Do We Need To Worry About Smartwatches Disrupting Education?

I’ve spoken a lot recently about the challenges posed by the changes in technology used by students in education and in the wider world, particularly when lecturers aren’t poised to react to these changes.

Several student cheating commentators, myself included, have mentioned the Apple Watch as being a device that exam invigilators should look out. And this is only one of a number of smartwatch competitors on the market.

The smartwatch essentially moves several features of a mobile phone to the convenient location of being on a student’s wrist. A student looking at a watch, or even lightly touching it, wouldn’t usually be of concern to an invigilator (unless the student had forgotten to disable the annoying beep sound that some watches emit). A smartwatch is a different story.

Many university exam procedures and anti-cheating regulations do not yet specifically discuss smartwatches. This needs to be discussed during regular periodic reviews of teaching processes.

Likewise, not all invigilators are yet familiar with looking for smartwatches and I suspect that many would not know how to recognise them when confronted with a examination hall full of students. With such a variety of fashion watches available for students, even the slightly bulkier frame of a smartwatch may not stand out.

Along with the Apple Watch, there are many other brands and types of smartwatches available on the market and these really don’t need to be expensive. For instance, I imported a low-end smartwatch from China running the common Android operating system to test out and this cost under £10 – and that included shipping to the UK.

News stories in this field have found examples of students taking examinations having answers transmitted to them. These answers were displayed on the small smartwatch screen.

You can now also buy smartwatches that are advertised specifically as cheating watches. Functionalities vary, but all of them are designed to provide quick access to information that students might have ready for an exam, whilst also looking like a regular smartwatch. Particularly sophisticated versions of this use a screen that looks like a real watch face. It would be difficult to notice this without doing very close and careful checks of all student watches.

I have seen some movement towards addressing this problem with revised university examination processes. There are examples of universities where students are now only allowed to take a watch into an examination when placed in a clear plastic bag and positioned on their desk, presumably not to be touched during the examination.

The media has raised a wider question asking if schools, colleges and universities on the way towards airport style security for exams? To protect the integrity of exams, there do certainly need to be changes put into place.

Having been both a student and an invigilator in many examinations, I know that the methods used to communicate time remaining can be limited. Think, poorly positioned clocks Think also, inconsistent clocks in different parts of a large room and analogue devices where it’s really not obvious which minute the clock hand is pointing to. I’ve even seen clocks with failing batteries which lose time during the examination. That’s why, it’s currently almost a necessity for students to have a watch with them. I do think that simply disallowing watches should be possible, but to do that, much better ways of communicating exam timings are needed.

Something for the educators involved with examinations to think about.

Contract Cheating and Academic Misconduct in Examinations and Tests Video

Here is a video version of my contract cheating talk from the Higher Education Academy STEM Conference, which was recorded in advance of the conference for the benefit of people who could not attend. You can see the slides from the original HEA talk and a short discussion here.

I do have a full teaching and learning seminar available on examination cheating and what can be done about it, which can be presented alongside our contract cheating examples or independently. There is a lot of fascinating stuff available in this field, including much of the technology available to enable students to cheat. Please contact me if you’re interested in me speaking about this at your event or institution.

Contract Cheating and Academic Misconduct in Examinations and Tests

The format of the Higher Education Academy STEM Conference changed rather this year from previous years, with the submission of papers becoming the submission of an abstract and the presentation of a set of slides.

This change worked out well for me, as it allowed me to present an overview of an important area that Robert Clarke and I have been working on – the people who are paying money to cheat on exams. There is some scope to work this into a full paper, but it will be challenging to make it work in a traditional style. Many of the examples of contract cheating in exams aren’t easily found or available to the public, so although we can show it exists, our database of exam cheating examples is limited in number. The presentation format allowed me to work the exam cheating issue into an example filled talk.

The slides for the HEA STEM Conference talk are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

In the talk, I looked at some of the challenges facing the examination assessment method, particularly where impersonators are hired to take exams on behalf of students, or online exams are taken by a third party. There were comments raised expressing surprise about how cheaply such cheating could be done, provided the right worker was hired to help with the job.

There was a lot of post talk discussion (as well as tweeting) about the role that technology now plays in student cheating. Wearable computing is becoming a particular issue, with students having access to minute mobile devices allowing them to communicate with the outside world through pictures or audio. Exactly what equipment students are allowed to take into the exam room with them needs to be carefully considered and the items brought in do now need to be checked.

There was also some interesting discussion about the sites available for students to sell their completed work to, forming a database of “model” answers available to other students to purchase. Although I’d hope that these would be detected by Turnitin, there was discussion about whether these sites should exist and whether students had the rights to sell their work in this way.

A good chat about regulations was included and some of the difficulties of putting cheating cases forward were discussed. I was reminded of the need to ensure that attempting to cheat and attempting to outsource work are both unacceptable in university regulations. I was also reminded of how some cases, particularly those of exam impersonation, can actually lead to criminal charges. Cheating in exams is most certainly not recommended!