One nasty side effect of Zoom education has been the proliferation of cheating on a wide scale, particularly with more objective assessments where it’s easy to simply look up the answers. The temptation to do so has simply been too much, so that whole swaths of students have succumbed, and only the principled students, who seem a bit few and far between these days are actually honest.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that the long term ethical implications of this resignation in the face of cheating would be disastrous, and in this current system, that very well may be true. But the adjustment should happen on the assessment end, not the monitoring end.
A brief story to illustrate: my daughter is an extremely avid reader; she literally never stops reading. She’s read the entire Harry Potter series 3 or 4 times just for fun. That’s all well and good for her future English classes, but getting the kid to sleep is a nightmare (no pun intended). You turn out the light and 2 minutes later, the light’s back on and she’s back at the book. Then she wakes up the next day looking like Rocky Raccoon (and behaving that way, too).
Initially, to solve the problem, my wife and I would take the book she was reading away from her. But then she would just got another book. Then we tried taking all books away from her, but she would just hide some under the sheets or sneak around at night to get some. Then we tried taking her lightbulbs, but she would steal them from other rooms in the house, so we tried taking away all lightbulbs after bedtime, but then she would smuggle a flashlight. Not only was it a losing battle, it was bad for morale; it affected the good spirits of our relationships with her.
There is no point in fighting this battle with the youth, none. The more you tighten your grip on them, the more they easily and naturally resist and glide through those obstructions, like it’s an amusing challenge. They learn in these dynamics that the way to succeed in life is to find a way around or to be resigned and bitter. Yikes! Not the lesson we want, right?
And yet if we start engaging in video detection devices and timers and online proctors (Big Brother is watching…) that’s exactly the type of battle we are setting up. If it’s unsuccessful, you’ve taught them that sneaking around is the best way to succeed (minus the few vigilantes of ethics). If it’s successful, they’ll be bitter and paranoid. That’s a no win.
The solution lies instead with the nature of the assessment. Out of laziness or practicality, many instructors use very basic questions on their exams. I get it, I was a teacher for 15 years. Some of them teach an ungodly number of students, have ridiculous extra-curricular responsibilities and an absurd amount of tedious bureaucracy. These obstacles prevent teachers from the time needed to design better assessments. But I like our chances of solving this dilemma a lot better than the challenge of finding nanny-like software to monitor and police students.
What would the ideal assessment then look like. How about instead of having a test in history that quizzes memorization of key dates in the Civil War, you have a assessment that asks students to recreate the battle of Gettysburg via a digital simulation. Which sets of skills do you think will be more valuable to those students in twenty years: the ability to rotely remember dates to recall data or the ability to take that data and apply it creatively and digitally?
This creative assessment is more difficult to grade and measure and weigh, but it should be. That is where our efforts should lay, rather than in developing software for a losing battle that teaches terrible lessons to the next generation.
We owe it to future generations to avoid the temptation to steal their light bulbs. It may seem an easy fix in the moment, but we’re all far better served by holding their hands as they learn to create in the blank canvas of an exciting new slate.