Should students be allowed to use mobile devices during tests?

A classmate asked me the other day about my thoughts on the use of mobile devices during tests. In their environment, nursing education, they try to do as authentic assessment as possible; however, they still need to do official pen and paper tests. The question now arises, should students be permitted to bring their mobile devices into the tests?

My answer is definitely “yes”, but the tests need to be redesigned with this in mind, and student mobile use test-taking guidelines must be developed.

The test should be designed such that students will run out of time if they need to look up too much. In healthcare practice, time is usually limited, so a time limited test is an authentic experience. If the students need to look up too much information, they simply will not have the time to complete the test.

If possible, the test should also include a couple of questions where the first response that appear on a google search is incorrect. This too is authentic. Students need to be able to discern good from bad information on the Internet.

From a student guidelines perspective, students should not permitted to copy anything from the device/internet directly. Students must put anything they answer on the test in their own words. Anyone caught copying directly from the Internet will receive an automatic fail. This has the benefit of helping them “learn” the concepts that they needed to look up during the test.

Unfortunately, by allowing students to use mobile devices, the workload for the instructor increases, as the tests need to be better designed and the markers need to be familiar with the most common “google” pages for each question, so that they recognize plagiarism. I’m afraid that this may be the biggest obstacle for allowing mobile devices during tests.

What’s your thought? Should students be allowed to use mobile devices during tests?

1 Comment on Should students be allowed to use mobile devices during tests?

  1. I think this answer has to depend entirely on the type of test and the type of course. There are some courses for which open book exams are reasonable and realistic; for this I think mobile devices may soon take the place of the “book”. For other tests I am looking for basic knowledge that I expect the student to know off the top of their head, without looking it up anywhere. This would be more of an earlier stage course, for instance Introduction to Programming. For this type of course students need to have practiced the material and should be able to write a Hello World type of program without looking it up anywhere! So my answer really depends, but in general I lean (right now) away from mobile devices in most contexts. In my area I like to think of a test as being like an interview; limited time-frame, and you might be permitted to use some references in an interview, but their use really should be limited and in some cases may be inappropriate. At least that’s my $0.02!

    PS a problem with allowing mobile devices, or open book for that matter, is that the weaker students then think they can look everything up and don’t study as hard, then they can’t find the info fast enough (or at all) and they do very poorly on or even fail the exam. Creates more of the classic double-peaked distribution of grades, in my experience — I guess this may or may not be a “problem”, as it gets rid of the less motivated students, but at an early stage in their academic career possibly a little more hand-holding is not a bad thing.

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