Open-phone tests in Oz

Taking open-book tests a step further, a girls school in Sydney, Australia is letting students phone a friend, surf the net or use information stored on i-Pods during exams. Students must cite the sources of information they use on the exam.

“In terms of preparing them for the world, we need to redefine our attitudes towards traditional ideas of ‘cheating’,” (English teacher Dierdre) Coleman said. “Unless the students have a conceptual understanding of the topic or what they are working on, they can’t access bits and pieces of information to support them in a task effectively.

“In their working lives they will never need to carry enormous amounts of information around in their heads. What they will need to do is access information from all their sources quickly and they will need to check the reliability of their information.”

The “phone a friend” angle is the only thing that distinguishes this from open-book tests. Perhaps, students will be encouraged to make well-informed friends.


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  1. Answers, $5. And I accept PayPal.

  2. Nance Confer says:

    And he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. πŸ™‚

    Sounds like real life to me.

    I was cracking up at the NPR commercial the other day advertising a DVD they would send you to play on your computer or TV to encourage literacy programs on PBS TV for very young children so that they could learn to do research with books.

    So I start with this DVD and my computer. . . and I tell my 4-year-old . .. what now?? πŸ™‚


  3. Can they call a classmate?
    This is, essentially, an open-book, group-effort test.

    That being said, unless these are longer essay questions, I don’t see what is to stop the test-taker from simply reading the question to someone else and receiving the answer word-for-word.

    Ò€œIn their working lives they will never need to carry enormous amounts of information around in their heads”
    Maybe if they work at McDonald’s… this is one of the biggest fallacies ever.

  4. I think I had a very information-heavy job, scientific researcher. Sure, some stuff I remembered, but just as often, I asked a peer, looked it up, or had it stored in a notebook or some such. Actually it does very much mirror real life. I had many college professors, especially maths, who allowed a limited set of notes for test taking. Real life isn’t an exam.

  5. Let’s see, we’ll have kids go to school just long enough to learn how to read and type. Then we’re done! Anything else they need to know, they can call someone from overseas on their cell phones. We can pour the money we save into hiring foreigners to do all our hard thinking and work for us. I plan on using my kids’ college money to pay for their cell phone use.

  6. In their working lives they will never need to carry enormous amounts of information around in their heads.

    When you wonder why the theories that come out of ed school lead to educational failure, remember those words. While it’s true that people don’t need to know every single detail, relying on notes or other information sources for all of one’s knowledge of something simply keeps people stupid.

    When it comes to being innovative, one must have an understanding of what exists, and having an understanding means carrying around fairly enormous amounts of information in one’s head.

  7. Doc…Linus Pauling had a different opinion.

    See also my post thinking and memorizing.

  8. Wow. I hope to never experience a medical emergency and have to be treated by a doctor who doesn’t carry around enormous amounts of information in her head. As a scientific researcher, I certainly couldn’t be effective in my work without having a fluent knowledge of my field…yes, there are plenty of things I look up when I need to, but there is an awful lot that of information that I simply have to know to be competent in my work. In the real world that I live in, people are actually expected to know stuff.

  9. wahoofive says:

    Doctor, heck! When I hire a plumber I expect them to know about plumbing without having to call a friend. If you want to get a job as a librarian, for heaven’s sake (someone with lots of access to reference sources) you’re expected to know something about libraries. Even a carpenter is expected to know how to use tools without calling a friend. This idea that all jobs hire tabula rasa is crazy.

    If everyone follows this philosophy, there won’t be anyone you can call to get the answer.

  10. Yes, in the “real world” nobody answers all the questions. But each person is generally held responsible for answering some significant questions. This seems straight forward to me — well at least until artificial intelligence gets much better. It was always my experience that teachers that held open book exams gave much more difficult questions. So if that model is being followed then I think allowing more technology into tests is an acceptable approach.

    Yeah, the call a friend — or expert — option seems to open the door to plagiarism but there are always ways to combat it. I guess it just depends on the test givers and how much time they have to combat plagiarism. There’s always the cheaters cheat themselves argument, but its also been my experience that the most insidious cases of cheating come from those who don’t even “need” to cheat. These people tend to cheat to get that last little edge because the competition is so tough. So in this regards I think increasing the use of technology in test taking has to be managed very carefully to maintain the integrity of any educational system.

  11. James Franklin says:

    How in earth can anyone cite Linus Pauling to verify their theories on anything? The man was a kook. He started off OK doing good work on the structure of crystals at Caltech, later on the chemical bond. But at the insistence of his crazy wife Ava Helen (who wore the pants in the pauling family) he soon drifted off into weird, utopian leftist politics and soon thereafter into the vitamin C nuttiness. For a superb account of Pauling’s life see Anthony Serafini’s LINUS PAULING: A MAN AND HIS SCIENCE.

  12. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “In their working world they will never need to carry enormous amounts of information around in their heads.”

    There’s so much to say about this… some of which has already been said by the good people commenting on this site. But let’s add a few more things, shall we?

    1) In the sense being used in this abominable sentence, very few of them are really capable of carrying around enormous amounts of information in their heads anyway. Then again, we might have clued into that by the use of the word “enormous.”

    2) In another sense — not the one intended in the sentence — people absolutely do carry around an enormous amount of information. Indeed, it is precisely the residuals from years and years and years of schooling and memorization that make up this “enormous” amount of information. The fact of the matter is that not everything sticks when you’re going through school: but if you throw enough stuff at the wall, over time, you’ll get pretty good coverage.

    3) I wasn’t aware that the sole criterion of education was how a particular type of activity contributed to the productivity levels of “working lives.” My mistake. I shall henceforth remember that the poor and benighted masses are really fit only to get on with their proleteriat existences, grinding the wheels of labor onward to economic prosperity for us all.

    4) One of the things a good education is supposed to give us is a sense of when to use the word “never.”

    5) How do they expect students to check the reliability of their sources without a large (perhaps “enormous”) reservoir of knowledge? At some point, you need to be able to go through a source and say, “Well… of the 200 things I *KNOW* this book is right about 198 of them.”

    6) If everyone is taught with this attitude, who in the future is going to answer the phone calls? I’ll tell you who it is. It’s going to be me and you. FIVE BILLION PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE CALLING US EVERY SINGLE DAY OF OUR MISERABLE LIVES. I’d just as soon they learned the crap the first time and didn’t bother me while I’m having my eyebrows plucked.

  13. James…Pauling’s idiotic political ideas do not invalidate his scientific work, and do not automatically mean that his observations on what a scientist needs to know. The state of his marriage is even less relevant.

    I doubt you will find many successful people, in science or any other profession, who would agree with the proposition that you don’t need to know anything because you can always ask somebody.