Updated: April 8, 2021 8:50:19 am
Since the onset of COVID-19 last year, it’s not only the virus that has perfected the art of copying. Students across the globe are acing it. With an expansive, permanently available repository at their fingertips, copying is a breeze. In online exams, students have the choice of copying from each other, from the internet and from other resource material. Consequently, setting a question paper in these times has become more challenging than answering one.
For most subjects, evaluation is a fundamentally problematic task anyway. When confronted with an answer, the evaluator has to convert the worth of the answer into a number. Even with a rubric at hand this is never straightforward. And it would be best to not talk about the reliability of these scores. Different evaluators at different times and the same evaluator at a different time would rarely give the exact same marks to an answer. It is such a fragile scoring system on which entire careers are built. The pandemic has compounded the difficulty of evaluation.
Do I give more marks to an answer that is original but incomplete or even off-the-mark or to an answer that’s more comprehensive but is copied?
The other day, it struck me that I keep telling students “write in your own words” and I wondered why I keep using this phrase all the time. In whose words will they write if not their own should have been the obvious comeback. But unfortunately, it is not. Students prefer to write in other people’s words. With so much text at their fingertips, writing has become synonymous with browsing, selecting and pasting.
Rather than reprimand these young people for their unethical behaviour, we need to seize this moment and radically overhaul our education in the light of the internet. The internet is never going to go away. On the contrary, it will continue to grow not only in size but also in its intelligence. By continuing to teach students a huge range of subject matter and covering a lot of ground, we leave them with little or no time to grasp, internalise, reflect, probe and play with the ideas and concepts they learn. And, then, because their involvement in what they have learnt is so low, they don’t feel confident to articulate or explain it in their own words. In any case, years of rote learning and reproduction have led to a lack of confidence while using language to articulate any complex idea.
We have to recognise that in this battle the internet is always going to win when it comes to quantity. We stand a chance if, and only if, we focus on quality. And that will mean a drastic reimagination of what and how much we teach. If we don’t give our students the time and the tools to read, think, articulate, write and, instead, focus on how much content they know, then we will be failing our students as well as our society.
This column first appeared in the print edition on April 8, 2021 under the title ‘Beyond copy, paste’. The writer is assistant professor, NMIMS University, Mumbai
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