Online assessments and teenagers’ motivations

Try this experiment

  1. Count litter in the playground
  2. Teach anti-litter lessons to the whole school, or perhaps do an assembly on it.
  3. Repeat the litter count every day for two weeks, and graph the result.

You’re there ahead of me, aren’t you? You’d only expect the effect to be temporary at best. The same is true of most attempts to influence teenagers’ moment-to-moment behaviour, witness this BBC report on the futility of anti-smoking education attempts. Why should this surprise us? It’s human nature to be driven more by short-term urges than future benefits, no matter how valid those benefits are.

Which brings me on to classroom behaviour, and in particular collusion and cheating. Cheating in tests is a surefire route to exam failure, yet the little darlings will most assuredly do it if they think they can get away with it. Take it as a compliment; they are more driven by the prospect of praise from you for high marks today, than they are by the prospect of exam success some time in the future.

I’ve argued elsewhere that sometimes collusion is a good thing, but when it comes to a test, it’s not. So how do you prevent it? The traditional solution is stern invigilation, but this sits uneasily with the ethos of many schools, and it’s also very labour-intensive.

I’ve spent the summer working with a very clever Armenian gentleman called Vahagn Mikaelian. He’s come up with a Flash program that will present test questions on screen, one by one, in random order. Looking over your neighbour’s shoulder will no longer work, because your neighbour will be working on a different question to you. They may even be working on a different set of questions, because the system is capable of randomly selecting questions from a question-bank. Of course we’ve also put in auto-marking, messaging of questions back to you and a suite of analysis tools.

We’ve got this new system (it’s called “Yacapaca!” by the way) in beta, with initial tests in GCSE RE, CLAIT and KS3 ICT. If you’re interested in joining the initial trial, drop me a line.

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