The 'cheating watch scandal' - time for a change in our exams system

Oh dear. It's a scandal. Apparently there's a watch on the market that allows students to cheat during exams! What a shock! In a recent BBC News item, the so called 'cheating watch' is said to give them an 'unfair advantage', because the wearer can revert it quickly back from its 4GB display of exam answers to a conventional clock face. One head teacher is quoted as being worried that the watch may be a temptation for 'students who are stressed over exams'.

But stop one minute. (Here comes a rant). Why must our students get so stressed around exam time? What are we doing to our children? Isn't this evidence that actually, exams don't do much good for their well-being? What are exams for anyway? At the end of years of study, can the entire history and process of learning be reduced to a few numbers or letters? And who is the 'grade' for? The student, the teacher, or the school? Many would agree that the grade data are for governments to use. Ultimately, they aren't interested in how well the students are learning. All they care about is obtaining statistics that show how good their education system is in comparison to others.

Yesterday I asked a group of students what they look at first when they get their assignments back from marking... was it the grade, or the feedback? Most admitted they were more interested in the grade - the feedback was secondary. Haven't we got this all backwards?

Sure, students will bring devices into the exam room. Just try to stop them. This trend cannot be halted. Soon wearable devices will be less easy to detect, and there will even be biological implants. How are these going to be stopped? Our entire exam system will be proved worthless and irrelevant. Perhaps that will be a good outcome.

But dig down a little beyond the sensationalism of the headline*, and the BBC news item raises a number of questions around the education systems we perpetuate. In fact, the furore over 'cheating watches' says more about our rotten education system than it does about our students, or their teachers. If exams are only about getting grades and they are largely premised on 'remembering facts', then students are going to do their best to tip the balance in their favour, and that includes using personal technologies to improve their chances. No-one should blame them.

But what if the exam system was reformed? What if, instead of asking students to repeat what they had learnt in class, the examination required them to solve problems, show initiative and criticality, ask questions that haven't been asked, create something new they hadn't been taught? What if exams were more focused on assessing how well a student could learn, rather than what they had memorised? Then, perhaps bringing 'cheating watches' into the exam room wouldn't be a problem at all. But that would probably be asking too much, wouldn't it? Don't blame the students. Don't blame the technology. Change the exam system!

* Yes, my own headline is also sensationalist - taste the irony...

Photo by DC John on Flickr

Creative Commons License
The 'cheating watch scandal' - time for a change in our exams system by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.




Comments

Jane Bozarth said…
Control, command, imprison. If the watches can do it then why make the kids learn it? Why not teach the kid to use the watch to look it up?
Steve Wheeler said…
Exactly. The current examination system is well past its sell by date. Those who cling on to it are trying to preserve something that isn't worth saving.
Mark said…
Nice post Steve. Agree all the way with this one.
Anonymous said…
The kids need to learn it so they actually understand it.

That's a different question to getting them to memorise it, though, which merely rewards those with a good memory.

I know a chartered accountant who was four years out of uni and chartered before they finally 'got' the principle of compound interest...
Emma Dw said…
More open book exams (or, today, open internet exams). Pose problems that require them to research facts & reflect on them. Maybe even collaboratively ... though I'd agree that at some point you have to have a way of ensuring that people can do things independently when needed; but, it's just as important to be able to be collaborative when needed.
Martin King said…
Good to feel the passion through the writing - you should rant more often Steve :)

Technology is not what it used to be - advancing technology and its use exposes the education system for what it has become.

The self serving biases of the education system run so deep - everything else is at fault except the education system - the basket of diagnoses a psychiatrist would make on the education system leaves it a helpless basket case requiring lifelong institutionalisation with no hope of parole.

Treatment?

Well we could try to speak its language - I wrote about this in a series of cynical blogs on how to change the education system
http://inspirenshare.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/educationsystem

We could try using the tail to wag the dog
http://inspirenshare.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/how-to-change-education-system-change.html










Martin King said…
Steve,

"Smart" tech shows what it takes to be smart in the education system .... no wonder the education system is running scarred.

Smart hardware isn't the only threat to education system smartness ... soft tech like Nootropics (smart drugs) are also posing a serious problem to what it means to be smart in the education system - smart drugs are at the moment the education systems dirty little secret.

I will write a cynical piece soon about nootropics and education soon but check out my general post on See my post on Nootropics on the link below
http://kingmartin.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/life-hack-nootropic-mind-bending.html
Darrell Deans said…
Is there a cure for laziness?
Steve Wheeler said…
Learning basic knowledge is one thing. Learning how to apply it in complex, multiple contexts is quite another. Unfortunately, our examinations test children's memories rather than how they apply knowledge in the real world. That's why I advocate we test through continuous assessment and project work.
Steve Wheeler said…
That's a good list Emma, but as you suggest, school exams don't allow for collaborative learning, nor do most represent how children apply their knowledge contextually.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks as ever for your comments Martin, and also for the useful link.
Steve Wheeler said…
"Technology is not what it used to be - advancing technology and its use exposes the education system for what it has become." 'Nuff said.
Ron said…
I still get "nasty comments" because I don't give tests, exams, or objective grades (i.e. percentages) except for a final grade (as a %) as required by my institution. My evaluations are based on applying the content (in my case edtech) to specific problems and cases. If I could get away from grading totally I would but I can't so I use letter grades based on course expectations with an overall "fudge" factor for improvement or mentoring. (My students are adult and come into my course with a very hide range of basic computer skills.) My two biggest (& last) assignments are to teach a lesson using 3 modes (f2f, synch, & asynch) and to prepare a presentation for their supervisor detailing what educational technologies they should (or shouldn't) be using in the future. I'm pleased to say many do go to supervisors and I've seen them result in real change. And I should replace that with an exam! We are long over due for a rethink of grades, exams, and the credit hour.

Popular Posts