Tuesday, June 2, 2020

On Un-Proctoring Exams, Unleashing Learning

In the current sudden expansion of online learning due ot COVID-19, many institutions are increasing spending on proctoring services for classes; some, for the first time.  The proctoring platforms are jumping at the chance to increase their sales, and are offering special discounts to new users.  
Proctored exams, it seems, are the ultimate way to prevent online cheating. Using a proctored exam system, students cannot navigate beyond their test to the Internet itself, and in many cases are actually watched - monitored by video feeds - to ensure that they do not look down to check notes or their phones, speak to another person, or - heaven forbid - take a bathroom break. In many cases they must pass through an airport security-like check-in; showing their ID cards, stating their name, and making sure their faces can be seen clearly.  Any student who is “flagged” is reported to the teacher, who can then - with complete and utter confidence - give the student a 0 on the exam.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash
This assumes that the students will be working on computers with built-in webcams or that one is purchased for exam use; some faculty require that students purchase a second webcam, to show their hands as well as their faces during an exam. Beyond the equipment purchases,  proctoring makes more unrealistic assumptions; it assumes that all students have a desk and chair in a quiet room where they can take the exam for 1-2 hours, uninterrupted.  No kids asking questions, no work calling to say you are needed. It assumes students are native speakers with academic backgrounds, and will never have to look up a word or phrase. And last but not least: It assumes that students are trying to cheat.  
Here's a tweet by an Instructional Designer Dale Coleman at Tacoma Community College (used with permission):


The spy-like visuals of this experience are not only nerve-racking, but fly in the face of the culture of online learning,  where students and teachers not infrequently do their work from the comfort of their beds, back porches, or living room couches, laptops on laps or cellphones in hands. In my own experience as both an online student and teacher, working online means working in pajamas, working in the car, working while eating, and working while others are holding conversations in the same room. One of the main differences between the online experience and the face-to-face experience is the independent study opportunities they provide; we can interact on our own time, in our own way. 
Proctoring takes everyone's focus away from course content and puts it on a very big billboard-like message that says: Trust not Found here. Proceed with Caution.  It causes student discomfort even before it happens; taking a quiz is made into daunting experiences akin to airport security checks; Do I have my passport? Do I have my ticket? Where's my driver's license? Many of our students have stressful experiences in refugee camps and visa offices that still reverberate in their minds. Often this process results in - at the very least - a section in the course devoted to how to take an exam (which could have been used for actual course content); students spending time and often scant resources buying onetime use equipment and preparing to take exams (which could have been used for studying); and multiple, repeated tech issues and help desk requests that must be resolved by support offices (which have many other issues to take care of).  Proctoring - besides the actual high cost of the service - costs in many other ways as well. 
Un-proctoring exams can mean unleashing learning;  supporting lifelong learning involves skillfully utilizing our many free online tech tools, the Internet itself, and our own creativity and knowledge to enhance learning. The Learning Management systems already provide a secure login, and offer a wide array of assessment types that go beyond the proctored environment, from practice quizzes to video projects and everything in between. Combine these options with teaching strategies that chunk material and a UDL mindset that finds ways for students to show what they have learned by creating assessments that build learning, this is exactly the time that the costly add-on of proctored exams should be falling out of fashion, shifting the institutional funds instead towards better empowering faculty to teach online with the resources and professional development  they need to promote academic integrity and trust.  

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Digital Literacy: The Benefits of a Being Bilingual

Recently a faculty member at my institution who is traveling to a country where folks simply can't afford Microsoft products, asked me to find out:  If a student does NOT have word on their computer would they be able to upload a Canvas assignment as a Word document? I experimented on my laptop that does not have Word installed; downloading a Google doc as a Word doc and then submitting an assignment in Canvas. The results: It works GREAT!!! I also had the option of letting Canvas go to my Google Docs file for this; if I had chosen to do so, it would have worked as well. 

     This is important in several ways for our very diverse students, because even though institutions offer Word products while they are students, they are on their own after that. Microsoft products are quite pricey....as compared to Google, which is FREE,  with access everywhere. When you don't have an internet connection, you can even work on Google docs offline: here's how. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-set-up-and-use-google-docs-offline/

I am beginning to see this as an equity issue. Our students are mobile users and learners. If we encourage students to make use of their Gmail accounts, it comes with the complete suite of Google Drive offerings. With Google docs, they will never, ever lose their work, or have to buy a flash drive.  They can easily collaborate together on projects, store all their photos in one place, use Google Sheets for statistics and Google slides for presentations that they will be able to access and keep even after they graduate. In the meantime, sheets would be uploaded just like Excel and slides as Powerpoints in Canvas. 

    As a teacher, you have the option of easily avoiding Word altogether and having students hand in Google docs as an assignment, where you can easily make comments on their documents, and also view their version history to see the progress of their work.  You can create collaborative assignments as well, harnessing the power of the Internet and helping create knowledge-building learning communities. 

But perhaps you are not familiar with using Google...your "go-to" place is Microsoft Word.

 Google is for the people, and my educator mind bonds with that. But perhaps you are not familiar with using Google...your "go-to" place is Microsoft Word. If you are an educator, you are probably familiar with the various articles and research relating to the benefits of the bilingual brain.  It thinks outside a bigger box: Being fluent in another language means you have broader perspectives that make your conceptual toolbox bigger, with extra sets of tools to work with.  Something that looks all the world like a scarf - a furoshiki -can be used to carry things.  A traditional kimono sleeve can be used as a pocket. Once your concepts have expanded, you transfer them in multiple ways.  This is why, for example, the New York Times Article, Why Bilinguals Are Smarter points out that bilinguals "seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles."  Certainly, increasing one's ability to simply think about things from a different perspective is, in itself, good exercise for the brain.

Google inspires and transcends boundaries set up from a closed environment.

    Working with computers is no different.  Digitally speaking, I was raised speaking Microsoft Word - my first computer language - which is akin to being raised in a conservative, privileged family. Then, when I traveled to visit the culture of Google a few years ago, I fell in love with the openness and complete transportability of my digital life, and have now become quite fluent, a self-professed Google advocate. In my capacity as an educator, I often find myself introducing others to Google culture with much enthusiasm; "Here's our collaborative document. Add your thoughts here," I say, and share it out on Microsoft Outlook in my work email.  "But where do I save it?" comes one reply.  "Who will see this?" says another.  I happily respond with "No need to save. No one but who we want to see it will see it."  

     I use Microsoft word documents and "suite" because they are the supported and expected system to use at work.  I suppress my nearly daily annoyances for the sake of standard conformity when needed.  Microsoft is my standard work uniform.   But whenever possible I turn to Google for myriad Internet information and tools, for my reports, presentations, and collaborations with others. Google inspires and transcends boundaries set up from a closed environment. After discovering a  growing number of free applications and add-ons - that actually keep getting better - I have a growing irritation with the idea of being asked to pay for tools. 


It takes a while to learn this second language...there is always interference from your native tongue at first. When your writing life has been dominated by the word SAVE - based on numerous mistakes in the past that led to having to re-type documents - entering the culture of "It's always there, and it's yours" is hard to adjust to.  But there are muscle memory habits that need to be adjusted; the toolbars are laid out differently; there are sure to be a few keystroke errors at first.  But being digitally bilingual is empowering. The options keep changing and growing..and so should we. 

Photos by Augustine Wong on Unsplash