Building Tasks

„Vezmi si do rúk jednu paličku a prelom ju. Teraz s vezmi dve a skús ich prelomiť. Nakoniec skús prelomiť naraz tri paličky. Su také pevné, že sa ti to nepodarí. Vidiš? Jedna palička je slabí, ale ked sú tri spolu, sú silné. Nikdy nezabudni spolupracovať s priatelmi!“*

There recently appeared an article in the Slovak Daily SME titled Ťahákom sa u nás stále darí. ( ‘Crib notes are still with us’; 12.2.2007, Weekend section). The thrust of the article is that Slovak students používaju ťaháky (cheat on examinations, e.g., by using crib notes) more than students in other countries. But what does it really mean that Slovak students cheat more than other students? According to the article, to cheat, students do one of two things when they are working on a problem: i) they communicate with their classmates, or ii) they consult notes or other reference material they have brought with them.

Now from a certain standpoint it may not seem like such a problem that students collaborate, prepare notes, and consult reference material to gain information to solve problems. In fact, the research and collaboration model has been put foward in some circles as one of the major goals of education. So why are notes and classroom discussion viewed as a problem in a Slovak context? Doesn’t it boil down to the bare fact of the teacher’s interest in not wanting it to happen? Such reluctance might reflect a culture of assessment in which it is most likely that exam questions ask students to repeat information that they have been assigned. If tests simply are an indication of the students’ ability to replicate what has been lectured or assigned to them, then allowing students to consult one another and their notes would reduce the exam situation to an exercise in stenography. Such exams test primarily the students capacity to memorize. But in a computerized world where information is ever more readily available, is it really important to test a student’s store of information? The human memory is a relatively weak and unreliable tool in comparision to today’s information technology. If we move from a content-oriented pedagogy, to one that prizes above all skills and proficiencies, then it is not the amassing of information that is the ultimate goal of education, but rather the nurturing of an ability and disposition to access and make the best use of information.. Now if examinations tested thinking skills, then crib notes could serve as an enhancement that would permit the teacher to test higher order thinking skills, make more challenging questions, and get more interesting results. This uncovers another assumption about exam taking where “cheating” can occur, and that is that these exams are meant in part to probe students’ limitations–exams as instruments of diagnosis. Alternatively, examinations might be viewed as a learning tool, constituting a very special situation in which students are highly motivated (especially in high-stakes exit and entrance exams) to use all the resources available to create the best result.

And what about students relying on their classmates to solve their problems? This is only a problem if the students are working on the same problem. So if students have their own distinctive set of problems, which ask them to employ logical methods to infer or extrapolate results framed with appropriate qualifications, then any collaboration would be subordinate to the individual agendas of each of the collaborators, again a desirable result if the intention is to create a learning-rich environment leading to the highest quality outcomes.

How to stop cheating? One answer is to have the teachers and institutions build towards a different type of test, one which relates students with other students and teachers as partners working to maximize the quality of product of everyone’s efforts, not as potential adversaries.

Quoted from the column „Masahikovými očami” in the Weekend Edition of SME 24.2.07. The English translation is as follows: “Take in your hand a single stick and break it. Now take two and try to break them. Finally try to break three sticks at once. They are so strong, that you are not able. Do you see? One stick is weak, but when there are three together, they are strong. Never forget to work with your friends!” The picture appearing in this blog is taken from the SME article on cheating in schools.