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How to Prevent Students from Printing Blackboard Tests

Question: Can anyone tell me how to prevent students from printing Blackboard tests?

I get asked this question by clients all the time, and my immediate response is to ask why they would want to prevent that. The answer invariably has to do with "preventing cheating". Here are the things I say:

1. Give it up.

You cannot stop students from memorializing the contents of a test. They will find a way. They can always snap a picture of the screen with their phones. Technology is tinier, cheaper, and more extraordinary every day. Give. It. Up.

More importantly:

2. Presumably the idea is that if students can print out the test, they can share it with others who have not yet taken the test, and this is a bad thing.

It's a bad thing only if you are still operating within the constraints of paper testing: presenting questions that represent a fixed sample of the overall body of knowledge you have covered in the lesson, because testing on all the items is impractical. You want the student to learn 100 things, so you put 10 things on the test and if they get 9 correct you extrapolate that they have learned 90/100 things. Obviously, this doesn't work if they know in advance which 10 things they're going to see on the test. I call this the "I've got a secret" method of assessment, and there is NO GOOD REASON to continue this practice when using online tests. Use question sets and/or random blocks to pull a sample of questions at random from a large database. Different test for each student, different test each time they take it.

Even more importantly

3. Why do we insist on assessing students in a hermetically sealed bubble?

When they go forth into the world to practice what they've learned in our classes, they will have all the resources of the Internet available to them. Simple knowledge-level (Bloom's Bargain Basement) information is ever-changing, and readily available. (And as my son once said, "It always will be, and if someday it isn't, it will be because something terrible has happened, and in that case the last thing I'm going to be worried about is the dates of Civil War battles." So please spare me the out-in-the-desert/post-apocalyptic scenarios. ) The architect who designs my house, the surgeon who takes out my appendix, the lawyer who defends me when I kill that person with all the coupons in the supermarket checkout line--all those people have ready access to the latest information in their fields. What's more, I expect them to make frequent access to it. I don't want that surgeon operating on me equipped with last year's information. So restricting access to information is simply not an authentic assessment constraint. What IS authentic is limiting the time a student has in which to complete the assessment. It's not that I don't want my doctor to look up the latest information on endoscopic surgery, it's that I *don't want her taking time out of my operation to do it.* Once she's in there, I want her to know her stuff, do it, and get out. Setting time limits on tests is a much more authentic way of gauging whether our students have learned what we want them to.

And most of all:

4. Why are we giving high-stakes tests of knowledge-level material?

The honest answer always has to do with how easy they are to create and grade. Creating higher-order-thinking-skills assessments takes time, work, and HOTS on the part of the instructor. Any instructor should be able to create a test in his/her content area that I, Mel, cannot pass in the time allotted. (Unless your content area is Spanish language, in which case I say, Bring it on. Or, as a student once said, "trae lo en," which is Spanish for "Kill me now.")


written by Melinda Johansson
Senior Consulting Services Specialist at Blackboard, Inc.

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