16 November 2016

The academic equivalent of “voter fraud”

In the recent American federal elections, some jurisdictions had relatively new legislation ostensibly aimed at preventing voter fraud. Critics argued that additional restrictions and costs made the laws more effective at blocking citizens with a legitimate right to vote than preventing people from voting illegally. And that the citizens preferentially blocked – usually poor people – were more likely to vote for the opposition party than the one that put the legislation in place.

And every study I saw indicated that voter fraud was vanishingly rare: 0.00000132% according to one study.

So huge effort is put into stopping a tiny number of potential cheats that possibly harms other honest participants in the system.

I’m wondering if the same can be said of higher education.

I was at a workshop for a teaching technology update yesterday. And when I’m at workshops like this, someone invariably launches into some sort of scenario – often quite an elaborate one – where students could use the technology to cheat.

It’s not that they necessarily have seen students cheating in the ways they describe, but they are worried that they could. So instructors go through contortions and set up elaborate safeguards and barriers and obstacles to try to catch cheats on the premise that cheating is pervasive.

The problem of cheating is not a problem created by students. The problem is created by higher education’s need to push a huge number of students through the system with as few instructors as possible. This forces instructors to use crummy evaluation techniques, like multiple choice pencil and paper exams.

As Yung Tae Kim reminds us, there is no cheating in skateboarding. You are evaluated on actual, immediate, real world performance, not pencil and paper tests. What would cheating in skateboarding even mean?

External links

The Misleading Myth of Voter Fraud in American Elections

Voter Fraud: Non-Existent Problem or Election-Threatening Epidemic?
Study Finds No Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud
Yung Tae Kim: Skateboarding Physicist & Educator
Physics of Skateboading

Image from here.

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