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It’s not news that students cheat to pass classes, though this has recently been in the news with the discovery that hundreds of Air Force cadets used the internet to cheat on exams. And we have read the articles about Chegg selling access to information that apparently includes test answers.

While the students who turn to cheating would seem to be too lazy, busy or unable to learn the assigned material, one can often also say that faculty members may be too lazy, busy or unable to design custom assessments that are relevant, unique and promote creative/critical thinking. The “objective” test is founded in the realities of life prior to the 21st century.

A strong parallel can be drawn to the requirement to hand-calculate rather than using a calculator. In the 20th century, calculators were banned from many exams on the premise that graduates would encounter situations when they would not have access to a calculator. However, today calculators are ubiquitous -- on your wrist, in your phone and multiple places on your laptop. Now it is very hard to imagine many circumstances in which one would not have instant access to a calculator, stand-alone or through the internet, to perform advanced operations.

That brings us to the objective test. In many cases, these tests are standardized exams offered with specific textbooks. These are off-the-shelf assessments that lack localized perspective, devoid of selected relevant contextual factors and designed without attention to making them learning experiences. In far too many cases, they are tests of rote memorization. Yet our smartwatches, phones and laptops serve as our extended “virtual memory.” They accurately store and instantly retrieve facts, concepts and even provide keyword relevance. There is no need to test material readily available on the internet when you are testing a person.

Instead of mere retrieval of facts, assessments, in their best form, are stimulating creative thinking, prompting application of knowledge, relevant to current locations and problems, and providing learning experiences in and of themselves.

Grant Wiggins is often quoted for his study in this area. Indiana University quotes Wiggins:

Authentic assignments often focus on messy, complex real-world situations and their accompanying constraints; they can involve a real-world audience of stakeholders or “clients” as well. According to Grant Wiggins (1998), an assignment is authentic if it

  • is realistic.
  • requires judgment and innovation.
  • asks the student to “do” the subject.
  • replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace or in civic or personal life.
  • assesses the student’s ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task.
  • allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.

Wiggins has published much since his original work on authentic assessments. Clearly, authentic assessments are never a multiple choice of a, b, c, d or true/false exams.

Some faculty members seem to think that in designing a course, after creating the learning activities and assembling the resources for a class, they are done. Assessments come as an afterthought. They are a necessary tool to weed out those who have not read the material. Certainly, cheating sites defeat that purpose. Furthermore, no thought is given to assessing the students’ ability to assimilate and apply the essence of the subject.

Well-formed assessments should be the pinnacle of the course. They are where the student tries out applying what has been learned to a sampling of important, relevant problems. These can be messy. They can require multiple tries. Many are best done in front of an audience. They may be applicable to only very local problems or ones halfway around the globe. They are authentic applications of what has been learned. Wiley Education Services offers some examples and strategies to develop and create rubrics for authentic assessments.

The context of applying our learning is so important that we must pay constant attention to changing circumstances. In most cases societal and technological changes call for updating of authentic assessments every semester. Keeping them timely and relevant vaccinates against cheating. There is no shortcut to demonstrating that you can apply what you have learned to a unique, newly shared situation. It is authentic. It is only fair to the students to give them this opportunity before they leave the class and attempt to apply their skills and knowledge in society.

Are you and your colleagues protected against cheating in your classes? Are you using authentic assessments?

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