Bad News! No more cheat-sheets during exams

What is this paper not about?
  Here are some thoughts I wanted to share with teachers, parents and practitioners in the educational sphere. I am almost sure these thoughts are apparently obvious for all, but I am also sure they are hiding other tougher thoughts that few dare unveil. This paper is not about how to eradicate cheating from schools, though cheating is prevailing in all the other aspects of life, but it is rather about defining terms so as to know what students consider cheating and what they don’t actually regard as cheating.  The point is to make it clear that technology and traditional schools are not compatible at all. Either schools become able to keep up with the technological development or do nothing and watch the whole system being humiliated by iPhones, iPads and smart phones during its official exams.

Part I

Suggested New terms and jargon to use in the classroom.
  • Write on the board: upload
  • Write down: download or copy/paste
  • Answer the question: process data
  • Clean / brush the board: format the board drive
  • Repeat or rephrase: reboot
  • Revise lessons: update / upgrade
  • Think: use your smart phone.
  • Be quiet: mute
  • School things: tools / hardware
  • Text books: data files
  • Lessons: data / software programs
  • Blackboard: Hard drive
  • Copybook: flash drive / USB (universal serial bus)
  • Pen / pencil / rubber: keyboard / tool-bar
  • Teacher: CPU (Central Processing Unit)
  • Student: hacker (funny, no?)
Should all these new terms be preceded by the word, “primitive” as in “primitive downloading method” which means “copy down in your exercise books?”

         We have gone a little far off, haven’t we? We are not there yet. The most urgent question to be “processed” is how to make students understand that smart phones are considered tools for cheating? Some may suggest preventing the students from bringing their mobile phones into the test-room. Genius! Some of them are going to hand you one mobile phone to keep at the desk while they have one or more in their pockets. Some others may suggest searching them like at the airport. Too loose, isn't it? Some of them have tiny devices they can place within their ears and no one can notice. All the other security measures taken prove fruitless. So what?! Is it the end?!

         What if we allow the students to keep their smart phones and even use them for getting information they need for the exam. The exam paper, however, is not to be ordinary or conventional itself. It is going to be designed for the students to process, to analyse, to give personal opinions and to evaluate the information. The exam is going to be based on skills and competences especially those connected to testing cognitive and methodical faculties. Exam papers are to be based on critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. The students can be given the permission to use whatever they need provided that they do not have identical topics, otherwise they fail the exam. Well! Some would say that the students may contact other people outside to dictate them what to do. Fine, what if we use the same technology to intercept and block the messages coming in and out the test-rooms?!

         All this is a kind of foreboding of what is going to happen to our education in the near future.

Part II

         Obviously cheating on exams becomes a nightmare for the educational system integrity. It is a worldwide reality that nobody can deny; however, it constitutes a constant threat that has to be dealt with seriously and fought effectively. Almost all schools, colleges and universities globally have conducted researches and strategies to combat the phenomenon, but in vain. Cheating activities expand and start to possess more power owing to the development in the field of technology.

         Nowadays, the old traditional cheating methods do not worry schools and academic integrity any more. The game of cheating is getting more and more complicated and demoralizing. Now there are smart phones and highly developed technological devices that are making school life for honest students a real hell. How come that a good student spends all his time (day and night) cramming, revising lessons, practicing with teachers, then reviewing everything all over again; and once during the exam an awfully low efficient student who can hardly make the difference between “p” and “q” gets answers illegally via technology, and passes. No doubt, there is something wrong and unethical about this, and it should be fixed.

         Where does the real problem lie? There must be a certain inconsistency somewhere, sure. So is it in …

  • the curricula,
  • the learners themselves,
  • the tutors,
  • the exam formats,
  • the testing methods and material
  • Or what?
         A tough question like this one has to be looked into and discussed from different angles and perspectives so as to pave the way for a more practical concrete solution. However, since the interest in this issue is increasing more than ever before, many concerned people - particularly parents and teachers - are eagerly looking forward to reaching realistic and reliable remedies. I think it would be better first to check for the causes which lead some students to cheat.

          Who is supposed to cheat?

  • Low proficient students in competition with more competent peers.
  • The students whose Parents insist that they must get higher grades.
  • Inapt students who dream of accessing outstanding universities.
  • Students with poor, marginal or no knowledge and skills at all.
  • Lazy and negligent students
  • Irresponsible and uninterested candidates.
         Apart from the usual restraining penalties and punishments, what else could be done to rescue the honest students from this mess?

☺ Advising and motivating the students to do well at school.
☺ Assisting low efficient students to regain their self-confidence.
☺ Making tests less information seeking.
☺ Emphasizing thinking over repeating knowledge.
☺ Changing syllabuses to fit the generation Y.
☺ Testing problem solving referentially.
☺ Connecting between curricula and labour market.
☺ Sensitizing the potential cheaters of the importance of academic achievement.

         In a word, the detrimental meddling of technology with the school mission makes the burden get heavier for teachers and learners all the same. In the technological era, there is no need for cheat-sheets anymore during exams! Almost all the students are aware that cheating during exams is a deplorable misconduct. But what do they actually understand by "cheating"? They are talking about the outdated techniques of cheating such as copying from each other, peer or group-work, taking unauthorized material into the exam-room susceptible to assist them answering the exam and test questions. The material could be on miniature sheets of paper, written on their skin, on bottles of water and so on. Now the students know that such material is a transgression of the regulations of the educational system along with the principle of equal opportunities. Therefore, they all agree that cheat-sheets are illegal. Times are changing!

         Since they associate cheating only with taking crib sheets into the test-rooms, the learners today do not really assimilate the real unethical and immoral values behind the word “cheating”. They do not consider the mobile phone as a tool for cheating, but it is. That’s not really out of tenacity; it is rather out of, let’s say, unawareness. So, where does this unawareness come from?

         In their ordinary daily school activities and homework, the students can easily get information for their researches or academic dissertation just by using their connected smart phones. These gadgets make the tasks easier. With simple clicks, they can get whatever they want. on account of this option that technology offers them, they cannot say when the clicks are permitted and when they are not. They almost always disregard the boundaries between legal and illegal interactivity with the internet. When it comes to internet, 'Plagiarism', 'copyright' and 'cheating' are terms that have no clear sense for them. These terms have to be urgently taught and exhaustively well defined at school so that the students could not cross the invisible line between what they are allowed to borrow and how, and the things that are prohibited. They should massively understand that law does not protect cheaters. On the contrary, law is against them.

         During exams, the easy access to internet via their sophisticated devices has made the students victims of confusion. They are no longer capable of making the difference between using the internet while conducting a research for school projects and taking the same steps during exams. They are totally not aware that they are committing a dishonest act when they use their smart phones to go on line and surf for answers to the exam questions or swap answers (via sms) with friends or even receive answers from people outside. They believe it is normal, and some of them even believe it is their right. You know why? It is because schools do not stress the fact that any information obtained illegally is an offence towards the regulations and a moral crime. The “green” students imagine that things are always like that because they are used to that on their social networking websites.

      If anyone takes a glance at what the teens are doing on the social networking websites, one can easily figure out how they start to get confused. There is nothing easier than "copy" and "paste". They also “share” whatever they "like" on the internet. Aren't these two examples enough to show that they are being “cheated” themselves? The culmination of confusion is the belief in the suspicious principle that since it is always done, why it cannot always be done. Do you see what I mean?

          The conventional classroom environment has become a totally alien place for the digital learners. That’s why it is quite logical they cannot identify cheating from cheating; I mean the cheating as it is universally known, and the cheating they believe they understand. When you tell teens that no unauthorized material is allowed in the test-room, they agree and they drop their note-book, crib-sheets and so on. However, when you mention that the mobile phone is included, they get astonished and would yell, “What are you talking about?” because they don’t consider technological devices tools for cheating; and even though they were used in cheating, that would not to be regarded as cheating at all”. The phone as a device for cheating!!! This is totally new for the teens and kids who are used to checking everything they want or need on their phones. The teacher and the learners are communicating on different wave lengths. Obviously, the teens naturally consider the smart phone a part of the body, a sort of extra-memory, or even the whole memory they’ve got. There’s no harm for them to use this device during exams because, like calculators they are to be allowed. There is a kind of confusion here.

        This confusion develops by itself wildly. The teens grow with mobile phones of multiple functions and features, playing games, photographing, sending and receiving short text messages, listening to music, recording and filming and so on, to the extent that they forgot about the original function for which the mobile phone was invented. Therefore, the confusion cannot be limited to this. The jargon and concepts the teens adopt and apply are numerous and sometimes beyond grown-ups’ perceptibility. That’s why, from the very beginning, teachers and learners should agree on the appropriate terms to adapt the conventional classroom to the new language the teens are using (see part I). Let’s hope for a safer and more reliable educational system void of cheating to allow the students have equal opportunities at school and at the labour market. Up to now, it’s just a hope and hope is the perfect word to close an article like this one.

Part III

    This debate wouldn't have taken place if technology had been fully integrated in teaching. Cheating using technology will subsequently become like cheat-sheets in conventional classes. Once we start integrating ICT in teaching on a wider scale, the testing will be based on ICT as well. Teaching via iPhone or iPad means testing via iPhone or iPad and that’s very normal. If we used any “apps” or any other kind of assistive technological applications in teaching, tests would surely require technology for testing and assessing. The same is true for teaching and testing through gaming and so on. Not only will the iPhone be authorized in the test-rooms, but it must be the most important tool for exams without which the candidates won’t be allowed in.

     If schools want to take the charming glows of sophisticated technological devices the teens talk big of, just use them in teaching and testing processes. The teens would suddenly realize that their magic tools have become a source of annoyance. They will no longer be means for entertainment, but rather a source of trouble when they are asked to use them to answer exam questions.

    All in all, using iPhones, laptops or iPads in exams is tightly related to the content and the format of the exam itself. Assessing the students will be based on new rules and regulations which don’t give a chance for cheaters to become heroes in the arena of exams. 

A final tip

    Everyone agrees that technology is a fundamental tool for teaching and learning today; however, kids who start by using the keyboard and the mouse before the pen or the pencil are doomed not to learn anything for the whole of their lives. Digitally acquired knowledge at an early age is generally volatile. Therefore, little kids must start learning the basics of literacy and numeracy using the pen or the pencil. Technology will come later only as a mediated tool to reinforce and widen those basics but never to set them up. Urging the kids to start writing using the pen is paving the way for them to be more concentrated, more human and readier for a lifelong learning trip.

Thanks for your patience

M. Abdessalami


No comments:

Post a Comment