All you can cheat, part II (a response)

by | Friday, November 13, 2009


Patrick Diemer commented on my previous posting, All you can cheat, the web & learning by saying:

Do you have any words of wisdom or resources on how to create appropriate questions? This sounds great, but easier said than done in my humble opinion.

I started writing a response to his comment, but as I wrote on, I realized that it was better as a post in its own right. So here it is…
Patrick, I agree that this is not easy, at least not as easy as pulling out a set of multiple choice questions. However, it is not all that hard either. What we need to do as educators is look for open-ended questions, questions that test for understanding require reflection on the part of the learner. For instance in the courses I teach here at MSU (undergrad and grad level) we strive hard to develop assessments that students of this nature. There are many examples I can give but here’s one.

In a fully-online undergrad course on educational psychology we ask students to view a series of video clips taken from popular movies and documentaries that deal with different aspects of learning. This happens at the very beginning of the semester (sometime in the first week or two). Students are then asked to write their response to these clips speaking to “what they see” that is of educational relevance.

Students then go through the semester and then at the end of the semester are asked to do this again. This time the comments they made the first time around are hidden from them. Then we reveal what they had written the first time around. They are then asked to go back and read what they had written the first time around (as well as what other students had written). Finally, they write a response discussing what has changed in “what they see” – providing examples from their own writing and those of their classmates.

This task – spread out as it is over a semester – does a bunch of things. First, it allows us to see how much students have learned. If there is no significant difference between what they wrote the first time and the second, it is clear that not much learning has happened. Second, and more important, this is not something we need to tell them. They can see it for themselves, particularly when they compare it to what their classmates have written.

Now we could give them an end of semester exam that asks them all kinds of questions about different theories of learning and development – but don’t you think this is much better?

As for using (or not using) the Internet… it is not an issue at all. There is nothing they can do to cheat to find the right answer. They can use the Internet (and we recommend that they do) to reference and justify what they write but that is neither here nor there. If they don’t “see” the clips through ed-psych eyes, they won’t know what to search for in the first place.

An important question here is whether this assignment will  fit for each and every course we teach? No way. But that is what makes this interesting to me as an educator. These assessments have to emerge from the instructors deep understanding of course content and course goals. We need to keep asking ourselves what do we want our students to take away from this class – and try develop assessments to match. In this class, our goal is the help students develop an ed-psych way of thinking and looking at the world and this assignment does that, I think. As we have written in our TPACK related work, there is no general solution to the problems of teaching. Solutions are local, unique and depend on finding the “sweet spot” (so to speak) that connects content, technology and pedagogy. This solution works best in an online course, it would have to be modified somewhat in a face to face version (particularly the part where students can read all of the other students’ responses). Can it be done? Sure. Will it be the same? Not really. This is where teacher creativity and innovation comes in.

I must add that this is not the only assignment in this class. There is a book review, an interview of an educator and a bunch of others. So all of these work together to help us (and them) develop a better understanding of all the ideas we cover in the class.

Image: Wikimedia

A few randomly selected blog posts…

Pomes on Creativity II

Yesterday I had blogged about poems written by the year I students at the Plymouth MAET program. Today I spent time with the 2nd year cohort and this is what they came up with. Enjoy. There once was a hidden tiger in all, at times it will make you think you’ll fall....

Interesting TPACK related discussion

Russ Goerend over at Learning is Life has initiated a fascinating discussion on the TPACK framework on his blog. It all revolves around a blog post he titled The force is strong with the shiny one. I shall not seek to summarize the discussion here (please go read it...

The reductive seduction of other people’s problems

The reductive seduction of other people’s problems

The reductive seduction of other people's problems, Illustration by Punya Mishra Anurag Behar forwarded an article: The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems, which I really think is a must-read for any of us involved in education or development. The...

School design in MLFTC News

School design in MLFTC News

One of the most exciting projects we have been involved with in the Office of Scholarship and Innovation (OofSI) has been our partnership with the Kyrene School District. We have written about it previously (on the OofSI site as well as on my website),...

Harris, Mishra & Koehler, republished

Back in 2009, Judi Harris, Matt Koehler and I published in a piece in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education. That article has now been included in a book, titled: Considerations on Technology & Teachers: The Best of JRTE, edited by Lynne Schrum, and...

On surviving a Ph.D.

I just discovered (H/T Daily Dish) Matt Might's website and his writings on graduate school, academia, and the professoriate. Matt is funny, cogent and most importantly insightful. I recommend his writing to anybody who is interested in getting into graduate school,...

Back from India…

Got back yesterday from a short, hectic but sweet trip to India. I had a wonderful time and still have a lot to do to just document all that happened and connect with all the people I met (hopefully over the next few weeks)... but now it is time to get back to fall...

Hard hat area…

I am working on changing the layout of my blog... so be prepared for sudden and abrupt changes (as well as possible downtimes). Apologies to all but it has been a while since I played with the layout and its been getting kinda boring around here...

SITE 2008 Keynote

The SITE Keynote presentation by Matt Koehler and myself is finally ready to release to the world. I know converting 350 sildes, and synching them to the narration was a huge task - and Matt has already spent countless hours on this. He ended up with a 60 GB file...


  1. Dan

    Well done, Punya!
    This is a good post. Keep it up…

  2. Punya Mishra

    Thanks Lindsey for your thoughts. I will try and find the book you mention – sounds interesting (and a great title as well). ~ Punya

  3. Lindsey Tilley


    I feel your ideas are spot on with my personal philosophy of education and I am really interested in hearing that Denmark is in many ways forcing their teachers to re-evaluate their assessment practices. Unfortunately, this is probably the only way many teachers would actually change their methods.

    Kelly Gallagher, who wrote a book titled Readicide in 2009, articulates many of the same points you made here and offers some suggestions for revamping assessments that align with your post beautifully! (particularly in Chapter 1)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Cheryl

    One portion of your post thet particularly hit home with me was, “We need to keep asking ourselves what do we want our students to take away from this class – and try develop assessments to match. “Even though I often fall short, I still strive to do that very thing.

    The ideas and techniques you discuss in your post demonstrate that students are challenged to think at a higher level, using the Internet to support their thoughts. That certainly isn’t cheating in my book.

  5. Punya Mishra

    Thanks Tina for your note.

    Chuck, I completely agree with you that the idea of developing information literacy as being a first step is a crucial one. I see kids not being able to distinguish between advertisements and actual websites (especially when the conduct a google search). The abundance of information (often on all sides of a topic) is an issue too. I would love to find out more about your “six steps” as you develop it. Developing procedures and strategies such as the one you hope to develop are of utmost importance today, and for that you need a teacher!

  6. tina gupta

    Hi, this Tina from mumbai, thats a nice write up, I did my MBA from Sikkim Manipal University Distance Education. They too provide awesome courses in management and IT, with no entrance exams and with reasonable fees too. They have their centers all over and you can take transfer wherever you want.

    I had fun while studying with SMUDE, keep up the good will SMUDE.


  7. chuck


    I agree with your blog post…and these sorts of assessments would work well in an idealistic educational setting. However, we teach and learn in an educational system that tells us to be flexible, yet lacks flexibility itself.

    Could the type of assessment you describe be a rich learning opportunity? Absolutely. It actually gets me excited about what “could be!” If the internet could be utilized during assessments, as suggested by the Danish government, I believe we need to take a step back before surging on.

    In a recent Inquiry Project in CEP 806 (teaching science with technology), we explored “finding and using internet science information.” As a middle school teacher, I was amazed at how much kids lack the necessary skills for finding information. They are literally drowning in information, and they do not even realize it. So, the “step back” I suggest is to properly equip students with the tools to find information that is helpful, relevant, and useful (I try to avoid using the word “appropriate” because it is somewhat ambiguous). In response to my inquiry project, I have been working with my school’s media center specialist to create a “six steps to success” (or something like that), that would walk kids through what resources are available to them (giving them an order, and allowing them to work from there, etc.). The hope is that this will give kids the steps for them to be successful in finding information. Additionally, it will get all the teachers on the same page…creating less confusion for students as they move from class to class, and moving on to different grades.

    The possibilities for assessment with the internet is exciting. However, we cannot assume that kids “know” how to find information…because many do not have a clue. Just because they can download songs to their iPods and update their facebook status from their phones does not make them effective at finding information. We can’t assume they know “how”…and…this is a great place to insert a teacher…

  8. Buckdat

    Hello Punya! Thank you for sharing! A very nicely crafted post! 🙂

  9. Punya Mishra

    Stewart, Thanks for your note. You get it exactly right. Why should education be about (as you so aptly note) “tricking students, about placing little traps to trip them up.” If you see my previous posting about teaching for anticipation – it is all about “showing them the end”, the big picture as it were.

    Back in May I conducted a workshop on creative teaching for MSU faculty and one of the ideas we came up with was giving students the final exam the first day of the class – not to evaluate them (though it could be a pre-test of sorts) but rather to let them know what they would be learning in the upcoming semester. Then when they do get to the final exam, you can compare (or better still) ask them to compare their performance on the first test to the one taken at the end of semester.

    In my experience students, even at the end of the semester, don’t often realize what they have learned, or how they have changed over the past few months of engagement with content. It all happens oh, so gradually. By giving them the final test at the beginning and then again at the end of the semester you can make apparent to them just how much they have learned.

    Additionally, the first test, as you said, shows them the end and raises the possibility of finding their own way. And if everything really works out, they could find a new end! How cool would that be.

  10. Stewart Sternberg

    I have been encouraging my students to cheat for some time. I remember a long time ago a speaker at a professional development session said: “Let the kids see the test. Give it to them at the beginning of every unit. Why not? Show them where you’re heading. Let them see it. Be transparent.”

    I loved that philosophy. It’s not about tricking students, about placing little traps to trip them up, but about showing them the end and letting them find their own way, or at least letting them find their way and possibly finding a new end.

    The net is the same way. Giving them open ended questions is a tremendous idea. It forces them to think for themselves and to work at a deeper level, drawing different sources together and managing connections, seeing cause and effect to create a synergistic response. Also, as kids search through different web pages, looking for appropriate and pertinent content, they are exposed to different ideas and it may spark other routes of


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