Friday Fragments | Confessions of a Community College Dean

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Earlier this week, I asked my wise and worldly readers for their thoughts on academic integrity in the context of remote testing and remote teaching.

The responses were gracious, though they often disagreed with each other.

One common response was that remote testing makes cheating so easy that it’s better just to stop pretending otherwise. (As a few of them noted, just keeping your eyes on a screen without interruption for an hour, while typing, is a profoundly artificial posture.) I found that one dispiriting. A slightly milder variation on this view held that replacing a few high-stakes tests with more low-stakes assessments could help. Perhaps reflecting my home academic discipline, I was particularly taken with the suggestion of mixing modalities based on the knowledge or skill you want the student to demonstrate: “How many senators does each state get?” can be answered quickly and objectively, but “Is the Senate a democratic institution?” requires a bit more room.

As far as tiers of penalties, one reader noted that his school gets faculty to report by automatically upholding appeals by students whose professors didn’t report. That’s … drastic. The institutional interest in consistent reporting is real: it prevents disparate treatment and it enables distinguishing repeat offenders from everyone else. Both of those make sense, though the institutional weight of enforcement is both expensive and, frankly, off-putting.

Some readers wrote from testing centers, outlining measures they take to prevent opportunistic cheating. One of the great things about testing centers is that you don’t have to resort to using surveillance technology in students’ homes. But testing centers are bound by size and staffing and can do only so much. I’m glad we have them, but they can only ever be a part of any approach.

Another line of response drew upon competency-based education and suggested that “speed recall” is rarely relevant in the real world; it gained prominence in academia mostly because it was easy to measure. Now that we’re losing confidence in what was only ever a proxy anyway, better to toss the whole thing and instead have students produce work that demonstrates competency. I become more sympathetic to this view every year that goes by, but it requires a much larger reworking of our systems than just tweaking some exams. The major challenge is scaling it up when our financial aid, scheduling and budgeting are based on fixed units of time. Paul LeBlanc’s book Students First is particularly good on this.

Finally, some readers suggested an honor code. I’m not aware of honor codes at many commuter colleges, but it’s possible.

Thanks to all of the wise and worldly readers who responded!

The Girl has heard from every college or university to which she applied. She finished with seven acceptances, one wait list and one rejection. The wait list was a school pretty far down her list of preferences, so we’re treating it as a rejection.

Now comes the tricky part.

One of the financial aid offers has yet to come in, so we can’t do a final comparison there yet. But while we’re waiting, I suggested that she look up the course catalogs for English and history (her most likely majors), as well as honors college offerings where relevant, and see which are the most appealing.

That’s harder than one might expect. You’d think that colleges would make it easy to find course listings on their websites, but many don’t. You have to find “undergraduate,” then the right college within undergraduate, then the right major, then the actual listings themselves. And honors sections are separate and sometimes titled so generically that there’s really no way to know what they cover (“Intro to Humanities”). Some are relatively clear and up-front in how they handle IB credit; others are cagey, bordering on evasive.

This Saturday we’ll head to an admitted students’ program at the one place she hasn’t visited yet. With the field of choices narrowed down, she has some more focused questions to ask. Now that things are real, it’s time for some pointed questions.

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