Sunday, July 12, 2015

Exam Cheats

Thanks to Barbara Bloemhof for drawing this brief video to our attention. And, as she notes, "remember that one country's technology is completely importable to any other country by anyone (of any nationality... is my point...) We will never win a game of "My cheating detection technology is better than your technology to cheat" - so the alternative is to win hearts and minds over to choosing integrity, through sound argument and assessments."

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As a former test development specialist, I can attest that the provincial exams faced all sorts of technological cheating. It took us a bit to notice that many kids travelling overseas to visit families for the holidays would bring back, say, calculators that were three or four years more advanced than those available in Canada. For example, we didn't know there were such things as graphing calculators until after one was confiscated from a student during provincials. I'm not convinced that was even cheating since no one had said you couldn't use a model x100 calculator or whatever. The initial response was to simply ban all calculators, but of course that's stupid. We can't pretend that technology isn't out there and in use on a daily basis so it is obviously stupid to make students work out by hand problems that are never worked out by hand in real world. Better we design better tests (better problems) that actually assess whether students know what they are doing and then give them ALL graphing calculators. To take just that one example.

My favorite example, though, was the kid they caught with an early (this was 20 years ago!) precursor to Google Glass. Kid is idly tapping his fingers on the desk while thinking, and examiner is on his way over to ask him to stop that because it is distracting to others, then realizes that there is a pattern to the taps-- kid is projecting virtual keyboard onto the desk, and typing questions and getting answers via glasses. Very alert examiner to catch that way back then, though (as the video mentions in passing) such "cheater spectacles" fairly routinely available these days.

The solution, of course, is to set assessments for which cheating is not helpful. Although one colleague did have one student who downloaded entries from the internet for her 'personal diary' assignment, that is a lot rarer. (And more obvious--really, you grew up on a fishing boat? I did not know that. Neither did your parents, apparently.) As long as assessment is focused on regurgitating facts, then access to the internet/cheatsheets/accomplice is helpful; but once one moves to more authentic assessments, not so much. Defeat cheaters by making it an open book exam; or drop exams and ask them to complete assessments that are personally meaningful, and that generate meaningful feedback, not just a grade. Have multiple assessments, not just one high stakes test that makes cheating worthwhile, even 'necessary'. If assessments serve as a means to an end (i.e., to help people learn) rather than as the end in itself (e.g., teaching and learning to the test, just to get a grade) then the problem of cheating just goes away.

On a related note:

(March 21, 2015 BBC) Photo shows parents/friends climbing walls outside Bihar school Inda to hand cheatsheets to students writing finals inside. "3 to 4 people helping a single student...a total of six to seven million people helping students cheat," he said. "Is it the responsibility of the government alone to manage such a huge number of conduct a 100% free and fair examination?" Well, um, yeah.

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