I recently found myself re-reading this article from eSchoolNews about how students don’t see using technology to answer questions as cheating. When the article came out on June 18, 2009, many bloggers, including Teach42, ConcreteClassroom, and an excellent article on The Future of Education is Here, further examined the issue with their own posts. Almost all, including those who commented, questioned: if a student can look something up, is it worth memorizing? If the question can be answered with a quick Google search, how deep of a test question could it really be?
ReadWriteWeb made a similar point in their post about Wolfram Alpha, the “computational knowledge engine” that came out early this summer, including various points of view from an earlier article on Chronicle.com. ReadWriteWeb asserted:
“…it’s clear that Wolfram|Alpha and similar computational software will force the education system to adapt and change. Students now have a new (and certainly easier to use, as it’s on the Web) platform on which to compute things. There’s no point in the education system pretending it doesn’t exist.”
In reading these many posts and responses, I was reminded of Daniel Pink’s three crucial questions for the success of any business:
- Can a computer do it faster?
- Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?
- Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
Many of the facts we ask students to memorize and skills that we assess would be a resounding “YES” to #1 and #3 and a firm “NO” to #2.
As adults, we often intuitively know what we actually need to remember and have available at a moment’s notice versus what we can release from memory and look up if needed. It is what we actually DO with the data, however, that is the most critical to assess and the hardest at which to cheat.
Take a look at these questions. Which ones can you quickly answer? Which ones have you not bothered to commit to memory due to lack of importance or ease of looking up? Which ones pique your interest more? Which ones actually sound like problems you’ve had to solve?
- What is your state bird? Bonus: what does it look like? Extra Bonus: what is the official Latin name for the bird?
- What is the driest year on record in your area?
- What is the driest year on record in your area that happened in your lifetime and that you can recall? Write a brief blog post about your memories and how the drought impacted your day-to-day life.
- You order a $13 appetizer and an $8 glass of wine. If sales tax in your area is 4% you leave a 20% tip, what is your total?
- You and 3 friends go out to eat. You and one friend each order an $8 glass of wine, but the other two only drink water. Your entrees are about the same, at $13 per person, plus a 4% sales tax. What’s the easiest and fairest way to split the tab and leave a 20% tip?
Likely, you had to look up at least parts of Questions #1 and #2. (If you bothered…but the importance of asking engaging questions is another post for another time.) You may have used a calculator for #4 and answered that in its entirety. For questions #3 and #5, however, even if you did use a couple of tools to get basic facts, you would still have to draw upon your own brainstorming or background knowledge in order to completely answer the question. Finding the answers to these questions likely required more creative thinking…thinking in which it is harder to “cheat.” (And likely, these were questions that much more closely mirror actual problems in your day-to-day life that you have to solve.)
For my own answers to #3 and #5, respectively:
The driest year on record since I moved to Denver in 1998, according to http://www.crh.noaa.gov/bou/?n=climo, was 2002, the summer my husband and I were married. I vividly recall the many wildfires that summer. When I took my family and out-of-town guests out to eat the week of our wedding, we would sometimes try to sit outside on patios. Very often, however, we had to relocate indoors due to the ash that would fall into our food.
Though not an exact answer, I would add $5 to my pre-tax total of $21 and have my other buddy with the glass of wine do the same. For the two who had water, I would ask if they would leave $3 for their $13 pre-tax total. This would leave a total of $84. (If my formal calculations that I did later are correct, the bill would come to $70.72, making a $14 tip acceptable.)