How High-Tech Cheating Could Save Education

Technology’s been changing the face of education for years, but a new movement being tested in Australia may be the most radical shift yet. A school in Sydney is experimenting with a program in which it allows — no, encourages — its students to cheat. And here’s the craziest part: It just might be brilliant.

So check it out. The school has students complete “open assignments” and “open tests.” They can use the Internet to find facts and even use their phones to call friends for help. The only catch? They have to properly cite all the information.

Now, I’ll admit, my initial reaction was a resounding “what the hell?” But then I read their rationale and did a total 180.

The teachers say they realized they needed to “redefine [their] attitudes toward traditional ideas of ‘cheating'” to better prepare students for the real world. In real life, the teachers theorized, it’s more important to be able to find and process information than to be able to memorize it.

That actually makes sense. A lot of it.

I’ve long believed that the idea of memorizing useless facts — then, of course, promptly forgetting them — is ultimately a waste of everyone’s time. Back in my days as a TV news producer, I used to laugh about the common station practice of conducting a “knowledge test” as part of the hiring process. Managers would actually give applicants a list of questions about everything from world leaders to geography, current events to government branches — and their results would influence whether or not they’d get the job. That’s all fine and dandy, but remember: A news producer sits at an Internet-enabled computer all day. His job is to be able to find anything — not to know everything.

It dawns on me that in today’s tech-centric world, the same notion applies to students. And while I initially scoffed at this edgy Australian approach, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how right-on it really is. Maybe 50 years ago, it was vital to memorize hoards of facts and figures. Maybe. In today’s world, though, it simply isn’t — and kids are going to gain a whole lot more from learning how to seek out answers, filter out unreliable information, and formulate an effective argument around what’s left.

The consultant who inspired the idea said it best:

“Being able to find and apply the right information becomes more important than having it all in your head.”

Amen, brother. And hey — if you ever need to reference that quote, you know exactly where to find it.