A few weeks ago, as I was finishing up yet another quiz for yet another class, something novel happened.
Now, I've taken at least 90 exams of varying importance during my time in college, all of them have operated the same way. The professor passes out a thick packet of paper with a few well-tuned questions inside, the front of the packet warning that the test is closed-notes, closed-book and that electronics are forbidden. Occasionally a professor will change it up, making the test open-book while increasing the difficultly, but never have I been given a test where electronics were permitted, aside from my trusty TI-83.
In the middle of my drone-like process of translating material from past study sessions into answers, my watch buzzed.
I had just received a Pebble smartwatch during the holiday season, which can be purchased at Best Buy, Amazon and various other e-tailors for around $150. Wearing it everyday for about a month, it was pretty much integrated it into my daily workflow. I am able to check my phone notifications, get updated on things like the weather and stock quotes and use applications like Yelp and Foursquare right from my wrist.
So when my watch buzzed, I immediately jerked my wrist around to see what was new. As I was reading the text I had just received, I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing?"
I had never read a text message during an exam before, but the casual message was a telling indicator of the inevitable battle brewing between technology and the traditional classroom.
This conflict first began with the introduction of laptops and their integration into college life. This trend continued in 2007 when smartphones entered the fray, and in the coming years, a new contender is set to make an appearance. With technologies like smartwatches and Google Glass in the pipeline, wearables are surely going to be the next wave of electronics to wedge their way into our everyday lives.
Laptops, smartphones and tablets have not done much to change the status quo in the classroom as far as testing goes. Sure, we saw the addition of the laptop note-taker and the smartphone addict as classmates, but during a test everything is stripped away, leaving students with a pencil, a piece of paper and their minds. If wearables usage grows in a similar pattern to smartphones and laptops, the classroom could see the majority of college students owning some form of wearable technology by the end of 2018. When that time comes, will educators be ready?
The internet will be easier than ever to access. With people's connection to each other and the the world wide web becoming more constant and subtle, cheating on traditional tests will become easier. Don't remember who that historical figure was? Some subtle eye gestures will get the answer displayed on your glasses. Have a friend who took the test already? Your smartwatch can notify you each time he discreetly sends an answer your way. This is a problem educators are going to need to deal with in the very near future.
One could envision a totalitarian environment similar to those of the SAT and AP exams where students are urged to leave their cell phones and other electronics with a proctor during the test. The only change educators would have to make would be to collect watches, glasses and other wearables as well. The only problem with this is that people are generally more attached to objects they wear on a daily basis than they are with the phone in their pocket. I, for one, would not take kindly to someone trying to take away my glasses before a test. For one thing, I would be effectively blind, and for another, that is just an unnecessary violation of my privacy.
The other option is to change how tests are administered and maybe even how teaching is approached in general. If cheating gets to the point where it is almost impossible to stop, maybe it is the testing process that is due for an overhaul, not the attitude of the students. I personally don't know what the solution to this problem is, but that is what makes this so exciting! Teachers need to start experimenting with new forms and methods of teaching and testing. Make a test open-internet now and then, allow for some level of class collaboration, find new and innovative ways to leverage this increasingly technological class of millennials. Do anything but resist the need to change.