Thursday, July 27, 2017
It is for the same reason that when I transitioned from closed book to open book lab quizzes in some of my classes (no phone use, though), the scores didn't improve. Those who didn't understand the material or the context of the experimental data also didn't know what to look up.
I will concede one point -- I still don't have a good system to prevent them from looking something up on a phone in the bathroom during an exam. I suppose I could collect a phone from anyone who wanted to use the restroom, but I don't know how comfortable I feel doing so.
I do sometimes give a an exam in the course, when not enough students have been doing the pre-lab homeworks. The most recent time I used two different forms (alternating seats), and made the students who normally sit in the back row sit in the front row and vice versa. The questions were all straightforward ones that just required a little calculation—a phone would not have helped much unless they mailed photos of the exam to a confederate who was much better than them.
It helps that there is almost no memory work in the electronics course—all I expect them to memorize for a 2-quarter sequence fits comfortably on one page (and they come in knowing some of it, like Ohm's Law and Q=CV for capacitors). I don't care what students can recite from memory—I care about what they can do with what they know. Unfortunately, timed tests are a rather poor measure of that.
Back when I used to give exams more often (usually in computer engineering courses), I generally did open-book exams.
One of my undergrad profs (years ago) had a "if you're responsible for another person [child, parent, etc], your phone can be on silent; otherwise, turn it off" policy. I liked that one.
I expect my students to put their phones in bags or away -- they expect it too, not sure why it'd be a point of contention.
My institution has as its official policy that "possessing unauthorized aids" is an academic offence. (Using unauthorized aids is, of course, also an offence.)
In the old "days", possession would take the form of crib notes. If you had them, if they had course-related material written on them, then the balance of probabilities tipped against you.
Nowadays, however, we have smart phones and smart watches. "Possession" can mean having the phone in your pocket, or wearing the watch. My question [to you] is, should possession of a smart device absent clear evidence of (attempted) usage constitute an academic offence? Has - or should - the balance of probabilities shift in favour of the student?
Thank you to all of have commented on the question.
If someone is an EMT or parent on call, they can leave their phone on my desk so I can take the call. Everyone else has their phone in "airplane mode" and out of sight. The very rare bathroom break requires leaving the phone and anything in their pockets before they can leave.
To the original questioner: If the policy is possession, then enforce it after defining phones as illegal and advertising it. Turn out pockets before the exam and kick out anyone with a phone. Purses and bags could be exempt if they are placed in a pile at the front of the room. If everyone at the college isn't willing to do that, then amend the policy so it reflects what you actually do. Empty threats are bad policy.
Hint to everyone proctoring in a lecture hall: Observe the rows on the far side of the room. You can see what might be in their laps when they think you aren't looking at them, and you can also see who keeps looking across and back to see where you are. They shouldn't be doing that either. Also a good tip about seating people in front who normally sit in back, although proctoring from the back of the room usually keeps them in line.
Hint to Brian @7:40pm - If the room is too big for one person to proctor, you probably have TAs who can help proctor. They can handle the mundane stuff like keeping track of exams at the front of the room, freeing you to actually proctor.
I've never done it, but some people allow a reference sheet or card but require that it be attached to the exam. I'm told one person even grades them.
This is because of a 100+ year old Honor Code, and I got the impression that students and professors take it really seriously. Penalties for violating it are quite stiff.
Each faculty member or instructor has the responsibility and opportunity to determine how best to apply the Honor Code to their particular course, and any resource or course of action not permitted by the instructor is prohibited.
This probably doesn't help the person that asked the question since it's a systemic policy, but it does show that there are alternatives out there.
For "normal" tests and final exams in my course, I used to tell them that their phone needs to be away and non-distracting (off, on silent, airplane mode, whatever - it needs to not be able to get their attention or bother anyone else). Having had no issues with cheating using this policy, I've since loosened the policy to let them listen to music on their phones using headphones as long as the phone itself remains face-down and they don't touch the screen during the exam. (These tests are already open notes, so I'm not worried that a student will use some convoluted way to record notes and listen to them during the test. I just don't want them communicating with the outside world, looking up things they didn't bother to write down, or using more elaborate calculators/solvers than those on the allowed calculators for that exam.) This works because I'm generally proctoring less than 20 students at a time, so I can keep a pretty close eye on what they're specifically doing. If I had more students to watch, the rules would have to be stricter.
For "big" standardized tests, I have them write their names on sticky notes, put sticky notes on their phones, and leave the phones on a table by the proctor's desk on silent or airplane mode. This has the disadvantage of opening up possible theft, so it's not something I'd recommend in a large group or a school with a theft problem. I know all of my students pretty well and the school culture is such that we haven't had a theft problem here, but I've taught other places where I absolutely wouldn't do this. (The main problem here, and the reason for the sticky notes, is that we'll often have at least one student forget their phone when they leave.)
And yes, we have lots of well-intentioned students who fail state exams for phone possession every year. Many kids just don't like giving up their phones and would rather just keep the device in a pocket and tell the proctor that they didn't bring a phone to the test.
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