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Friday, May 29, 2015


The last thing I want to think about, cheating. My job is to help people learn. Period. Cheating is not relevant to how I see my job at all.

Now, I work like most other teachers (I imagine). I give tests, all different kinds. Part of my job is to give concrete, usable feedback and it’s easier if we have a clear, limited task to comment on. Homework is shakier – I quickly end up giving comments on someone else’s French. Not useful.

I also need to give grades. They should be fair. Norway has no SATs or anything of the sort. Institutions of higher learning have to make up their own entrance requirements or simply use high school grades, so most do the latter. Understandably. This means that my grades have to be fair, so that’s another good reason to give tests.

Norwegian students are randomly selected for a small number of exams only, so that means that it is the grades that I give them that are important, so I shouldn’t really be surprised that many of them want to cheat. The sudden flood of cheating this year did surprise me, though. I can’t imagine that they have suddenly become worse at cheating, so presumably they are cheating more. There have been some pieces in the media lately about cheating at school, and some of my colleagues are talking about it, so we could be dealing with a sea change here.

Teenagers have traditionally had a dim view of the usefulness of school and in a system such as the one here, it’s the grades they are after more than the learning. This clashes with the way I see things: For me, the goal of French class is to improve your French. If that is the case, then submitting something that you didn’t write on a test is meaningless. If the goal is to get good grades, it can be a reasonable, even rational, choice.

So I need to admit to myself that I am part of a machine that is bigger than me and that has goals and functions that I do not approve of (sorting pupils, in this case). I can quit or change my practice. For the short term at least, I will have to choose the latter. I can clearly no longer ignore rampant cheating. It is grossly unfair to those who do not cheat. By not being concerned with cheating, I am effectively punishing those who do nothing wrong.

In practical terms, this means changing evaluation strategies. A wider variety of oral evaluation is one step. Tighter control of written evaluation is another - an unavoidable one. Since use of translation programs and communication are typical cheats, many of my colleagues argue for simple use of pen and paper, but my trouble is that I have great trouble reading my pupils’ handwriting. Seriously. There is always at least one paper that is completely illegible. And even for the papers that are legible, what do I do with them? Mark them and then give them back? Then they lose them and I am at a disadvantage when they come to me later and ask for coaching. I need some kind of portfolio of student output and paper makes this a challenge.

Our LMS has an add-on program that locks the computer, providing only a blank screen and no access to other programs until the pupil submits. I think I’ll have to use this and then paste the response into another program to comment on it. It doesn’t allow for the use of digital aids, but we’ll just have to work with those another time…

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