On the last day of May, my high school International English class participated in our national English exam. They were also among a group of students in Norway who were allowed access to the Internet during testing as part of a pilot program.
I had expected a lot of attention would be given to this landmark event, not only by the press but other teachers, administrators, educators, politicians and everyone else who usually has an opinion about school, academic achievements and the dangers of Facebook and social media. But no. Only silence. And I’m not quite sure what to make of that.
Isn’t the issue interesting or provocative enough? They could be cheating during the test! (Smile) ISTE, which meets this week in San Diego, California, has a debate going — asking if students should be able to use the internet while taking tests. But the “controversy” doesn’t seem to have sparked much of an interest there either! Could it be that it’s just the sensible thing to do, and nobody wants to make a fuss?
Many students not ready to take full advantage
I’m willing to believe that is the case. It is really not a big deal, certainly not from my point of view. In my first post about Norway’s plan to experiment with “connected” test-taking, I wrote:
It’s 2012. The internet has been widely available and expanding exponentially for 20 years or more. Why is looking up information during an exam or test considered cheating? That is the way everyone works these days. No one is expected to know or remember all the facts and information available out there.
That said, many students do not yet have the competency to take advantage of being connected. Not even in my class, where we have used the Internet repeatedly and routinely, searching for information and writing on our blogs every week. (I’m tempted to throw in some data here – the number of hits some of my students have had on their blogs during this school year; 6.000, 13.500, 15.000, 17.000 and 20.500).
When I did a quick evaluation of the exam data last week, I was surprised to learn that some of my students didn’t use the internet during the test as much as I personally think they should have. To me it was interesting to separate the students who are what I call “net smart” from those who mostly relied on their own recall and proficiency to solve the problems.
Turns out that some students are so used to taking exams without the use of the internet that their mindset is to rely exclusively on own content knowledge of the topics. This seems to be the conclusion of my students as well — many of whom blogged about the connected testing experience.
As Vilde says in one of her two posts on the subject:
As I had already foreseen, my use of internet was minimal. I used it to read my blog mostly. However I also used it to expand my vocabulary. On the other hand, if I got another chance I might use the internet more. The reason why is because, when I hear what the other students used the internet for, it seems so smart. Many of them used it well; therefore I have much to learn from them. As a conclusion I will try to use the internet better the next time.
Another thing we discussed in the wake of the testing: One of my students was amazed that Facebook was not blocked that day. I think it is a working (bad) habit they have acquired. They think, search, write and look in to see the latest news on Facebook! She told me she did the same during the exam, but most others said they resisted the urge to peek. I told her I wasn’t worried about cheating on Facebook. If you need information you can search for it yourself, right? You have access. The worst case scenario would be that a friend or an adult on Facebook is willing to answer exam questions for you. But the rules of connected testing did not allow direct communication with others on the Internet, and I have more faith in my students than to suspect organized cheating.
Here’s what my students had to say
I asked my students to write about the exam using the provocative headline: Why we should allow the use of internet when testing or, if they disagree, Why we should not. They all chose the first headline in their writings, and here are some of the points they made:
Margrethe: I must say that I found it very helpful. Even if I didn’t use it that much, it was nice to know that I could use it if I wanted to.
Andrea: After using the internet during the exam, I found the internet extremely helpful and couldn’t find any negative sides to having it accessible. I realized that this is the future. Earlier, you couldn’t use any kinds of sources during exams, and now that seems unthinkable. When not using communication, it is just the same as looking through books, only you found a vaster amount of information in a shorter period of time.
Kaja: I started thinking if this was just going to confuse me and give me too much information to handle. After having my exam with use of internet, I am convinced that this is a positive and supporting tool. It was very helpful to look up grammar and linguistic tools on the internet, and I think that my text contains less grammatical errors than before. Another thing was that I got to collect a lot of information on my topic.
Sara: In my last blog post, I wrote that I thought having this Internet access would be of great help. And I think I was right. While I still don’t know what my grade will be, I think I used the Internet as much as I could to do my exam as well as I could. For example: One of the tasks on the exam was to analyze a text and point out how it was a persuasive text. In that task, I used two different websites to find several good literary devices used to persuade readers, which I included in my answer. In another task, I decided to compare two conflicts that appeared in two different movies, that both took place in multicultural societies. I used the movies “The Great Debaters” and “Gran Torino”. The conflict in “The Great Debaters” was segregation, where the main characters experience what it’s like being the suppressed subculture. To write a few good paragraphs about this, I needed some facts about the black immigration and their living conditions, in addition to statistics on how many blacks moved from the farms to the cities. In other words, this is not information I would know without doing some research.
My conclusion is that this has been a great learning experience both for me and my students. I just hope the educational authorities in Norway and also the rest of the world realize that this is the way to go and follow suit! As Will Richardson said in Huff Post Education in 2010, most kids today are illiterate in several significant ways.
Right now, in their classrooms, they’re not “designing and sharing information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.” Nor are they “building relationships with others to solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.” And as far as “managing, analyzing and synthesizing multiple streams of information?” Not so much.
I say let’s hope for an urgent change! My students are certainly sharing and reflecting on their learning experiences and managing, analyzing and synthesizing multiple streams of information. I would like to let one of my students end this post with her wish for the future:
Susanne: Now that we have finished our English exam I’m so happy we were allowed to use the internet. I felt more secure on my facts and it made it so much easier for me to write my paper. I hope that in the future it will be normal to use the internet during the exam because you can support your arguments with facts you find from reliable sources. The future is technology, and we should be able to use what we can to prove what we are able to do!
[Teacher and international blogger Ann Michaelsen recently joined PLP’s new Board of Advisors. Her first post about Norway's connected testing experiment appeared in early May. She'll write a third post about her students' test results later this summer.]