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Education Handhelds Wireless Networking

Preventing Networked Gizmo Use During Exams? 870

Posted by Soulskill
from the tweets-are-cheats dept.
bcrowell writes "I'm a college physics professor. My students all want to use calculators during exams, and some of them whose native language isn't English also want to use electronic dictionaries. I had a Korean student who was upset and dropped the course when I told her she couldn't use her iPod during an exam — she said she used it as a dictionary. It gets tough for me to distinguish networked devices (iPhone? iTouch?) from non-networked ones (calculator? electronic dictionary? iPod?). I give open-notes exams, so it's not memory that's an issue, it's networking. Currently our classrooms have poor wireless receptivity (no Wi-Fi, possible cell, depending on your carrier), but as of spring 2011 we will have Wi-Fi everywhere. What's the best way to handle this? I'd prefer not to make them all buy the same overpriced graphing calculator. I'm thinking of buying 30 el-cheapo four-function calculators out of my pocket, but I'm afraid that less-adaptable students will be unable to handle the switch from the calculator they know to an unfamiliar (but simpler) one."
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Preventing Networked Gizmo Use During Exams?

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  • by slifox (605302) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:04PM (#33568360)
    First off -- I applaud your use of open-note exams. That is the ONLY real-world way to learn and demonstrate knowledge. There is almost never a situation in the professional world where one must solve a problem with absolutely no references (and it would be stupid to do so on a production system -- when solving a critical problem, why risk everything based on what you *think* is right, when you can verify against documentation; at least if something breaks, you can point to the incorrect docs...)

    Some people can simply memorize anything they look at, while others struggle at this. A proper exam should be designed to test one's ability to demonstrate processes: exams should give you all the information you need, but the questions should be designed such that only someone who has invested prior effort in practice and learning will be able to solve the questions in the allotted time.

    For less-concrete subjects such as the arts, I'm not so sure how this can be accomplished. However this is a trivial design decision for exams in maths, sciences, programming, and engineering.

    Furthermore, I think any physics or math exam that requires a complex calculator really has a wrong approach. Assuming everyone at this level has already demonstrated their ability to perform arithmetic several times over, the calculator should only be there to free them from making mistakes on the menial number crunching (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, squares, squareroots, proper value of e,Pi, etc...). The exam should test for core concepts: ideas where you simply must understand the knowledge through prior practice and learning.

    Sadly, I think many professors fall back on rote-memorization exams just because they can't be bothered to design proper exams each semester. These types often teach straight from the textbook-provided lesson plans, and then wonder why students cheat...

    But honestly -- an exam is but one facet of demonstrating proficiency in a subject. Personally, I think projects & labs the best way: sure one can cheat, but it's easy to determine who has spent time polishing a proper unique lab report. In this respect, open-ended projects are the best, as the room for creativity limits the possibility for undetectable cheating, and lets the students show their enthusiasm for the subject. If you're really worried about cheating, a lab-practical may even be a legitimate tool: it's pretty damn hard to make stuff up as you go while you've got a one-person audience of the professor.

    Short answer: let them use basic scientific calculators, the textbook, their notes, and a dictionary; design your tests so that students have all the resources they need, but don't have enough time to learn-as-they-go during the exam.

    "Never memorize something that you can look up." --Albert Einstein
    • by jdong (1378773) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:12PM (#33568416)
      The design of the exam is not the problem -- if students have networking access to someone inside the exam room (or worse, outside the exam room), no matter how hard you make the exam, you are testing the brainpower of their lifelines, not them. This the 2010 version of "how do I prevent students from whispering to each other during a test", for which there is no straightforward solution short of "no electronics in the exam room".
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:37PM (#33568646)

        if students have networking access to someone inside the exam room (or worse, outside the exam room), no matter how hard you make the exam, you are testing the brainpower of their lifelines, not them.


        I didn't come here to troll, but I feel obliged to point out that the grandparent poster lost himself in a forest of his own self-righteousness regarding assessment design. The problem under discussion is that two students in the room working on the same test at the same time could have IM ability through wireless networking, and so one could do the work while passing the answers wirelessly to the other, who could simply copy what he sees on IM.

        Parent is almost right: there is no solution short of "no unapproved electronics." Students with poor English abilities who need dictionaries should bring their dictionaries to office hours for inspection; the invigilating TA's (if this is a large lecture) could be notified on the sign-in roster (I'm assuming a sign-in procedure for a large lecture) or be introduced personally to the student in question to be sure they recognize them. The policy would have to be on the syllabus and announced in class the first day. It's not a simple solution, but it's probably more fair to students not fluent in English than denying all electronics.

        Of course, the administration could also try requiring that all course instruction and assessment (outside classical/modern languages in Arts & Sciences) be conducted in English, and that all students entering pass an unaided (no lexicon!) English proficiency exam that's not a total joke. I mean, imagine a student going to France and expecting accommodations because he doesn't know French... Of course, administrations in the US will never enforce a convenient language policy, so you're going to have to make allowances for electronic devices like dictionaries if you ban electronics from testing sites.

        • by blackest_k (761565) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:21PM (#33568986) Homepage Journal


          There is no official language of the United States. At the State level some states do, many do not, and some are officially bi or trilingual.

          Refusal to accommodate students with language issues may be illegal in some states.
          Some students may be disabled perhaps requiring Braille or some other input devices. The parent would fail steven hawking in a physics exam.

          we live in a multicultural society and you are restricting your own development as a rounded individual if you ignore this. At the least learn a second language preferably one which will be useful to you. Not only will it take you places your brain will be exercised developed and expanded.

          • by Cwix (1671282) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:50PM (#33569220)

            For any student who needs something that is not allowed for other students, they have to go talk to their schools Americans with disabilities rep. Otherwise they are giving that student an unfair advantage.

            How do you know the one girl doesn't speak good enough English for your test? Perhaps she speaks/reads great English, but only tells you she doesnt to get access to a device that the other students arnt allowed to.

            Note: This assumes the case in question is in the US.

          • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @12:36AM (#33569546) Journal

            I see your point, but there's a wide gap between accommodating disabilities and accommodating those who have chosen to come to an institution where classes are taught and examined in English.

            I'm very much aware and in favour of the fact that our society is multicultural, but I also think the person making the choice (be that moving to a particular country, attending a particular educational institution, whatever) should be the one to make the effort. It's a standard that I consider fair, and one I am more than willing to apply to myself.

        • by Iron Condor (964856) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @12:13AM (#33569396)

          so you're going to have to make allowances for electronic devices like dictionaries if you ban electronics from testing sites.

          I heard they have a totally newfangled dictionary now, that works entirely without electronics. It consists of lots of sheets of paper, with the words printed on it. Like as if you made a big printout of a site-rip of

        • by commodoresloat (172735) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:15AM (#33570094)

          Yeah there's really no other way to look up words than a networkable computer. It's just too bad nobody's invented a dictionary that works with simple nonelectronic parts like wood pulp and pigments. This is an open-book exam here, I guess an easy solution to this guy's problem is to have a dictionary that was built into, you know, a book.

      • by fractoid (1076465) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:39PM (#33568674) Homepage
        Exactly. It's an open book exam, not an open-Internet open-chat open-Yahoo-Answers exam. And while, in the 'real world', you virtually never have to solve a problem from memory alone, you *do* have to solve a problem without help from peers.

        Just because there's no direct analogue of exam conditions in the real world doesn't mean they're not useful for testing performance. The most fundamental troubleshooting and performance evaluation tool we have is the isolation test. Take a thing apart, test each component, and that will give you insights as to how the thing performs as a whole. By all means give students access to the reference material they need to complete an exam, but they shouldn't be able to discuss it amongst themselves or search the internet for prior work on the topic, because the entire point of the exam is to measure the students' own unaided ability.
    • by pikine (771084) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:16PM (#33568450) Journal
      I think he's worried that you could IM a friend during an exam to work the answers out for you, as if you're a thin client, with all that computing power over in the cloud.
    • by swanzilla (1458281) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:26PM (#33568572) Homepage

      +1 Hit the nail on the head

      -1 Far too many of my professors failed to think like you

    • by PvtVoid (1252388) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:34PM (#33568620)

      First off -- I applaud your use of open-note exams. That is the ONLY real-world way to learn and demonstrate knowledge. There is almost never a situation in the professional world where one must solve a problem with absolutely no references

      Except, oh, the GRE, or the MCAT. Which is why 90% of the students in this guy's class are there.

    • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:37PM (#33568656)
      First off -- I applaud your use of open-note exams. That is the ONLY real-world way to learn and demonstrate knowledge.

      Absolutely. I attended a technical college that ran the exams on an Honor System. Most exams were open-book. Professors were not allowed in the classroom once the exam began. The exams were not about how much you could memorize, but how much you understood.

      • by bagboy (630125) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:18PM (#33568956)
        Look, I don't mean to be nit-picky, but I really wouldn't want a surgeon looking up a procedure while I'm open on his table. Or a dentist looking up a root-canal procedure while my jaw is open wide. Some education HAS to be ingrained to a certain point.
        • by ldobehardcore (1738858) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:36PM (#33569098)
          well of course, you'd want health professionals to know their stuff, but I don't think it's necessary for, say, an insurance agent needs to know exactly (read word-for-word) the details of coverage in every coverage agreement they deal with, as long as they have immediate access to the information. I don't expect a structural engineer to know by heart every last measurement for a building they built
        • by N1AK (864906) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @01:59AM (#33570016) Homepage

          I really wouldn't want a surgeon looking up a procedure while I'm open on his table.

          It'd be nice to know he knew the procedure. However, if something unusual came up I'd prefer to have the guy who 'phones a friend' than the one who decides to wing it. If you're having a 2+ hour piece of surgery is a 5 min delay while the surgeon checks to ensure something is right really so bad?

    • by apoc.famine (621563) <{apoc.famine} {at} {}> on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:47PM (#33568744) Homepage Journal
      Kudos for a well written, thoughtful post. I was a HS teacher for 5 years, and I ran my classes (as much as I was allowed to - NCLB pressures forced my district to start pressuring teachers to test in the state test format) in much the same way. You get a much better understanding of a student's grasp of the material if they have to apply it instead of just regurgitate it.

      However, as awesome as your post was, it didn't address the problem at all.

      Having been in the same situation before, (Can I use my iPhone - it has a calculator on it, and you said a calculator was ok...) my suggestion would be to hit the dollar store and get a pile of cheap-ass scientific calculators. Then, do an exercise in class a few times before the first exam that requires their use. That way, you can outlaw all the networked devices, but people aren't using a foreign device for the first time under the pressure of a test. No, it won't be as familiar as their everyday tools. But at $1 each, you can even encourage people to take them home and practice on them if concerned. The ones I bought for my classes lasted a few years easily, but again, for the price, I wasn't too worried about them.

      You don't need a $80 graphing calculator for most things. Unless you've built your curriculum around the use of one, you should be able to test adequately with a $1 calculator as the main computational tool.
    • by melikamp (631205) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @12:14AM (#33569406) Homepage Journal

      First off -- I applaud your use of open-note exams. That is the ONLY real-world way to learn and demonstrate knowledge.

      I partially disagree. Memorization has its place in learning. For example, if one is taking a proper mathematical analysis class but they do not know (by heart!) the formal definition of the limit by midterm, then one is left to wonder how much actual analysis they can do. Ditto for Newton's laws of motion, for example, in the corresponding physics class. In every discipline there are these basic things one needs to understand thoroughly—without having to look them up—to even begin to appreciate the rest of the results. The parent may say: is it not enough to test whether a student solve problems? I do not think it is quite enough. Parent's student may now be able to solve a calculus problem when he is given a one and told it is a calculus problem. My student, who actually remembers the basics of analysis, will be able to pose calculus problems in her field of interest and in her very life: to see things in nature or in the society that can be modeled using limits and derivatives. IMHO, this is better learning. I do agree mostly, though: at least in mathematics, rote memorization should be reserved for just a few central concepts.

      As for the root question, I tend to side with people who say: ban all devices but a simple calculator, and design the test in a way that would make even that device unnecessary (don't bother buying them: these things are, like, $1). Whether it's a written test for 100 people or a tête-à-tête in an office, we absolutely have to prevent all communication in order for the examination to have any meaning. Jamming would accomplish that, but it is unsafe and dickish. In the future, when people have wireless adapters in their heads, every test taker will have to be surrounded by a Faraday cage, but for now whitelisting devices is the way to go. For special needs like language translation, have single-purpose devices pre-approved. Do they even make them anymore, now that there are much more capable robots on the internet? Who cares, it's not your problem. No matter what, flatly ban everything that has even a hint of a rumor of the networking capacity.

    • by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @12:32AM (#33569514)

      There is almost never a situation in the professional world where one must solve a problem with absolutely no references

      This reminds me of a job interview for a field support job that went like this (paraphrasing because its been a while):

      So the boss asks me a technical question which I honestly don't know the answer.

      Me: "I don't know, but I'm sure I can Google an answer fairly quick."
      Boss: "You mean you don't have this memorized? What if the internet is down?"
      Me: "I'd use my cell phone to google the answer."
      Boss: "What if you have no cell phone signal?"
      Me: "I'd put the caller on hold and use the land line to call someone who has either internet or a cell phone signal and ask them to Google it."
      Boss: "What if the land lines are out?"
      Me: "Then the question you asked me earlier is no longer relevant because obviously no one would be calling me to get report the problem in the first place if the phone lines are out? And if the internet, cell phone, and land lines are out, it sounds we might have bigger problems."

      Surprisingly enough I actually got that job, I just sort of went against the interviewees idea that candidates have to memorize every small technical detail because in real world situations it is always possible to look it up.

      And if not... Well then you have other issues going on that need priority.

  • by maschinetheist (1876332) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:11PM (#33568412) Homepage
    s/iTouch/iPod Touch
  • Talk to network ops. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:11PM (#33568414)

    Make each test distinct, choose a throwaway question that you know there are online resources to utilize that would answer it.

    Have the network operations guys gather proxy info during the exam period. Track anybody who connects to that site (or one
    of it's ilk) and match it to their distinct question. Give them an F no questions asked and refer to the ethics board for cheating.

    You don't have to beat the technology, you just have to catch them when they do what they know is wrong.

    • by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:22PM (#33568512) Homepage

      It's not just about searching online for the question... you also need to be able to prevent people from asking their friends for help

    • by forkazoo (138186) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:23PM (#33568536) Homepage

      Make each test distinct, choose a throwaway question that you know there are online resources to utilize that would answer it.

      Have the network operations guys gather proxy info during the exam period. Track anybody who connects to that site (or one
      of it's ilk) and match it to their distinct question. Give them an F no questions asked and refer to the ethics board for cheating.

      You don't have to beat the technology, you just have to catch them when they do what they know is wrong.

      How does this help for cell phones? The school's network ops team can't log what doesn't go over their network. Then, you've still got to deal with matching whose device corresponds to which log entry, etc. Depending on how the wireless is set up, that may be impossible, and one teacher gicing a test won't be able to get it changed on his own authority.

  • Ramen (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jawshie (919956) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:13PM (#33568420)
    The easy answer is go and get a microwave for the classroom. Make everybody their favorite microwave meal!
  • 10 years ago (Score:5, Insightful)

    by porkThreeWays (895269) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:14PM (#33568432)
    What the hell did these students do 10 years ago? AFAIK two semesters of English and perhaps 1 semester of literature are the norm at every reputable college in the U.S. If their English is too poor for your physics exam, they probably have no hope of graduating.
    • Re:10 years ago (Score:4, Insightful)

      by apoc.famine (621563) <{apoc.famine} {at} {}> on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:16PM (#33568944) Homepage Journal
      As a student 10 years ago, I can shed light on that: We stuck all the information we'd ever need in obfuscated programs in our graphing calculators. I imagine the foreign students did the same. Back then, the professors were starting to realize that devices with storage capacity were a security issue when trying to test. Today, our ever evolving progress means that the battle has shifted to real-time connections to people outside the classroom.

      Still, it's the same problem as before - how do you make a level playing field to test students? This is complicated when the students come from vastly different backgrounds. As a former HS teacher, I struggled with kids who had accommodations to take tests outside my classroom. Some got the tests read to them. Some got extra time. Some had a scribe. But when they were outside the classroom, when a student spotted a typo, and I corrected it on the board for all to see, they didn't get it. When a student pointed out a question that wasn't overly clear and I clarified it for the entire class, they missed that clarification.

      What I realized after a few years is that there is limited value in trying to quantify knowledge beyond "100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, 0%". On any given day, a student's test will vary by 10% or so. To put much weight on a test is pretty silly. For my Master's degree, I looked into the standardized testing my state did to meet the NCLB requirements. Some of the score categories they placed students into were smaller than the error bars on the tests!

      Back to the point, the success of students with limited English skills is determinant on the format of their humanities classes. If they are project, essay, and perhaps even presentation driven, they may do ok. Being able to practice something many times, have the tutors (all colleges have extensive, free tutoring programs, ESPECIALLY for non-English speakers) go over it a dozen times, etc., may allow them to pass. Asking them to read and parse English in a short time period may give them too little time to actually complete the test.

      That said, I get infuriated by the foreign students who come to the US, and spend all their time hanging with their countrymen, speaking their native language. Every country I've visited, even if only for a week, I tried to learn some of the language. I hung out with the locals, listened to them talk, ate their food, drank their drink, and tried to appreciate what makes their country unique. Yet again and again I see students come here, and cloister themselves from the language, culture, food, etc. It baffles me. When I get to go somewhere new, the best part is reveling in the newness.
  • by jarrettwold2002 (601633) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:15PM (#33568442)

    When I was in high school, math classes had a communal box of TI calculators. Available for people who didn't have them. It's a bit annoying that you would have to spend cash out of your own pocket to set something like that up. Is there any way you can get the department to go in on them, and just have them float between classes and tests?

    If not, everything's networked now more or less. Is cheating possible by iPod or any other remotely modern device? Yes. Then again, old cheating trick we had was to stick the answers to the test in our calculators, so that's nothing new.

    The only thing I could suggest is simply have people put away their electronic devices, except for what you allow in your syllabus until the test is over. Once they're done taking the test let them take off, and let their devices go along with.

    If it comes to the case you mentioned, maybe evaluate it on a case by case basis when it comes up... Then give them an option to take it at, for example, the math clinic outside of the classroom. At least there whoever is running the math clinic can keep a closer eye on what they're doing. Trying to do that for entire section would be a nightmare I'm guessing.

    Really, anymore if kids want to cheat they're going to. However, in math it's a wee bit difficult so long as you require them to show their work for the solution. If they're going to spend their entire time cheating, they're paying themselves to remain stupid so... Let them I guess.

    • by v1 (525388) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:25PM (#33568564) Homepage Journal

      Really, anymore if kids want to cheat they're going to. However, in math it's a wee bit difficult so long as you require them to show their work for the solution. If they're going to spend their entire time cheating, they're paying themselves to remain stupid so... Let them I guess.

      Only problem there is it harms the credibility of your school. A diploma from a school that is known to ignore cheaters loses value against one from a school that fights cheating and makes their students earn their grades.

      But addressing some other posts, jamming is not a perfect option. One method of wireless cheating is asking questions over IM via your cell phone, and you can't legally jam cell phone traffic. The faraday cage idea is probably the best to prevent external resourcing, but doesn't address student-to-student collaboration during the test. Savvy students could set up an ad-hoc chat room with each other during the test, breaking it up into questions each knew best, providing the group with answers, and make out like bandits. So you'd almost need a combination of the two... good faraday cage and jamming of wifi and cell within the cage. (which should be legal as long as the cage holds in the cell jamming?)

    • by apoc.famine (621563) <{apoc.famine} {at} {}> on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:24PM (#33569020) Homepage Journal
      You don't know about wolfram alpha, do you? Let me educate you...

      Question 4) Integrate x*sin(x), graph this curve. If you were to express this as a Taylor expansion, what would the first three terms be? []

      See the problem now? If you can't pass calculus with a tool like that, you're not ever going to pass any math class. Between the ability to do each part of the integral separately, and the ability to google "integration by parts", if you are connected to the internet, you pass everything.
  • by OKCfunky (1016860) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:17PM (#33568466)
    Depending on what level of physics you teach, 99% of students should already have a TI-83 or TI-89. Just as common as a pencil. But I'm of the engineer variety in the USA. Besides, math is a universal language (and on that note, if they can't understand the common spoken language that they've elected for... too bad). If they are not capable of understanding constants and universally applicable equations... they will fail anyways. However, at least at my university, I've yet to take a class where cellular or anything non-calculator allowed at all. You take out a cell phone or anything that's not a calculator and your booted out of the class. In many of the test questions in physics that I've taken, it's not a big stretch to deduce what the question is just based on a few key words and defined variables.
  • by Bruha (412869) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:17PM (#33568468) Homepage Journal

    If the student is capable of getting the answers right, what difference does it make how it's obtained.

    If the issue is that you're worried that the students are pulling answers off the internet then I could agree that you do indeed have an issue.

    However, I will provide a different perspective on the problem. As an employer the employee who succeeds is the one who knows how to obtain the information necessary to solve a problem, and use those methods to build their skill levels up. I have seen those who are unable to do this eventually be let go. So aside from the usual arse kissers who seem to proliferate most companies, those who function the best are those who are able to compile a solution from sources built up from years of work. I could care less if it came from Google as long as it's not infringing on anyone's legal rights that could come back to haunt the company.

    I honestly think you might be hobbling these young professionals in a sense. Have them show their work at least. Most free solutions to math problems never show the work, you have to shell out hundreds of dollars for that.

    [rant]And please for the love of God, let them write it down on paper and scan it, equation editors add hours to large equations. I had a teacher pull that crap on me once on a refresher course. I paid to learn, not learn an equation editor, my writing is legible. I can understand if others are not, but sheesh give someone a chance![/rant]

  • by tonywong (96839) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:22PM (#33568524) Homepage
    ...and randomize the order of the questions, changing values subtly for the questions, and/or changing the variable names and other minutiae in order to make it a bigger waste of time for them to cheat.

    Once you make it clear to them that the exams are 'unique' to each student the cheaters will likely panic and turf the exam hard anyhow.

    You can make 4-10 different exams and it will be way easier to catch the cheaters.

    In theory you could tailor each exam to each student but you'd have to set up a pretty good infrastructure for grading efficiently.
  • SLIDE RULE (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Steve_au (1633891) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:22PM (#33568528)

    two words - SLIDE RULE

  • by sjbe (173966) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:23PM (#33568530)

    I'm thinking of buying 30 el-cheapo four-function calculators out of my pocket, but I'm afraid that less-adaptable students will be unable to handle the switch from the calculator they know to an unfamiliar (but simpler) one."

    If they can't handle a cheapo calculator, they probably weren't going to pass the course anyway. You can offer to let them get familiar with it ahead of time but they'd be better off studying more. Calculators and computers are a crutch. If students rely on them too much they never really absorb the material. Technology should supplement but rarely should it be the focus.

    I say ban the networking hardware altogether. I have a minor in applied physics and none of our tests when I was a student required anything more powerful than a scientific calculator (graphing optional) with no network capability. I think basically you should design the tests with that level of technology in mind. Let the projects and homework utilize the full capabilities of the computing hardware. Physics tests are about proving they understand concepts, not about proving they can work with a particular computer. If the problems require nothing more than a calculator that can do sine, cosine and tangent, then only allow calculators that can do that and nothing more.

    The professional engineer exam is open book but if you actually need to look up a bunch of stuff you aren't going to pass anyway. Most tests should be like this. If they "need" networking during the test, they didn't really understand the material to begin with.

  • As a physics student (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hisperati (1408819) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:23PM (#33568532)
    I was just on the other side of this situation a few years ago as a student. I worried that some other students were getting unfair advantages because of their devices. I would recommend getting some generic cheap calculators for the exam or doing away with the need for calculators at all. Consider the physics GRE doesn't allow calculators. As for translation devices it is only fair to let students use them, but you may want to work with some university accessibility office to find appropriate devices and restrict the rest. Of course you have to lay all of this out on the first day of class and remind students repeatedly before the exams.
  • No calculators (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bziman (223162) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:24PM (#33568550) Homepage Journal

    When I took undergraduate physics, there were no calculators allowed... there were no numbers on the exams. Problems were like "If you throw a rock horizontally off a bridge at (v) m/s and it hits the ground after (t) seconds, how far away from the base of the bridge did the rock hit the ground, and how tall is the bridge?" And then the student has to understand that this problem requires the use of the projectile motion equations, and they to know what the question is actually asking and solve for it:

    w = v t
    h = g t^2

    One particularly sadistic (but awesome) professor asked a question like this "Suppose you're stuck in the middle of a frozen pond with a perfectly smooth (frictionless) surface. Propose a way to escape the pond." My (correctly marked) proposal was throw away a shoe. Of course, I could show equations for conservation of momentum, but the point was to see if students understood what it meant to be a frictionless surface and to simply be aware of conservation of momentum.

    • by T Murphy (1054674) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:51PM (#33568778) Journal
      Er, you misunderstood the question: you could escape by breaking the ice and swimming (before hypothermia kills you), you could wake up from the dream (frictionless? really?), you could wait for spring for the ice to thaw, you could wait for snowfall and use that for friction, you could yell and hope to trigger an avalanche (nearby mountain required), or you could put an elephant in the way- allowing dozens more solutions... I could go on, but the point is the problem required no knowledge of conservation of momentum, only your basic pond survival skills.
  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:28PM (#33568586) Homepage

    First remember that foreign students pay FAR more than we do to go to US schools. Compound that with the fact that many come from poor countries. The pressure to succeed is EXTREME. Furthermore, not all cultures despise cheating as much as Western culture. The results are predictable.

    Personal anecdote: I was invited to the Indian CS students' "study session" once while on a group project. I was AMAZED. They had a library of homework and test questions and answers. They passed them around casually. They also begged me for graded solutions from my previous courses to add to their collection. They were all cheating their way through and thought it was normal.

    They also kept asking me how I could come up with working algorithms to programming assignments on my own (without copying from something). It was as if actually being able to program was wizardry to them. I wonder why.......

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:47PM (#33568742) Homepage Journal

      One physics lecturer at the college I went to openly trained students to pass the exam. He was shameless. Every example he took us through became a question in the final examination. Needless to say he was a popular guy. This was in the days before there were a significant number of foreign students.

      • by lordlod (458156) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @03:22AM (#33570446)

        During one of the last tutorials before an electronics exam the lecturer was asked to explain a problem from a text book. There was a very noticeable pause when he read and realised the question. Enough to make all of us twig something was up.

        Sure enough, the same question was in the exam with different values.

        Not his fault though, the alternative, saying "I can't answer this question because it's in the exam", would have been even worse.

    • by Ecuador (740021) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @07:26AM (#33571668) Homepage

      That reminds me my CS grad school. There was a large percentage of Indian students and I found that regardless if they were good or bad (obviously there were both kinds) their defining characteristic was that they stuck together. When they were TA's (quite common) there were some weird things going on that the Professors were oblivious of. For example, I had a homework that involved storing some flight data on a db2 database, then a gui front-end that allowed you to select from/to locations and gave you the flight sequence that would make your trip. The specification gave 2-3 queries that you should test your solution on. Well, I got 95% for an error that was sort of cosmetic, i.e. not part of the algorithm used. I did not like it and I wondered how the TA graded the rest of the class. As luck would have it, he was one of the students that did not know what "your home directory is world readable by default" means and I got the spreadsheet with the results. Most of the Indians had 100%. I found one girl of those 100% who both had her home dir readable, and had her homework in there. To my amazement her homework involved a gui with HARDCODED results for the 2-3 "test queries"! No sql queries, nothing!
      An even better story took place a year after I graduated. An Indian guy was trying to cheat during the midterm and the professor warned him. He tried to cheat at the final again and the professor told him "you are getting an F, I already warned you". So the guy responds "but what about all the guys that submitted the same project?". Haha, the professor looked at the projects which were graded by his Indian TA and half of them (belonging to the Indian students) were the same! It had never occurred to the Professors what was going on. Well, the students got away with just an F (well it could screw their funding though).
      Again, I am not saying that Indians are bad, they have more or less the same variety as Americans, Europeans etc, the problem is that by sticking together so much and considering that "natural", you really have a hard time weeding out the good from the bad.

  • Go cheap (Score:3, Insightful)

    by grasshoppa (657393) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:29PM (#33568592) Homepage

    If your students are having a hard time adapting to cheap, "employer" provided do you think they'll handle the real world?

    The only flaw I can find with your plan is to pay for these out pocket, but I understand that's the norm for a lot of college supplies. Of course, given the cost of books, it's not too absurd to expect students to buy the model you specify either.

  • by VoiceInTheDesert (1613565) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:30PM (#33568596)
    Graphic calculators have no networking capability. Depending on what level of physics you're teaching though, some of TI series calculators can do an entire physics test for knowledge or memory required other than memorizing what buttons to push. If you're doing into level stuff, a simple calculator should be fine. If you're doing more advanced stuff, you can allow more powerful calculators, but be aware that most common functions are built into such devices and your tests should reflect this (IE: make them apply a formula, interpret a word problem, etc rather than just solve equations or the only thing you're testing is the ability of the student to push buttons).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:30PM (#33568602)

    The way I handle this is putting a lot of problems on the exam. It makes the average score tend to be low (although there are always a few percent that get them all right). But, it spreads out the remainder. I curve the exam to compensate for that.

    Students that try to cheat by digging up answers or asking friends will simply run out of time and score very poorly. It is inefficient to cheat.

  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:38PM (#33568664)

    Look toward standardized testing practices for how to conduct tests in a rigorous and fair manner. Quite simply, the rules and expectations for the course should be clearly stated at the outset. Don't wait until the exams come around to drop the bomb. Tell them that you expect them to use a calculator that is on an approved list. No other electronic devices will be permitted. All other possessions not explicitly allowed must be placed at the front of the room, and any mobile devices must be turned OFF. No "vibrate." Watches are permitted but cannot have an alarm function. If they need translation, that's too bad; the ETS does not offer to administer mathematics tests in the language of the examinee's choosing. This is a college level course, with lectures in English. You don't provide lecture notes in twenty languages. It is the student's responsibility to become sufficiently proficient in the English language in order to continue their studies. That may put them at a disadvantage, but we don't try to equalize the playing field for someone who hasn't learned calculus.

    Education necessarily requires that some students have to work harder--sometimes, much harder--than others to achieve the same proficiency level as others. That is not being unfair, that is just the way life is.

  • College Policy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by dcollins (135727) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:38PM (#33568668) Homepage

    Community-college math instructor here (CUNY). The first thing I'd ask is: What's the policy (if any) at the college level? Here I'm supported by an official, clear-cut policy at the college level: all electronic communication/media devices have to be shut off and put away while in a classroom (a policy I enforce strictly during tests).

    So basically that means dedicated calculators and nothing else -- square root function required minimum in my stats class. I think that's an inexpensive requirement, they're like $1 at Staples or something? Graphing calculators okay for the rare student who has one. The few students with electronic dictionaries I see are small dedicated devices for that, and that's allowed. But phones as calculators, totally prohibited; iPod media player as calculator (or anything), totally prohibited. Not absolutely foolproof, but pretty clear to me.

  • Pen. (Score:5, Informative)

    by drolli (522659) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:45PM (#33568722) Journal

    I hold a PHD in physics.

    -A pen is enough. In physics exams students should prove they can transform formulas symbolically. Typing in number can be done by people at the cashier desk. Graphing calculators are a disease.

    -Everybody who wants, can take in a standalone mp3-player - these are cheap.

    -Regarding the dictionary - these exist in paper and are cheap - and faster than an ipod.

    Most important: who uses sophistication to cheat and i caught should be removed from the studies immediately.

    • Re:Pen. (Score:4, Informative)

      by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:54PM (#33568798)

      You're overlooking the obvious - a lot more students take the first year "survey" physics courses, and many of them are from other disciplines. In Physics 101/2/3, they probably are doing a lot of problems that require (or at least are much easier with) a calculator.

      I think the honor system is the best approach. I assume you're walking around, or your TAs are, during the test - it's pretty easy to tell a student who's performing a calculation from one who's doing a Google search on the problem at hand. As long as you've told them ahead of time that network access will not be permitted, I'd think you're good.

  • Just say no. (Score:5, Informative)

    by duffbeer703 (177751) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:46PM (#33568738)

    If you can't hack using a standard 4 function calculator, than you can't hack physics either.

    I also hate to be rude, but most universities require that students speak and read english. While I can appreciate the fact that a Korean may not have the best grasp of written English, I also think it that individual's responsibility to learn the language or work outside of class to create notes in his or her native language. I sat through a number of situations in school where I was struggling with difficult material while foreign students were either talking during exams in their language, "sharing calculators" or similar, blatant examples of cheating that went unchallenged due to the political situation at the university.

    After being written up in the campus newspaper, one professor "took a stand" by curving everyone's grade up one letter grade, essentially bribing the class into submission.

  • by iONiUM (530420) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:02PM (#33568842) Homepage Journal

    EMP. That'll show 'em.

  • by jlaxson (580785) <jlaxson&mac,com> on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:03PM (#33568856) Journal
    I'm late to this party, but: []
  • by mr_walrus (410770) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:11PM (#33568900)

    >but I'm afraid that less-adaptable students will be unable to handle the switch from
    >the calculator they know to an unfamiliar (but simpler) one.

    isn't being a student all about being adaptable?
    migawd! coddle them much or what?

  • ESL Department (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fandingo (1541045) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:29PM (#33569060)

    The main problem here is foreign students. I recently graduated from the math department, and many students had basically no understanding of English.

    I really disagree that non-English-speaking students should be allowed in American universities. I just didn't get the feeling that they participated in the classroom at all. However, that's not how things work, so I'll be more pragmatic.

    Since there are many students with little understanding of English, there are ESL departments that can be good resources. They might have a recommendation on acceptable translators. And, while it might not help you right now, you might be able to convey recommendations (ex. no network capabilities) that the university can provide to incoming ESL students. Then, you won't have as much of a problem in the future.
    If it really turns out to be a problem, then in addition to spare calculators, you might need to provide a few spare translators that students can use if they forget theirs or bring an illegal one.

  • by xianthax (963773) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @12:05AM (#33569318)

    Let em use whatever device they want and lay out the rules for no communication or internet access.

    Be vigilant, Make it a goal to catch the cheaters.

    At the end of the day the college degree you get is just your ticket in the door at a company, If you really know your stuff your performance will take you far.

    If you know how to find the answer to a problem by tapping your network of contacts you will likely go farther. (the cheating your worried about)

    If you can't figure out how to cheat on a physics test in college your probably going nowhere so weed these people out.

    In all seriousness i would rather hire the person who found some elaborate way to cheat while avoiding detection than the person who worked for 3 weeks to get a B on the test. The enterprising cheater is probably far more inventive but was just bored by the material, thats a skill set that I can work with. Working for 3 weeks to pass a basic physics test isn't.

  • Arms race (Score:3, Funny)

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Tuesday September 14, 2010 @02:00AM (#33570026) Journal
    Back in the day we could use our graphing calculators on exams, but they weren't open book. So I'd store all my formulas in some mock program on there. But then the teachers got wise and started coming around and wiping the memory of everybody's calculator before each exam. So I wrote a program on the TI-82 that mimicked the series of screen prompts and displays required to wipe the calculator memory. Fun times...

"For the man who has everything... Penicillin." -- F. Borquin