Blog Pile

Going To Mobile During Exams? Yes for One Australia School

April 29th - Preparedness
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mr.Tea

It’s 6am here and after prepping once cup of fresh coffee, I flip the laptop open to check the weather… and next thing you know am getting pinged in Australia from my colleagues in Australia. Stephan, Robyn, and Alex want to talk about a breaking story there in the Sydney Morning Herald, Phone a friend in exams.

Apparently, the Presbyterian Ladies’ College (remember ‘college’ there is high school here), is experimenting with allowing students in certain Year 9 exams to be able to use their mobile technology during exams.

A SYDNEY girls’ school is redefining the concept of cheating by allowing students to “phone a friend” and use the internet and i-Pods during exams.

Presbyterian Ladies’ College at Croydon is giving the assessment method a trial run with year 9 English students and plans to expand it to all subjects by the end of the year.

An English teacher, Dierdre Coleman, who is dean of students in years 7 to 9, is co-ordinating the pilot which she believes has the potential to change the way the Higher School Certificate examinations are run.

Ms Coleman said her students were being encouraged to access information from the internet, their mobile phones and podcasts played on mp3s as part of a series of 40-minute tasks. But to discourage plagiarism, they are required to cite all sources they use.

Is that radical or what? So Stephen, Alex, and Robyn wanted to talk about it and also roped in Michael Coghlan (and it is well past 11:00 PM there- see how hard Australian educators work?). We bantered about what this meant, if it would be a meme that lasted longer than “edupunk”, the nature of exams themselves, implications if poorly social connected students would suffer (“phone a friend? I dont have any friends!”), and more. I expect a rowdy Talking VTE podcast soon.

As Robyn noted, the newspaper article was actually nicely balanced, and there is a bit more clear background provided in The Truth is Out There by Chris Betcha who works at this school.

Where else but school are we given problems to solve and expected to do so in utter isolation? Isn’t all the workplace desired skills about collaorating, solving problems as a group? Has anyone in a job recently been required to go into a locked room, given a pencil and a bubble sheet and expected to solve a company problem?

And it would be easy to sensationalize what it means if students in any exam can whip out their phones; that is not what I read is being done. The experiment at PLC is carefully woven into a part of the exam that is not sounding like it was multiple guess approach on what sounds like an essay exam on the Olympic Games. From the Sydney Herald article:

Ms Coleman said the assessment task was set after students had read Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and Dickens’ book, A Christmas Carol, as studies in persuasive language.

“They weren’t marked on their information about the Olympic Games but on whether they used persuasive language effectively to make their argument.”

So what my colleagues in Australia are curious about (and I) is what people over hear think of this concept. What does it mean to allow (or not allow) access to mobile technology? Are we too conservative/paranoid about “cheating” to ever change the 19th century approach to measuring learning by exam? While technology evolves, while culture shifts, while the world either flattens or changes shape, is the examination method written in stone to be what one can regurgitate onto paper?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Could this be the start of the revolution? Could school start to become more like the real world. In real world academia there are basically two ways to cheat, plagiarism and fudging results. That is what school should be about.

    Also, being able to develop a strong network within your field is a critical skill that school doesn’t teach. Maybe this will change it. Maybe the kid that says “I don’t have any friends” deserves to do worse than the kid who says “I can’t commit these large chunks of data to memory”.

    I feel like the modern idea of cheating has a lot to do with assessment. You can’t have an open textbook, or Google-friendly multiple-choice exam. But, multiple-choice exams require a few seconds each to grade, whereas the approach that you outlined above takes a lot more time to grade (and thus is really scary to educators).

  2. Surely assessment needs to be appropriate to what is being assessed and to who is being assessed and should be done as well as it can be within the eternal limits of available resources.

    We need to strive to be inclusive so that none are disadvantaged (just disadvantaging a different group is no better – in fact worse as it sets you up as judge and jury).

    We need a much more holistic approach to accessible learning, teaching and assessment.

  3. The news article in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding the task generated a number of interesting repsonses, for and against. Two letters stood out from among the rest. They were writen by students from the school, for and against. Scroll down through the respective letters page to read the thoughts of Kimberley Hew-Low and Lillian Specker.

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