Controversy has erupted in the UK over recommendations to ban watches from exam areas in order to curb smartwatch-assisted cheating.
The Independent Commission on Examination Malpractice recommended the ban last month. The reason given was the increased difficulty of telling traditional watches from smartwatches.
“It can look as if it’s a time-telling watch and actually, you press a button and it becomes an email-type watch,” commission chairman Sir John Dunford told The Guardian. “If you don’t ban them all I think you’re giving a very difficult job to invigilators who are looking round an exam room. So I think the obvious thing to do here is to ban watches.”
An Education Challenge for the 21st Century
Concerns about students using smart technology to cheat on school exams are nothing new. In 2013, an instructor at Ho Chi Minh University caught a student using a smartwatch to cheat on end-of-semester exams. In 2016, students in Thailand were caught recording questions with image-capturing glasses, transmitting them to friends outside the classroom, and receiving answers on smartwatches.
There have also been incidents involving tech outside of smartwatches. A 2010 scheme in Colorado saw students cheating with digital calculators pre-loaded with answers.
The Rise of Cheat Tech
Especially troubling for educators and parents is how easily devices made especially for cheating can be found and purchased online. An Amazon search for “exam cheating” turns up results for texting calculators like those used by the Colorado students, watches that store text notes, even glasses with tiny earpieces. Amazon has declined to comment on the sale of watches designed for exam cheating, according to the Independent.
On top of this, a 2017 study by McAfee found that 47% of students surveyed worldwide reported seeing others using technology to cheat. Of the participants, 21% admitted to using technology themselves to cheat. Meanwhile, the UK Independent Commission on Examination Malpractice found a 26% rise in smartphone-assisted cheating in 2018.
A Larger Problem
David Rettinger, president of the International Center for Academic Integrity, sees smart technology cheating as the latest challenge in an ongoing struggle against cheating. “Teachers were complaining that ballpoint pens make it easier to write small back in the old days,” Rettinger tells Parentology. “So every technology creates its own opportunities for students to take advantage. We have to be aware of the technology changes and the new ways that students can use the technology.”
Outside of cracking down on cheat tech, Rettinger believes parents need to teach their kids to value education. “My opinion is that the fundamental problem we’re facing is the devaluation of knowledge and expertise in our culture, and that college credentials — and of course the high school credentials to get into college — have become an economic tool, not a social value,” Rettinger says. “The larger problem is that we treat higher education as a commodity instead of as a set of tools that we use to become more effective as citizens and employees and family members and all of these things in society.”
The best thing parents can do, Rettinger says, “is to talk to their kids about the importance of what they’re learning, and the skills that come in school.” If students understand why test-taking is beneficial to them in the long run, he believes, they will be less likely to resort to any kind of cheating, with or without smart technology.