I think it’s about time that we get rid of the idea that cheating is a bad thing per se. Generally speaking, cheating is nothing else than collaboration, something we even want to foster in education today. Also not that in order to cheat you need at least one person willing to share the right answers.
Think about it, collaboration is one of the reasons our ancestors were able to survive. Only because they found ways to collaborate they were able to protect themselves against predators and kill larger animals to feed the group. Only when their children were able to watch and imitate the elders’ behavior and actions innovation was possible. I don’t think that there were many hunter gatherers who worked on a secret spear on their own because they did not want to share their secrets.
In society before the social web individuals were detached from each other. Learning took place in ones room, most of the time alone.
Grades are given based on the performance of the individual, not the group so society taught us that it is better to take care of things on our own. Therefore the skill “able to work in a team” became something you would mention in your CV or demand in a job offer. But, as I said, I believe that team working is the natural behavior of humans. To declare it a special skill only proves that our society is detached from natural behavior.
With the shift to the social web things get back to normal. People can easily connect with others, ask questions or give advice, often without any immediate benefit. Wikipedia or sites like Yahoo Answers are a good example and this phenomenon is often referred to as digital altruism.
Now, if we take into consideration that school, college and university are only a minor part of our every day life it is somewhat illogical that we are forced to change our natural behavior for those couple of hours a day. The success of note sharing sites, Facebook based study groups and peer to peer learning sites shows that the mindset today’s students leans heavily towards sharing, collaborating, e.g. what we normally define as cheating.
The question is of course, how (if at all) would we be able to measure performance in an education system that is based on group based problem solving. We all know that in every group more people are benefitting from the answers than there are people who make the effort and do the hard work. Nevertheless, participation in discussion or working on special tasks based on ones interests and skills is also important.
So instead of grading individuals we could start grading entire classes, taking the pressure of competition away from the individual and use it as a motivator for the entire group to outperform other classes. Inside of the class one could still grade the level of participation, leadership and so on, badges come to mind here.
I would call this concept Creative Commons Education and it would be based on the same principles like Wikipedia articles, photos and all the other content available on the Internet. Students could take parts of their peer’s homework, remix it, add to it but need to mention / link back to their peers and share their work with others.