Test Surveillance and Cheating

The New York Times has posted a story of how schools are implementing technology to try and fight high-tech cheating on tests.

Here is an example of how procedures and controls are put in place to make it difficult for students to cheat on a computer test without detection.

No gum is allowed during an exam: chewing could disguise a student’s speaking into a hands-free cellphone to an accomplice outside.

The 228 computers that students use are recessed into desk tops so that anyone trying to photograph the screen — using, say, a pen with a hidden camera, in order to help a friend who will take the test later — is easy to spot.

Those who run the system boast about its success, strictly from a measure of investigations.

Taylor Ellis, the associate dean who runs the testing center within the business school at Central Florida, the nation’s third-largest campus by enrollment, said that cheating had dropped significantly, to 14 suspected incidents out of 64,000 exams administered during the spring semester.

This all begs a giant question of what is really being accomplished.

Tests are setup in an automated fashion to reduce cost (e.g. standardized and multiple-choice), which naturally makes cheating easier and adds cost right back in — to implement anti-cheating measures.

What if the cost was shifted back? Move it from security controls and into a more dynamic test and instruction model that makes cheating irrelevant. Pay teachers to be more involved, in other words, and hire more of them.

An even more radical question on this issue is whether individualized standardized tests are outdated in a world where technology-based collaboration skills are essential. Solutions will come more from group and crowd approaches instead of sole contributor. Why not let students practice this on tests? Certain exams thus could be setup to allow technology collaboration on tests, an updated version of open-book.

Bruce has posted on his blog today a link to a philosophical review of surveillance in the context of morality. It evaluates the concept of surveillance as a form of guidance using Kantian reasoning. I replied to him in the comments section.

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