Nothing Up My Sleeve

Nothing Up My Sleeve November 2, 2019

This post began when I saw a piece about the cleverness of some methods of cheating. I think such articles (yes, there is more than one of that sort of thing) more than just amuse while providing a cautionary tale for educators. They illustrate that often the students who are most impressive in their dishonest ingenuity are not “stupid” in any sense of the word. They are clever and smart but scared. They know that their success in the future, and their ability to maintain their scholarships and get their degree, depends on the classic style of all-or-nothing exam that tests your ability to remember information that in the future you’ll generally Google. And so, while I am appalled by academic dishonesty, I also take the responsibility on myself to find exams and other kinds of assignments that test more important things, on which I can let students have access to any resources they like and thus cheating (apart from plagiarism) is eliminated, and the focus is on whether they can find reliable sources of information, understand them as well as things they have read and studied over the semester, and apply them to a specific question in a manner that demonstrates comprehension.

Here are some links related to academic dishonesty, deeper learning, gamification, and other intertwined matters…

NPR focused on students cheating their way through college

How to Prevent High-Tech Cheating

Very Funny…

3 Ways That AI Brings Out the Worst in Education

Inside Higher Ed had an article about how students can use a popular learning tool to cheat, as well as pieces on student character in university applications and grade hacking.

Hey Preacher, Is That Sermon Really Yours?

Diploma mills and essay mills

Stress leads many to cheat, rather than laziness and unwillingness to try to learn. And so that makes this article about the fact that humans work better when not under stress relevant.

Active learning is also another piece in this puzzle, and here is an interesting article about student perception of their learning vs. measurements of their learning:

Study shows that students learn more when taking part in classrooms that employ active-learning strategies

The Key To Raising Brilliant Kids? Playing Games

Another focus that I think has the potential to reduce the possibility of cheating is information literacy. I moved from asking students to remember, to asking students to find reliable sources and explain how they could tell they were reliable. Here are some recent articles related to themes like information literacy, fake news, fact-checking, and digital literacy:

A report on how today’s generation consumes news

Efforts by the BBC to combat misinformation

Aeon on the problems with “debunking.” See also:

Debunking Debunking

Challenging the Social Media Moral Panic

Social Media in the 1790s

Is YouTube beyond redemption?

Science deniers embrace a double standard of evidence

Trump 2020 and social media bias

An example: gluten and popular opinion

Scientific mistrust of what is published

Left, Right, and vaccine denial

The Chronicle had some collated data from interviews with excellent educators

Finally, let me say briefly that there is a direct connection between academic honesty, major motivations to disregard it, and gamified approaches to learning and grading. However, there’s so much to be said about that topic that is of interest to me in its own right that I’ll leave saying more about that for a separate post.

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  • The article about stress is interesting. On the one hand, people do work better when they’re not under stress. On the other hand, life is full of work-related stress, and it’s probably a good idea to have experience working under it and still performing.

    When I was in basic training, it was a revelation to me that all the yelling and abuse and negative conditions imposed on you during basic training is meant to keep the heat turned up all the time to begin to prepare you for performing under highly stressful situations. That’s probably a little extreme for colleges, but its an interesting principle. Should part of educating students be preparing them to do good work under stressful conditions?

    • I do think that it should be – I’m just not persuaded that the typical workplace involves stressful efforts to recall information on the spot in the manner that classic exams have.

    • John MacDonald

      I have a good memory and found exams fairly easy with enough time/effort, but are clearly problematic for the reasons Dr. McGrath mentioned. That said, they were still actually good prep for job interviews. As a teacher, I liked variety, so I changed schools a lot, which meant a lot of successful interviews (it was quite competitive). Before my interviews, I would memorize what I wanted to talk about (strategies in assessment/evaluation, classroom management, planning, instructional strategies, etc.) and would lead the interviewers and their questions toward the areas I had prepared for and was ready to give ample information about and defend.

      Later year Philosophy professors would often give us 3 exam questions before hand for a 3 hour exam, and so this was a method that, while requiring memorization, wasn’t as stressful as guessing what part of the curriculum you needed to prepare for.