Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why do blue book exams still persist?


My Personal opinion is that Blue Books are great. They allow you to THINK before you write. Editing is a great feature but it all too often is abused when people just 'vomit' their thoughts on paper and never bother editing their papers well. I also like blue books for the same reason that I like reading paper books and not ebooks - no need for electricity.

UNC trying to update by using software that keeps students from cheating on laptops.

By Eric Ferreri
(Raleigh) News & Observer
Posted: Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008
CHAPEL HILL College students communicate with text messages clicked out on cell phones. They take class notes on their laptops. Yet, when they take an American history exam, they do what students a generation earlier did:

They scribble in a blue book, pausing only to grimace and shake a cramping hand.

The blue book is widely loathed by students, who must write coherently without the benefit of a backspace key, and by professors, who must fight through a jungle of bad cursive. But no technology has managed to displace it.

Now UNCChapel Hill is trying to relegate the venerable school supply to the academic dustbin with a computer program.

So far, the blue book retains the upper hand.

A couple of dozen UNC professors are using word-processing software called Securexam, which locks all other applications on a student's computer so there's no way to cheat. Each exam is encrypted and cannot be reopened once the student completes it, unless the professor OKs it.

“They can't surf the Web,” said Andy Lang, director of information services in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences. “All wired and wireless connections are shut off.”

The college is spending about $30,000 a year on the software, and last semester about 1,000 students took exams with it, Lang said.

Joseph Wittig, who teaches medieval British literature at UNC, is using the software and loves it.

“I can read and grade 40 exams in one full day,” he said, adding that with blue books that task takes two to three times as long. “At a certain point, you'd start skimming because you're worn out. It's a huge advantage for students and teachers.”

The software was cheered recently by an editorial in the Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper, that read in part: “This isn't 1860. We don't have to scrawl out long-winded treatises by hand anymore. We have these things called computers that allow you to type fast enough to keep up with your thoughts.”

But, like the cockroach, the blue book persists.

Only about 25 to 30 UNC professors use the new software. That's a small percentage of the faculty, though Lang said the product is gaining popularity.

Ready … write

Professors say blue books are still here because, well, they've always been here. But most would readily move to a new technology if the transition were easy, said Ed Neal, the retired former director for faculty development programs with UNC's Center for Faculty Excellence.

If nothing else, the blue book is simple. No log-ins or passwords.

At one blue book manufacturer, demand for the product is actually increasing. Comet School Supplies of Palestine, Texas, keeps churning out the blue books, said Don Howard, the company's operations director.

Neither automated multiple-choice tests nor the Internet's vast stores of information have dented his trade, Howard said.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back to blogging (about classes)

I started this blog last summer so that I could use it for two of my instructional design classes and it's been dormant since the end of the semester. I thought of integrating the content with my main blog, but what the heck, I may as well just use this!

This semester I was not able to afford any instructional design classes. The university pays 45-50% of the tuition for ID classes, and I pay the rest. So what am I doing this semester? Well I anticipated that I would not be able to pay for my ID classes, so I decided to enroll in two Master's degrees. The first of course being an MEd in Instructional Design, and the second being an MA in Applied Linguistics.

Applied linguistics is completely free so I can still maintain my active student status and not have to pay those continuance fees that I can't afford anyway. The other benefit of doing two masters concurrently, at least for me, is that Linguistics and ID exercise two different parts of the brain. Instructional Design is more applied in nature. It's something I do at work day in and day out so I can take what I learn in the classroom and run with it next day in the office.

Linguistics on the others hand, even though it is 'applied linguistics' is a more academic topic, and required more time to process, understand, and appreciate - at least for me. With ID I can make connections right away because I've been in this business for quite some time and it's easier to make the connections and learn the theories for what you feel to be true - with linguistics I am waiting for that 'a-ha' moment! And, it's quite a glorious moment indeed when it hits you!

So what's the academic plan? For now it seems that I won't be able to take ID courses for another two or three semesters (until I can pay off my bills), but I am not worried, I am half way done with the degree already - linguistics on the other hand I just started so I can take my time waiting for those 'a-ha' moments, and working at integrating the ID knowledge and the Linguistics knowledge to create something new.