Friday, April 30, 2010

The "Open" Classroom and Cheating

Question of the Day: Does an "open" assessment approach (open texts, Net, real-time studentsharing) promote or dissuade cheating?

I'm posting this as I'm watching my students take an open Latin assessment. Basically my concern is three-fold:
1) There is no where outside of the traditional classroom that someone would not be able to use whatever resources they wanted to complete a task -- [yeah, yeah, I can already hear the desert island iPhone battery jokes]. 
2) What we usually call "tests" are anything but.
3) As far as "cheating" goes: why not just create assessments that a) don't assess the ability to memorize and b) are different for each kid?
Want to know your thoughts. Do you give open assessments? Do you let students use resources (Net, notes, each other)? How do you define "cheating"? Why do teachers create assessments that can be "cheated" on?


  1. I teach physics so I give some assessments that are problems. However, the students get to use an equation sheet. I was an engineer before becoming an educator and we would look up what ever we didn't remember, why shouldn't students do the same. Heck, I have an App for my Palm Pre+ that is a physics reference. They don't get to work with others only because I want to be able to see who understands the concepts so I can adjust my teaching.

    I do a lot of labs and projects too. I can watch each student as they do the work in class and get a feel for their individual progress and what they have learned. I know who does more work than others and I can see who the group leaders are. I change around the groups every so often so that each person gets to do different things.

    I have no problem with open assessments. I am looking for process and theory wisdom, not memorizing formulas or definitions.

  2. I think the prominence of cheating is more due to question format than test format. If you write Google-proof questions, you will have less copying and pasting, I suppose.

    I let kids research during formative assessments, but not necessarily during summative.

  3. Depends totally on what you're teaching and who you're teaching.

    Vocab-heavy subjects are not typically conducive to open testing.

    Process/meaning/application subjects are very conducive to open testing, as you can be creative with what you do.

    If we're truly supposed to be prepping kids for the real world, we ought to let them use resources. I can use resources in MY job.

    However, with younger kids (k-12) I think they tend to associate being able to use resources with unimportant information (ie: if we don't have to memorize it, why do we need to learn it?)

    I guess it's one of those things in education where if you're doing it right it's good, and if you're doing it wrong it's not.

  4. As a chemistry teacher, I'm more concerned about students understanding the scientific process of investigation and experimentation. My colleagues and I have developed more exploration/inquiry-based experiences, and students are given (mostly) free reign in the lab to develop their own procedures and carry them out. They can use any resource in the classroom, short of net access (as we don't have any in the class). I'd consider this an open form of assessment.

    Does it dissuade cheating? Not sure - I need to be extra-attentive that students are doing their own work and not eavesdropping on the neighboring lab table. While students may receive high scores on the lab experience, those that are not doing it right suffer come the summative assessment.

  5. I don't think you can compare "empty vessel" students to adults in the "real world". There has to be some level of stuff students need to KNOW before they can apply/synthesize/evaluate. OPEN TESTING should not replace ALL TESTING.

    Just because everything is on the internet doesn't mean we should EMPTY our HEADS!

  6. I've long considered the possibility of an open-book (and, by extension open-internet) test, and in fact it makes sense if you're focused in your assessment on analysis, synthesis, etc. The only reason I haven't done it is that I think it would be a little too radical for my school, and therefore that getting coordinated with the other teachers (very important here) could be problematic (though I'm probably overestimating the difficulty)

    I do think it is important to have some facts in your head, so you can make connections, catch allusions, etc "on the fly." But that can be assessed separately. The English department at my school in fact allows students to use books during part of their semester exam, and I see no reason why you couldn't apply the same treatment to history books as to novels.

    I've also considered completely untimed tests, but haven't yet figured out the logistics.

  7. I am all for Open Assessments. Today, with all technology that we have, memorization is passe. I teach technology and business courses(diff from a language where vocab memorization counts) and what I want to stress in class is that technology changes. So don't get too used to a certain program or process, because it will change. Knowing your resources and where to find information is more important to me. My assessments are open book, open note (in Google docs) open internet. But again, my subject lends itself to this.

  8. As we shift engage in a more collaborative approach in our teaching methods towards critical thinking skills, creativity, and effective communication I think we need to shift the way we assess students. What do real world assessments look like? They come in the form of testing one's ability to problem solve, often as part of a team, drawing on past experience and our ability to access useful information.

  9. In respect of your point # 3, why not let students write the assessment question as well as the response. Excluding the lazy student, this has the potential to demonstrate what they deem to be essential and important elements of their learning.

  10. We need to stop this "Tell and Test" silliness. We need to make our assessments "explore and do". Students are not empty vessels to pour information into. They are thinking, curious, learning creatures who we must learn to respect as human beings. They come to us to learn not be indoctrinated. Paulo Freire speaks to this elegantly in "Pedagogy of the Oppressed". I recommend it highly.

    James Paul Gee speaks to this issue with force and creativity in "Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling" and his wonderful "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy". We must start doing history in school rather than just being told it. We need to do chemistry not be told about chemistry and memorize it. Or physics, or literature, or writing, or math, or anything else.

    And finally to the issue of memorizing....we memorized before the internet not because it was the best way to learn but because it was the only way to have recall. WE DO NOT NEED TO DO THAT ANYMORE!

    Look it up on Google enough and pretty soon you will remember it especially if it has relevancy to your life.

    A teacher's primary job is to find out what his/her students are interested in and then figure out how to connect that interest to the subject manner so that the subject becomes part of the student interests.


  11. Cheating in my class is impossible because of technology. I teach band and instrumental music at the high school level and I assign excerpts of band literature through SmartMusic software for students to record. Students record themselves playing the excerpt and submit it to an online gradebook for me to grade. Students get their score emailed back to them. If they don't like their score, they can record it again so in that regard it is a timeless test.
    I could ask my students to do a written exam of the same concepts and have them explain dynamics, scale degrees and chord function, but it's a lot more practical (and enjoyable) to do it this way.

  12. Great comments here. I have used open book, open internet assessments for the past couple of years - the only thing the students cannot do is talk to each other - I want to see what each student is capable of doing. I have done this with quizzes and things like lab reports. The latest lab report, students arrived to class with a draft. They were then randomly asked to peer edit other lab reports before finally going back to their own one and completing it in class.

    The one thing I am not comfortable with (and this may be just me), I want to see the work being done in my room - I don't really feel comfortable having something count for a large part of a student's grade if it has been done at home. Does anyone have thoughts on this?


  13. If we allowed learners to learn what they wanted to learn when they wanted to learn, assessment wouldn't be necessary. It is by lockstepping everyone by age and content that we have created this nigtmare called assessment.

  14. Imagine having a conversation at work where every time a fact was needed you had to wait while your collegue looked it up. What would you think of him/her? There is a certain amount of information that is necessary for educated people to just "know." There exist facts that should be memorized if, for no other reason, than they need to be called on quickly in an in-person debate.

  15. @Scott

    Good point.

    By the same token, I've been in many a meeting with a group of folks with laptops where a question would come up and no one would know the answer (and not realize -- or care -- it was only a click away).

    A certain amount of content is needed -- I'm a history and Latin teacher, after all; I can tell you all about content. At the same time, folks also need to understand how to get and evaluate information quickly on-the-fly via the mobile web.

    In the future (now), educated people will understand both content and access -- and access will ultimately prove the more empowering. You will memorize what you need to and you will have access to what you don't know you need.

    I mean, if we are all walking around with the Library of Alexandria in our pocket, we should be able to activate that knowledge. Content awareness will snowball from access; kinda like if you grew up in a library.


  16. That's a really good idea. I just hope students don't abuse the freedom they are given!


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