Student File Sharing

Students at McMaster are using technology to share a great deal of information. For example, students in residence are using a file-sharing program and McMaster science students have a website called MacCentral, through which they access and transfer material, which has a membership of over 4,300 people. Many other examples of students using technology to share information exist at McMaster and other Canadian universities.

Students are using technology to rank courses, evaluate instructors, and share assignments and tests. Many sites have a test bank that goes back many years and often includes marked tests and marked assignments. This kind of sharing of information is not new; 15 years ago McMaster residences had filing cabinets of previous tests and assignments which were available to students living in the building. Also, it is common practice for many instructors to send exams to the library for study purposes.

What is new is that technology has made this sharing of information very efficient, very fast and capable of involving huge numbers of students. If one student discovers a method to cheat on WebCT, that method can be posted to an on-line community and very quickly many students are aware of it. For example, in the winter term of 2008, a URL that provided the assignment answers for TAs to use when marking was posted to the residence on-line community. Unbeknownst to the instructor, large numbers of students could access the answers. Assignment solutions from instructor's manuals are frequently posted to these sites, unbeknownst to the instructor.

It is recommended that instructors remember that any kind of on-line testing or assignment is happening in an uncontrolled environment. It is difficult to determine who is writing the test and how much collaboration is occurring. Students can be working together on the answers in person or they can be working together in an on-line environment like a discussion board. Even with randomized questions, unless the questions are new, students may be able to find the questions and answers on an on-line community. For on-line tests and assignments worth marks, the best environment is a lab with TAs invigilating and ensuring students are not accessing the internet. If that is not possible, having a short time frame in which to complete the assignment/test is recommended. Instructors are encouraged to think about the following when designing assignments or tests:

  • What are you testing?
  • Are you trying to encourage learning or testing knowledge?
  • What is the best environment to achieve your goals?