back to article Aussie school trials use of gadgets in exams

Using notes during exams - aka cheating - usually gets you an instant 'F'. But at one Australian school the pupils can now use mobiles, iPods and the internet during their exams. Presbyterian Ladies' College in Sydney is running a trial among year nine English students, allowing them to access information from the net, speak …


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  1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I don't see why not

    We did something similar at university in chemistry. They were called 'book exams', which meant you could take in any reference material you wanted. The exams were structured appropriately: tended to require calculated/exact answers, not essays, and had lots of different questions. The idea was to simulate real world problems and to test your ability to find and use information. You had to really know your way round the material you took in or you'd loose marks - take too long searching unfamiliar references and you'd not answer all/enough questions.

  2. David Webb

    So So Idea

    I sort of like this idea, it does teach the children how to find sources of information (wiki, that won't help their grades) in a "real world" environment, but on the flip side, isn't an exam supposed to be where children have to put down what they have learnt rather than learning in the exam?

    I'm happy to be persuaded that its a fantastic idea, but I'm also unsure that it is. Or maybe I'm just jealous because we didn't have these sort of things in my IT exam when I was a lad.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Sensible...with a caveat or two...

    Good to see that someone understands that grading someone's performance shouldn't just be about how well they can write in an exam. The ability to RESEARCH and understand what you're reading is incredibly important and overlooked. Given the time constraint of an exam it is also a good lesson in how to capture and find knowledge and information quickly, succinctly and how to remain within scope of the original question. The other important thing is learn how to derive new knowledge from the already existing and HOW TO CITE your sources!!!

    Full marks there...

    Just in case this comment is too sensible for El Reg...full marks for Paris too - she can cite me anytime...

  4. Daniel Silver badge

    Excellent idea

    As long as it's managed correctly (and in the right subjects), this is the way exams should be held. I work in the education field for a large Fortune 500 company and one of the major challenges we face at the moment is 'closing the gap' between school-level education and real world requirements. There is a distinct gap between when schools or universities say somebody is ready for the world of business, and when they can be considered truly effective - any initiatives which aim to reduce this difference are fine by me.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    About Time

    I'm all for it - as long as credit is given when credit is due!!!

    The amount of students who indulge in plagiarism is unbelievable - nothing wrong with quoting a source and providing personal comment.

    Creative Commons is doing for media what Open Source did in programming.

    I won't mention the comments a senior lecturer made when a design student presented her degree show without so much as a thanks to all the individuals and companies that helped her 'pull together' the final submission - lets just say she might have got a better degree had she acknoledged where others had helped . . . and no i don't teach english so no point correcting it :)

    Paris - Cause she always knows who made the tape . . .

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Makes sense, sorta.

    If you have to write an essay or whatever it's only fair to have access to a maximum of information, since that information isn't the goal of the class. In the exact sciences, though, pupils should have most information remembered simply because looking it up every time you use it takes too much time. Of course, this is best achieved by using said information. If I hadn't used Pythagoras' theorem as much as I have I likely wouldn't know it right now.

  7. dervheid

    I always thought...

    that exams were there to establish the level of understanding and knowledge that any individual had acquired of the subject matter. Therefore, said individual should, prior to the exam, already have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the subject and be able to recall it.

    It's called learning.

    Because the world at large doesn't provide universal 24/7 access to *the information superhighway* and you have to be able to use the grey matter for something more advanced than the input mechanism to your favourite search engine.

    Just because you can assemble sufficient relevant information in an organised way, it doesn't prove that you know what said information means, or what to do with it.

  8. Jerome
    Thumb Up

    Can't be any worse

    Even back in my exam days, the answers were pretty much given along with the the questions in GCSE exam papers. Maths exams would have a page full of the required formulae, history papers would have tables of facts about the events the questions referred to etc. And they say exams have been dumbed down since then!

    If web access is available instead of all that information, rather than in addition to it, then at least we'll be marking pupils on their ability to perform a Google search, instead of their ability to read a piece of paper.

  9. Thomas Silver badge

    Wouldn't it be better to restrict them to internet research?

    So that the computers could maintain a full log of all sites visited, making getting away with plagiarism pretty-much impossible?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "Real world?"

    By "real world" situation do they mean that you can miss the deadline and take it home to work on over the weekend, just so long as it's on the boss's desk before he gets in at 9 on Monday.


    Then I see the "freedom" as being little more than a distraction. Research should be carried out slowly and methodically. If you have to rush it, it's not research and you're just teaching bad habits.

  11. Joachim Korte-Bernard

    It is more real life

    I like the idea. It is more like real life. When my pupils write their english exams (they are german), they can look up every word in the dictionary...what is pretty stupid, because with a pc would be much easier...and you can use a pc when you have to write an english text at work.

    But the questions have to be according to the new tools the pupils have, and that isn't easy. It shouldn't be a copy and paste competition.


  12. Wortel


    Let them use the 'tools' (iPod as a tool? that's a different discussion however) available, with proper guidance. This would teach the young ones how to use the available resources more responsibly.

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  14. Mark McGuire

    @So So Idea

    If it was an english exam, they are testing their usage of language not their knowledge of MLK.

    As long as such gadgets are used on math, science, or any tests where there is an exact answer (that can be copied/duplicated easily) then there shouldn't be any problem. Actually this is a very good idea because many younger (and older) people do not know how, or that it's required (in some cases) to cite sources formally and informally.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Sounds good

    First of all:

    there have been and will be open book exams/tests and closed book exams/tests.


    the exam should make clear what the learning outcomes are (there ain't no point in someone chasing weblinks under a false impression that a greater number of websites accessed increases the score).


    Well, that seems to be a more constructive approach to testing but as all test do it will favour people with a propensity do to stuff that way (as opposed to say theoretical learners). It is about on par with grabbing a bunch of trainee brickies and saying "OK build a wall, here are your specs. This is an assessed piece of work."

  16. Lee T.
    Paris Hilton

    on the other hand...

    this is teaching the brats that they need never actually _learn_ anything, that any question requires internet access to answer, and that they don't need to _think_ in order to achieve. Without their precious mobile, they will become completely useless. Dumb idea in my book. (I live in Oz, relatively nearby). Paris, cos she isn't _Entirely_ useless without her mobe...

  17. Remy Redert

    @David Webb

    They're putting down what they've learned. Namely finding information, reliable information, as and when you need it.

    That is one of the most important skills in an IT environment as the current world is. A lot of the things that you used to learn and had to know coming out of school are now left in the books, you are instead taught how to find that information yourself if you ever need it.

  18. Helz

    Just don't ask Google Calculator

    Given Coogle's calculator can't do simple arithmetic (399 999 999 999 999 - 399 999 999 999 998 = 0 anyone?), students may wish to steer clear of it if they are allowed use of the internet for maths exams. Ppppffftttttt.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense

    that's what they will be doing in their indentured service lives anyhow.

    And it is not as if education certificates are worth the paper they are written on.

    They certainly don't indicate how profitable a person will be for an organization which frankly is all that business is really interested in.

    Let them finger paint for their degrees, masters or phds for all it matters, those with natural aptitude will either get lucky or not, education systems have very little to do with it.

  20. Jean-Luc Peurière

    nothing really new

    Open book exams are nothing of new.

    I had some in metallurgy and fluids mechanic some 20 years ago.

    The key is of course to not request a digest of the course syllabus but a real understanding of the subject. And this kind of exams are i think better to rate students than a pure memory exercise.

    Now, the idea of asking the sources too is quite well thought.

  21. Tim Robson
    Thumb Up

    Open-Google Tests

    I just finished college (US degree- a Bachelor's program) and had a few classes that had open-Google tests. I did well with those- but they were pretty much always structured such that you HAD to think on your own. Yeah, I access to reference material, but I had to actually convince the professor that it was my own work and my own words. It definitely did help bridge the gap between rote memorization and application just a formula or such and being able to pull information you don't have memorized together.

    Some things are realistic to want memorized, such as how to configure your computer and network sufficiently to be able to get to the web, but other things were obscure enough that I don't remember how to do them after passing them on the test- but I DO know how to find the information I need. At least at my school, the average technical student was taught how to perform the tasks on the conceptual level, and a few specific implementations. Beyond that, we were expected to use every reference material we could get our hands on, be it Google or a book.

    Personally, I felt that open tests like the sort described tended to do a far better job of letting me show what I had learned in the course than a lot of other exams, which frequently were multiple choice or short answer of a memorized problem/solution.

    In a business environment, which is usually more valuable to a company: someone who learns the specific tasks that are needed on a daily basis easily, and can use reference material when needed, or someone who can do a certain set of tasks extremely well, but needs a lot more time and hand holding to get up to speed on anything else? I've definitely noticed that a lot of companies I was interviewing with wanted someone who could use reference material more.

  22. Rainer

    A maths professor allowed this

    On my technical university.

    You were even allowed to use a notebook with Mathematica or Maple.

    Most people believed the exam would be super-easy like this - but the prof just formulated the questions in a way that made notebooks next to useless.

    You first had to get a grasp of the story that was described, before you could actually start doing calculations.

    Lot's of people failed and he had to stop this concept later...

    I didn't own a notebook anyway and I did never failed. You just had to do the exercises.

  23. yeah, right.

    learning vs memorizing

    There is a marked difference between "learning", and thus understanding something, and simply memorizing facts and figures. Assuming the exams are structured in such a way as to allow students to show what they have learned, it will go a long way towards reversing the trend in many places to have exams that simply show what you have memorized. Facts can be looked up. It's a damn sight harder to fake understanding of the materials. The hardest exams I've had have all been "open book" exams, and the profs giving these exams were very good at making sure people were tested on what they had learned, not what they had memorized.

    Looks like those people who don't like this method have confused "learning" with "rote memorization". I'm glad that at least one school has finally learned the difference.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Great idea. But

    There should be a way for the schools to profit from the use of its resources rather than the ISPs and/or phone companies.

  25. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    It's an extension to open book exams

    I don't know the quick route for calculating standard deviation any more (though I once did); I'm allowed to use a program written by someone who does. But I am expected to know when it's the right test to do and when it isn't, so if I say a stats test tomorrow, it wouldn't be inappropriate to allow me to use a stats package.

    Similarly, in this case I see no reason to prevent the students getting access to the text of the speech and perhaps some background material - but I'm not so sure about 'phone a friend'. Talking to people to report what popular opinion on an issue is would be a reasonable thing to do - but there is the risk of "Hi! Sarah? What do I think about Martin Luther King in about 500 words?" or - far simpler - "Sarah? Can you give me some good search keywords to find out about some American guy who dreamt something?"

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