May 26, 2006

Here & There

Cool stuff from around the blogosphere:

  • Another story from InsideHigherEd yesterday is Stop Chasing High-Tech Cheaters By Ira Socol. Basically, his idea is that we're wasting our time stopping students from cheating using their cellphones and other electronic devices during exams. In real life, people can use the web or ask other people for help when solving a problem, so students in exams should be allowed to do the same thing. Granted, exams that rely only on regurgitating facts aren't that useful pedagogically and are easy to cheat on. But, a well designed course can have different types of evaluation. Papers and projects can test research and collaboration skills. It seems to me that it is also appropriate to test what a student actually knows as opposed to what they can beg, borrow or steal from someone else. It's obvious that Socol has never taken a science or math course either -- otherwise he would have been well aware that such courses have long allowed cheat sheets (and calculators) so that they can emphasise testing understanding of problem solving techniques rather than formula memorization.
  • Another, more amusing, piece on cheating via Schneier on Security. Tips on How to Cheat Good: Don't cheat off family; Don't talk British; You Google, I Google; Don't rite to good; Malaprop big words; Use the word "rediculous"; Borrow from someone who writes as badly as you do; Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text.
  • Via Computational Complexity, the CRA's Taulbee Survey on CS in the US & Canada.
  • OCLC's College Students' Perceptions Report is here. (100 page pdf version).
  • ScienceBlogs is expanding faster than the universe, it seems. EvolutionBlog has just joined. Others about to be integrated include The Scientific Activist, Good Math, Bad Math, coturnix as well as others mentioned by coturnix. Generally, I think this is a good thing. The ScienceBloggers seem to have complete freedom to say what they want. It also creates a real critical mass of science blogging, something that everyone can build on. On the other hand, it seems to me that there's the danger of putting all our eggs in one basket. Does this giant leave enough room out there in the ecosystem for others to flourish? Are people who get into that one site going to explore all the others? In any case, I wish them well. I certainly follow the site very closely and an glad to see it do well. Some others that I would suggest? Jane and Computational Complexity, for sure. The need someone representing the computing field more directly than Deltoid.
  • "Here in the North there is no such thing as monkeys." Sheesh.


narrator said...

Really? Is it that obvious that I have never taken a science or math course? What a remarkable statement. Since I spend my days attending IEP meetings and visiting high schools and colleges, I'm well aware of what is, and is not, allowed on examinations. Millions of students are not only told that they cannot bring information to class, they are told they cannot bring calculators because they may have stored formulas. If all of what you said was happening, none of the debate currently happening at InsideHigherEd would be going on.

I'm not sure what world you live in, but it is not in the world of American education as I experience it daily.

- Ira Socol

John Dupuis said...

Ira, yes, "obviously" may have been a bit strong. But, my own experience with post-secondary education here in Canada is a bit different. I can hardly recall any post-secondary course I took here where the emphasis was on pure memorization. Cheat sheets and open book exams were quite common. Perhaps some of the many courses I took where programming was required on the exam could have allowed supplemental materials, but as I learned later in my programming career, being very fluent in the basics of a programming language is a huge asset to increase productivity. Also, I work at a university and I often see our science students working on their cheat sheets in the library.

Another side issue. Technology. We always assume millenials all have cell phones. In fact, they don't. They don't all have computers and Internet access at home. They don't all have Facebook or Livejournal pages. They are quite a diverse group, with different skills and interests and means. We should resist the temptation to gear ourselves and our philosophies to the smartest, coolest or richest ones, as much as we may like the reflection we see of ourselves in those kids.

In any case, I think I may have bungled making my main point. Different types of evaluation have different purposes and individual courses can mix those types of evaluation. Papers, projects and presentations guage research and collaborative skills. No question that these are useful ways to teach students to find information and work with people. Those skills can be taught across the curiculum in all the various course. However, I do think exams have a place too. They can test a student's fluency in the course materials. What do you actually know how to do as opposed to what you can find out. If you're learning a language, you actually have to know grammar vocabulary to make yourself understood. If you're an engineer, you actually have to understand the physics of the situation you are in, to have a feel for the materials you are using. Even we librarians actually have to know how to approach reference interviews. And when we're standing in front of a class explaining how to do a literature search, we actually have to know how to do a literature search. So, I think it is perfectly legitimate to test these things (and others) without "cheating."

narrator said...

My experience with post-secondary education in Canada has been somewhat different from the US experience as well. And, well, we'll leave that at that.

But to your point about millenials not all being "wired" (or wireless), surely this is true. This isn't Europe, but you are making the wrong decisions. In the work world everyone will need to function in a wired way. Assembly line workers must have high computer skills, Wal-Mart employees carry hand-helds, and as you move up the economic ladder the tech demands get more and more complex. My first reason for insisting on much more extensive tech use is that - because I do a lot of work for a Department of Labor, transitioning students to work, this is a huge complaint of employers. They need employees who can think, search, get information anywhere instantly, and most US college grads are far behind on this. If schools and universities do not dramatically expand what they are doing with technology, the cool, the rich, the entitled, will still - as always - be just fine. But those students without the social capital will (once again) be left behind.

How different when you go to Europe, and watch all students answering by bluetooth cellphone in a maths class. Along the way the school is teaching cellphone ettiquette and text messaging skills - yes, to every student.

- Ira Socol