does she swear she never looked at notes or Cymath? Based on what I’ve read, I’m equally concerned about software that can surveil students when they take a remote exam and report false positives about cheating behaviors. You could insist that next time your daughter take an exams it’s in open seating so you can monitor (the opposite of ‘Go to your Room Now’ as punishment). However, that is not enough.

It’s Academic

Instead, try to explore the pressures that lead your daughter to this poor decision. Make sure that she gets academic help and gains the confidence she needs to do well in this subject material. Yes, you might need to ask her teacher for help, enroll her in an outside on-line math program, or seek out a tutor, if you can afford it. Or, do all of the above. You must show your daughter that her integrity, hard-work, and good conduct are what matter.

I am cutting your daughter some slack because I wonder if we all take online short-cuts during this time of Covid.  There are adults who sit in their pajama bottoms, teens who are flipping screens and playing a computer game or two, and Zoom meetings where we turn off video so we can be virtually present, but are ‘not.’ In this instance cheating will not get your daughter expelled, but it is a signal that something is amiss and you, as a parent, must look in the window to make adjustments.

If not, she may get into college in two years because she has gotten good enough math grades, but then lack the foundation and skills that are necessary to keep up there and succeed. Kids, exams, and cheating are not a particularly new problem. However, the smartphone adds complexity to the equation (no pun intended) if our students slip through the cracks without learning the material but still give the right answers.

Zoom App on Phone Good?

Zoom Zoom is for Motorways….not for cars.

on a mobile phone, a picture of four people meeting asif  the zoom app is is use.
mobile zoom on phone

Dear Ms. Smartphone: This week I installed the Zoom app on my phone, but my wife went ballistic. She says that I should do Zoom meetings from my home office. We carefully set up the home office together this past March and I signed up for a faster Internet speed then. It is a nice place to work from with a good view, but I am tired of taking all of my meetings indoors. So, why should she care if I use the app on the phone instead?   Kirby, San Francisco

Dear Kirby,

First, approach this with emotional intelligence: perhaps your wife has issues because the two of you went to some trouble to set up the office- picking out suitable furniture, getting new lighting or cameras, and locking into a fast plan with your ISP.  Maybe she feels that you are showing less appreciation towards the digital “nest” you built together. Or, she views this change as a signal that you  work from home is ending. These are emotional issues to talk through. If they don’t fit, then move from emotional intelligence to digital intelligence. 

Here is the safety issue, the so-called digital intelligence. Should you interact with the Zoom app in your vehicle, as you drive, it puts you at risk of a collision, and may cause injury to yourself or others.

DistraCtion Highway 101

There are three sources of smartphone distraction in the car: visual distraction- tick one off for Zoom as you search the faces of four other people; manual distraction- tick of another one as you share your screen; and, the third, most important one – mental distraction. Many people think that they can multi-task when they drive, but honestly, driving demands our full-time faculty. Would you trust your surgeon if she browses on the phone while examining you? Would you trust the driver in the next lane who is having an angry phone call with his teen?

Even if you are a passenger, you probably don’t want to hold a Zoom meeting in the car, What happens here is that the phone call requires extra mental concentration, when we only hear one side of it. So, the driver is likely to be unwittingly engaged. 

Out of the Woods

If you are thinking of using Zoom when you walk the dog or go outside- be cognizant of the surroundings. If there are many streets to cross or busy on-coming traffic, it’s not a good idea. If it’s a walk in the woods, it’s probably OK but ask yourself if this is how you want to spend your time out of doors? Is it mindful? 

Should you need to be in this meeting in the first place if you cannot give it your full attention?  And think of the other party to your Zoom call. What are your digital manners and are you demeaning their time and input when your first priority is to walk the dog while conversing?

We all have times when we cannot be at a fixed location to take a call, so I get the usefulness of the Zoom mobile app. Note that Zoom gives you the option to make a dial-in call, without installing the app. So you can listen in and participate , but you won’t see the participants. 

When we have great technology and good connectivity, it’s not necessary to be a Luddite and resist virtual meetings. However, if you do choose to put this particular app on your smartphone, be mindful of where and when you choose to you it. Most of all, make sure you do not multi-task in the car, unless you are sitting there with the engine turned off. Zoom Zoom is for motorways, not for meetings. 

Reset iPhone for Mom?

Mom is getting hand-me-down phone. Should she get hand-me-down apps?

PIcture from an Iphone of the screen where you reset it to erase all contents
Here’s where you rest the iPhone to factory settings.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is reset necessary? My son has offered to give me his iPhone since he is getting a new one this week. His phone is two or three years old and I notice it has a lot of apps and programs on the home page. He wants to give me the phone as is, with all these apps and programs because he says they are useful and can help me. I would prefer to have none of them and just a clean screen. What do you think? Trish, Richmond

Dear Trish: What a thoughtful son and what a good idea. If the phone is just two or three years old, it should serve you well. But, whether or not you do a reset, make sure that the operating system is updated to its latest version. That will make the phone less vulnerable to hacks, and probably improve the battery life and performance. 

As for wiping out the apps your son has installed and starting afresh, I would say ‘go for it.’ That way you can find new apps that matter to you, check their security settings, and have a home screen that is personalized to your needs and interests. Imagine that you moved into someone’s house and they had a bookcase filled with records and books. You might enjoy looking through them, but they might not reflect what you prefer to be surrounded with. BTW, ‘app’ is short for application, and it refers to software that runs on your mobile device. When you ‘tap the app’, it will link you to an outside website.

Pass on the Password

The other reason I would start with a fresh restart is that many times there are passwords and user names associated with the apps and  logins. When I teach the ridehail class, I see older people frustrated by their phones because they need to know the codes that their children set up, but forgot to share. Likewise, there may be a credit card on file, say for Uber or Lyft, that is not yours. 

It isn’t clear whether this hand-me down phone is going to be billed to your own phone plan or to your son’s family plan. If the latter, you might want to look into the Apple Watch I mentioned in last week’s column. The newest version will not require you to carry your iPhone with you when you go out! But, your movements and phone log might be visible to your son!

Apps We Need in Bay Area!

But, back to the phone you are setting up. It might be a good idea, at least for a week or two , to browse the App Store every day and see the variety of apps you can download. I am linking here to a useful set of phone numbers and apps for safety and emergencies here in the Bay Area from the SF Chronicle.  (make sure to scroll down the page)

On a lighter note,  you might enjoy the games, the brain exercises, the cooking classes, or more. Other ones,  like  iHealth or Compass are baked into the phone and can’t be deleted. When you browse new apps, most of them will be free, but if you see one that costs money, you can use a pre-paid Itunes card if you don’t want to put your credit card on file.

You can find the controls to wipe your phone clean under Setting>General >Reset. You’ll note when you do this that you have to initialize the change by entering the phone’s passcode. So you are not going to enable this without having a full discussion with your son and getting his passcode for the  hand-me-down phone! Meanwhile, since you will probably be donating the phone you use today, or putting it in the sock drawer, make sure to wipe that one clean too.