Open note tests

Since the day I started teaching I decided I would make tests completely open-note. I try and design my exams and quizzes to test how you can apply knowledge rather than how many equations you can pack into your brain. Or sometimes I would straight-up leave the equations on an extra sheet. I have nothing against profs requiring memorization since in the field they will sometimes have to apply their knowledge without access to Google, but for me I learned the equations fluidically: they just committed to memory after I used them enough. This is kind of the same reason I’m against multiple choice tests. Multiple choice doesn’t test knowledge. I know not everyone thinks like me, but I do prefer prioritizing comprehension over memorization. With the university deciding now on split classrooms between online and in-person (the students are having split shifts), students will treat them like open note tests anyway. Tests will be 100% administered at home.

The university wants me to use some software that allegedly uses AI to determine if students are cheating by looking at eyes darting around or something and records their screen. I really don’t like this invasion of privacy for my students. So I’m actively fighting against using it and I’ve been told now twice that I’ve been speaking out of turn. I know that if I were a student I wouldn’t want my screen being recorded and my camera on and tracking my face movements. I don’t know who this company is paying off in my administration, but it always bewilders me when these admins or some teachers can’t think of what the students might think. Why are we treating these students like they’re all just not cheating because they’re being watched? I trust that the students I’ve trained personally are ethical students and researchers because I instill these principles. And rather than watching them all the time and letting ‘AI’ determine if they’re cheating, why don’t we make the tests uncheatable? And this can work in non-math-based courses: I’ve made exams that test biological principles that require a thorough understanding of the topics. Or make the tests so dense that the students don’t have time to look things up. Watching them take a test in their personal home doesn’t seem like the answer to me.

3 thoughts on “Open note tests

  1. I’m in a similar boat. I absolutely refuse to use the spyware on my students. Instead, I will try to recreate to the extent I can the experience of proctoring in class. I will have them join me on a conference call with video and I will be there to answer questions. That’s enough. It’s different when I am looking at them with my eyeballs versus when an AI is monitoring them and their devices. I assume most students don’t want to cheat. Heck, my 4th grader already knows what cheating is (deliberately going against the rules of the class) and that it is not something to be done.

    As for memorization, I don’t require it, but I emphasize that they need to practice, and through practice they will remember key formulas. To that end, I assign a ton of mandatory homework. Also, things are faster and easier if they do remember some things. For example, everyone knows cos 0 or sin(pi/2), right? You shouldn’t have to look up every single detail; that would be like having to look up the spelling of common words like apple or pants. So I emphasize that, while they can have open book and notes, that doesn’t mean that the first time they turn on their brain regarding the material is on the test (“studying during the test”) because there is definitely not enough time for that.

    Most kids aren’t there to cheat. Those who are have bigger problems than passing my class.


  2. I’ve seen both camps: cheating is dishonorable or cheating is a normal thing. The 1st group is easy to proctor, the 2nd is a nightmare, even in person.

    I would also strongly oppose to AI and I would flatly refuse to give an online exam to the second group, because it’s a waste of time if you know 100% they will cheat.

    Most probably I would put a short exam on their in-person day, which even if different for each group, everyone should be able to answer to any version of it, if they are designed carefully. I think I would give them n number of exercises and maybe ask them to choose n-1 to solve, so they can take out the one they think is a terrible bad luck to get in that version of the exam.

    On memorizing equations, I ask it for core courses because it’s stuff they need to know like the back of their hand. If not, I provide the equation sheet and circulate weeks before the exam, so they can practice with it.


  3. I’m so glad I’m not the only one fighting this AI garbage! I feel like I’m on an island over here with everyone (everyone being all the crotchety folks) thinking the worst of our students. Some dean must be getting a pay-off to be pushing this crap.


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