December 2012 Archives

Allowing Student Notes for Exams without Encouraging Cheating

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The University Testing Center has just notified faculty that because of increased usage, Center staff cannot collect notes that faculty allow students to use during an exam.  Alternatives exist for faculty-created handouts (e.g. embedding them in ANGEL exam question sets), but how to deal with student-created notes is another challenge.

Many faculty allow students to bring in a page of notes to their exams because in preparing that page of notes, students review the material, synthesize it, and think about what is most important. All of these help students learn! 

However, other faculty are concerned that if students are allowed their own notes, some will take the opportunity to copy exam questions and pass them on to other students.  Is it possible to discourage such behavior, but still allow student-created notes?

Using a bank of test items and randomly drawing questions provides each student with a unique exam. If the bank is large and the questions sufficiently varied, there is little advantage to copying questions and sharing them with other students.  Faculty who use question banks should also take steps to ensure that each test is of comparable difficulty. Subdividing questions into different levels of difficulty and drawing a specified percent from each level is a good method to ensure that each unique exam is equally difficult.

A faculty member can also provide students with blank, but marked note paper, for students to use for their exam notes.  As a deterrent from adding notes during the exam, ask students to return the note paper in class after taking the test. Choose a marking that is difficult to replicate and easy to identify as an item student are allowed to use during the test.

While neither strategy is guaranteed to be 100% effective, both of them:
  a) communicate to students that cheating is unacceptable, and
  b) make it more difficult to cheat.  

Please share your thoughts on student-created notes and anti-cheating efforts. 

Ray Schroeder on MOOCs

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I recently attended a talk sponsored by Penn State's new Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The speaker was Ray Schroeder, from the University of Illinois, Springfield. Ray used his website as the anchor for the presentation, taking the audience to several different MOOC providers as well as illustrating the various models employed by MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity

During Ray's talk, a few interesting thoughts came to mind. Ray started out by discussing the promise of MOOCs. Essentially, the MOOC model might be a way to deliver educational content an an affordable price, of high quality, and accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. He talked about traditional models, and how most traditional models can only get two of these three criteria right. One example is that a student can likely take an online course anywhere with an Internet connection that is high in quality, but likely not very affordable. This reminds me of the triple constraint, a project management concept that deals with a project's timeline, cost and scope. From a project management standpoint, it's very challenging to manage a project that's completed quickly (timeline), cheap in cost and large in scope. 

Schroeder emphasized that the current trend of rising tuition coupled with the decline in average family income is simply not a sustainable model for higher education. Will MOOCs play a role in defraying the cost of higher education? Possibly. Another interesting anecdoate Ray shared dealt with a recent visit to the Gate's foundation. Most academics in attendance, when asked what employers look for in graduates, cited things like critical thinking and problem solving. They then had a panel with HR representatives at large, United States-based companies talking about what they are seeking from recent college graduates. These companies cited very specific skillsets, such as accounting, java programming, .NET programming and so on. Again, Schroeder theorized that MOOCs might help play a role in helping some of the country's largest companies find skilled employs to fill many of these skill-based jobs. 

COIL plans on hosting more guest speakers in the spring and I look forward to continued engaging discussions around various online learning topics and how they might apply to Penn State.

About two or three years ago it seemed that the most requested topic for faculty programming was classroom management. All we had to do was schedule an event with the words, management, incivility, or millennial in the title and it was standing room only. As styles fade, so do topics, and this was no exception. However, much to my surprise, this topic seems to be back in "fashion", but with a twist - a rather serious twist. Now it seems, that it isn't simply about that student snoozing in class or texting under the desk, it is also about true incivility, and, in some cases, true behavior problems. Faculty are being faced with students who, due to legitimate medical conditions, are struggling with how to interact appropriately in the college classroom. This is, of course, in addition, to the traditional, occasional, rude, inappropriate, and disruptive student. It is a difficult position to find oneself in. How does one differentiate between the student who simply needs a swift, decisive "reality check", and one that is truly adrift? I wish I had a glib and easy answer. But, alas, I do not. One thing I can suggest is that it starts with the faculty member. Beginning the first day the students and faculty meet, the tone is set. The syllabus sets a tone. Language sets a tone. I am not suggesting a list of policies need to be handed out to students on the first day, however, I'm going to encourage each individual to think about how to convey a serious respect for the classroom and the learning endeavor, and how to demonstrate, thus command, respect for each and every individual. In addition, I'm going to encourage faculty to try and take themselves, and their personal biases, out of the equation.

Will you encounter problem "children" - most definitely. However, by managing "disruptions" with immediacy, firmness and discretion, the disruption to the majority of the attentive students will be minimal or completely unnoticed. For example, napping might drive you stark raving mad, but unless the napper snores, or tumbles out of their seat, it is a non-event to the rest of the class. My suggestion is to keep it that way.

If you have specific issues that you'd like to discuss, or you just need to vent, feel free to give SITE a call. We're here when you need us.

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