Ok readers, I give you plenty of advice, so now it’s payback time! 🙂 I need your help, with a problem I suspect many of you have: is there any good way to avoid writing all-new assignments every term for the classes I teach?
In order to save on paper and printing costs, I now distribute assignments online. I do the same for answer keys, for the assignments for which I make answer keys available (usually every assignment except the midterm and final exam). Which means that past assignments and their answer keys probably are circulating among some students in electronic form. So in order to minimize the opportunity for cheating, I have to write all-new assignments every term, which is a huge time suck. I’d really like to reduce or eliminate that time suck.
Years ago, I used to deal with this by only posting answer keys in a display case outside the classroom. I think some instructors here at Calgary may still do that, I’m not sure. But I don’t do it any more because students can just take pictures of the answer keys with their camera phones. So this approach doesn’t prevent answer keys from going into electronic circulation.*
Some possible solutions, along with their (often major) drawbacks:
- Write new questions every term, but do so by modifying old questions just enough so that students can’t just copy old answers. This is more or less what I do, but it’s still a time suck.
- Only ask questions drawn from the question bank that came with whatever textbook you’re using, or drawn from some other source. Obviously, this only works if there’s a big question bank available, and if you like those questions. I find I usually don’t, though there are exceptions.
- Go old school: hand out all assignments in paper form, and don’t distribute or post answer keys (online or otherwise). You still go over the answers with students, but it’s up to them to take their own notes on that. Draw your assignments from a moderately-sized question bank (so that you can go, say, 2-4 terms without reusing any questions). Cross your fingers that students won’t compile answer keys from their notes and make those keys available to future students. And that if they do, those keys will likely be rather brief or garbled, and so of only limited help to future students.
- Go to project-based assignments, with the projects being the sort of thing that can’t be copied from previous students. I have taught project-based courses. But I don’t think it’s feasible to teach, say, intro biostats to 125 students/term as a project-based course. And even if it was it would require a massive up-front investment of prep.
- Never give out or even go over the answers. Just throwing this out there for the sake of completeness, I think this is a bad idea pedagogically plus it would really annoy the students.
- Don’t worry about it. Reuse assignments as seems convenient, and rely on the honor system. Ok, I can hear you all laughing at me over the intertubes. But the idealist** in me wonders if maybe there are a few places where you can do this because there’s a very strong honor code. For instance, when I was an undergrad Williams College had a lot of unproctored final exams (as I recall; it’s been, um, a while). You were on your honor not to cheat, and if some students did, it was rare enough that I never heard about it.
I’ve asked around at bit at Calgary, and everyone seems to do as I do: write all-new questions every term, or in some cases draw from a massive question bank. But what do you do? Help please!
*Note that the issue is more serious for take-home assignments than for other sorts. Even if a student has access to the answers for past in-class assignments or exams, they still have to memorize and understand those answers in order to make use of them. Which from what I can tell is just as difficult for most students as learning and understanding the course material in the usual way. The issue is more serious if students can consult and copy from past answers on their own time.
**for idealist read: naive idiot?