I may be in the minority with this view, but I find the facts and assumptions contained in yesterday’s CNN article “Web cam exam proctors are latest cheating deterrent” ridiculous and sad. The gist of the article is that some universities are requiring students to buy a special web cam which verifies they are not “cheating” on tests by doing things like looking something up on the Internet, or using a cell phone to call someone.

Why do so many people consider looking something up on the Internet “cheating?” As Bruce Dixon asked rhetorically in his presentation at EduComm2007 today, “If you can Google it, should schools be testing it?” My response would be, schools should not be wasting time testing fact recall for students on information which can be readily Googled. It is RIDICULOUS to claim that using an available tool and resource, the like the Internet, is “cheating.” Do the people holding this view think that people out here in the business world are considered “cheaters” for using the Internet to get their work done? Using the knowledge and information contained on the digital and personal networks accessible to individuals is called AN ESSENTIAL WORKFORCE SKILL, not an unwanted and unwelcome act of dishonesty.

Here is the most important paragraph in the entire article:

But many distance learning providers do very little testing, including some of the largest, for-profit ones such as the University of Phoenix, Capella University and Walden University. Officials at all three schools said they rely mostly on student writing assignments. They say that’s the best method to assess their students, most of whom are working adults.

Hmmm. So let me get this straight. Some of the MOST SUCCESSFUL and effective insitutions, with the most experience with distance learning and online education, have no need for “web cam proctors” because they use authentic assessment methods focused on student writing? Yes, that is correct.

Unfortunately, the author(s) of this CNN article appear to reject the idea that valid assessment can take a form OTHER than a standardized test. The next sentence in the article is:

Still, they need to be thinking about assessment.

I have news for this CNN education article author(s): Writing assignments ARE forms of assessment! Hello!? Multiple-choice testing is not the only form of assessment, irrespective of whatever the NCLB proponents may want you and others to believe!

The instructors and professors at the University of Phoenix, Capella University and Walden University ARE thinking deeply about assessment. In fact, they HAVE modified the traditional means of assessment to account for the different dynamics in the digital world. The assumption of this article author(s) is apparently that education should not change just because the information landscape of the 21st century is radically different from that of the 20th century.

In my presentation on “What Educators Need to Know about Web 2.0” at EduComm today, I closed with the following quotation from Lee Iacocca’s new book “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?” On page 113 Iacocca wrote:

Before you can deal with change, however, you have to see it. Then you have to accept it. Sometimes that’s the hardest part– acknowledging and then accepting that the way you’ve always done business or lived your life just won’t work anymore.

Many of the assignments and assessment methods we’ve used in schools and elsewhere have to be changed because of different conditions. The latest issue of BusinessWeek includes the cover story, “The Real Cost Of Offshoring,” which relates how several statistics measuring the performance of the U.S. economy may be inaccurate, because the US Department of Labor is not calculating the comparative cost of products that have been offshored to China and other locations for manufacturing. The past form of measurement is likely no longer valid, because conditions in the landscape have changed.

The same thing is true in education. It is ridiculous that many adults will nod in agreement or shake their heads in disappointment at an article like this one from CNN. They’ll agree with a statement like, “How terrible so many students are so unethical today. Just look at how many of them are using the Internet to find answers on tests.”

Using the Internet effectively and appropriately to locate the information you need to complete a given task is a laudible and valuable skill. It should not be called “cheating” in school, whether the learning context is a K-12 classroom or a university course. Have you taken open note tests? I have, at the doctoral level. Let me tell you, those were some of the most challenging tests I’ve ever taken. Why were they so tough? They were challenging and tough because they required me to THINK deeply and critically, applying information, ideas, processes and skills which we had studied inside and outside of class. They were tough because I could not FAKE my way through the test. I had to write, I had to use formulas, I had to apply information to solve problems and address issues.

Guess what? It’s really easy to teach poorly. It’s really easy to just give people worksheets to fill out, and standardized tests to complete. It’s much more challenging to actually engage learners in authentic learning tasks and assessments, and assess them in both valid and reliable ways on an ongoing basis. Can it be done? Certainly. Does it require changes to the traditional ways many teachers and professors are used to assessing students? Of course.

My advice to a student enrolled in a web-based course where the syllabus requires you to purchase a $125 “web cam proctor” would be to drop the course, and consider transferring from your current institution. Find an educational institution which employs teacher-leaders and professors who understand and embrace the need to change assessment methods in the 21st century classroom. You might consider transferring to one of the institutions mentioned in this article, who ARE changing assessment methods for the digital landscape, like the University of Phoenix, Capella University or Walden University.

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2 Responses to Web cam proctor? Give me a break!

  1. Mrs. Durff says:

    AMEN!! I thought the days of traditional School 1.0 testing of the lowest level of Bloom’s were gone. Silly me, I thought authentic assessment not only got kids to practice 21st century skills but to collaborate on those assessments in ways we haven’t imagined.
    So this is why kids look at me weirdly when I allow collaboration on all assessments?
    Yes those grad exams that were open book and open notes were the toughest I ever took, too. If I could get that GPA in grad school, then any high school can do it too! They are all smarter than I am!!

  2. Barry Dahl says:

    Hi Wes,
    I saw a presentation about this (by Troy U reps) back in November at the WCET conference. I too thought that this was a very sad turn of events. There were quite a few people who thought that we are very much in need of a big-brother device like this. Gag me.

    I blogged about it here:

    Take care, Barry

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