Quick Reflection – Breaking Things

Quick Reflection – Breaking Things

November 28, 2018 0 By JR
Up here in space

I’m looking down on you

My lasers trace

Everything you do

You think you’ve private lives

Think nothing of the kind

There is no true escape

I’m watching all the time

– Electric Eye, Judas Priest, Screaming for Vengeance (1982)

Not my 9x9x25 post this week, but I just read Breaking Things by Helen, and was about to comment when I thought, ‘hey, I can just blog a quick reflection and hopefully it’ll ping back’. Honestly, I’ve been frustrated with blog commenting systems for a while now. Some require login, some eat my comments, so here…I’m reclaiming commenting.


Helen’s post actually ties into several conversations I’ve had over the past year or so, and what I see coming through my RSS feed. She mentions David Wiley’s post about disposable assignments,

These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away.

I think what typically gets conjured in one’s imagination when reading Wiley’s post are essays as disposable. After all, how many essays did I write in my undergrad that meant anything more than a grade and some recycling? Sometimes we can get carried away and think that newer technology based assignments, like blogs, easily free us from our assignments being labeled as disposable. Helen asks the question though,

I’ve been contemplating just what a disposable assignment entails, looks like, or feels like. Can a blog post feel like a disposable assignment? Could a podcast be considered disposable? What qualities do non-disposable assignments inherently contain?

So thinking about this a little more, I wonder, are quizzes/tests/exams disposable assignments? After all, many of these types of assessments do not reflect learning or the reality of how knowledge is constructed or applied. Particularly in online learning you see a call for all kinds of proctoring services to make sure students aren’t “cheating”, but while ‘testing’ students skills in a completely artificial environment. If I don’t know something off the top of my head I always consult an outside resource, either a person or book or video, etc. There are very few circumstances in my life that I don’t have access to a broader network of knowledge and skills. I think we need to be more critical about the exam, particularly for distance and blended learning contexts.

Let me share a story that will stick with me for a long time to come. I was sitting in a presentation about an online proctoring software that could be used by instructors. The audience included folks that were video and media specialists, instructional designers, instructors, IT folks, and even a few unit directors. Following the presentation an instructor shared a story about their use of this particular software, and how they caught a student who Googled all of the answers to the questions on one of their quizzes. They recounted how they contacted the student and brought them into a meeting regarding academic integrity. They recounted how the student cried and confessed to ‘cheating’ on the quiz and whatever steps were next in the process of dealing with this academic integrity issue. The tone and candor of this instructor made it seem like they were almost bragging about catching this student, as if how dare they Google answers. I looked around and saw some nodding heads. I commented, although not loudly enough, that if the student could ace the test using Google then the student wasn’t the problem, the test was.

At the end of the day, knowing what the course was, there most certainly were better assessments that could have implemented that would have been of value to the student, and possibly a broader audience. Unfortunately, these tests were to be implemented for years to come. I’m not sure where that course is now, but I would be curious to see if it still cheats students of creating non-disposable assignments.


Feature Image by intographics via Pixabay under a CC0 License.