I found the article ” What a Controversy Over an App Tells Us About How Students Learn Now” on the Chronicle of Higher Ed. This piece focuses on a university case where students were accused of cheating for using the app Quizlet to study for an exam. For those that aren’t familiar, Quizlet allows users to upload questions and answers in a flashcards style for people to study. The idea is that if you have a big exam, instead of writing down all the flashcards and inevitably dropping them a few times during transport, you can swipe through these ones online. There are often times when there are questions that you would have missed when making your own cards, and it can be really great to see what others think is important to study. I believe the site Koofers has a similar functionality and is more common here at VT. The argument made against both Quizlet and Koofers is that people can upload test questions that are currently being used by professors, so students on these sites are effectively seeing exams ahead of time.
Some professors/institutes have reacted by trying to ban the use of such resources by their classes. I know I have seen at least two syllabi here that have specifically denounced the use of Koofers at VT. What’s interesting here is that there is no way, short of restricted internet usage, for universities to enforce this. They are relying on students’ honesty to not use the resources online. But the students who would follow such guidelines are also the ones that are less likely to try to cheat anyway.
I have always taken issue with this stance. We live in a connected global society with all the resources of the world effectively at our fingertips. One quote from the article that reminds me far too much of middle school:
“Robin DeRosa, an interdisciplinary-studies professor at Plymouth State University, used to motivate her students to learn math by warning them that they wouldn’t always have a calculator available. But with smart phones in their pockets now, students rarely encounter such constraints.”
If I’m working in the lab, it may be faster to do the math in my head, but if I’m really in doubt, I will almost always have my phone nearby to reassure me. There will be few times when I can’t google some basic facts online. If I need to know how Infrared Spectroscopy works, I’m about a 5 min YouTube video away from understanding it better than most students who just learned about it for a week of class. To try to pretend students won’t have this access when faced with “real-world” problems is short-sighted. Students should learn to access these resources, not ignore them.
“It’s about authentic demonstrations that are externally facing so students can be part of this data-rich environment,” [Natasha Jankowski, director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment] said, “and about how we’re helping each other collectively to move us from a ‘gotcha’ assessment to creating a developmental learning experience. It’s a different teaching-learning mentality.”
An argument can be made that I have an unfair advantage over someone who doesn’t know about Quizlet or Koofers, but that could be solved by introducing students to the item as a learning tool. If everyone has access and knowledge of the same tools, there’s no unfair advantage. However, I would argue in today’s society, we all have roughly equal access (at least at a given institution), and the real learning skill is to find and evaluate information based on those resources. No one is going to ban Yahoo Answers (is this even still a thing?) but most people aren’t going to trust it over other sources like Wikipedia, a textbook, or journal article. If you go to Yahoo over the others, that’s your choice, and probably your failure to learn from. Just because I’m scoffing at it, doesn’t mean the person who uses it has an advantage over me, I accept that I’m using a different toolset and would not ask theirs to be limited.
“There are times when students do need to know factual information, fundamental knowledge from a given field, etc.,” she said in an email. “But how do we assess their understanding of that knowledge? If the answer is a multiple choice and/or fill-in-the-blank exam, how much does it matter that students can recall that knowledge offhand?”