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Can students use smart watches to cheat on tests?

Teachers often ban smart phones during exams, but they might miss other types of smart devices

Published: August 06, 2014 01:00 PM

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When is being constantly connected not such a good thing? Here’s one scenario: Say a student is wearing a smart watch while taking an exam. Could the watch be used to cheat—and is that possibility even on schools’ radars yet?

The answer to the first question is yes. We spotted a story about a student at Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City University who was caught cheating with his smart watch. "The proctor noticed that the student’s watch turned shiny all the time so he came to check it... It turned out that it was a smartwatch, which can store and open cheat sheets."

As to the second question, the technology is on at least some academic radars. A university in Belgium has banned all digital watches (in fact, all watches) from being worn during exams. And in the U.S., GRE test-takers cannot “bring cell phones, smartphones (e.g., BlackBerry or iPhone devices), PDAs, digital watches, smartwatches and other electronic, recording, listening or photographic devices into the test center.” Presumably, that prohibition includes Google Glass.

We spoke to Charles Youngs, a curriculum facilitator at a Pittsburgh-area high school who happens to be a technology enthusiast, to get an idea of whether schoolteachers were wary of students wearing smart watches in class during tests. He hadn't been concerned before the interview, he answered, but he would be going forward.

"This is going to be something that falls under current policies our school has about student-owned technology devices (SOTDs), but it will likely need to be made explicit that smart watches fall into this category," said Youngs. "I imagine it will be difficult to stop smart watches in part because of the way we think of watches as an attire accessory. Still, schools have dress codes, and smart watches could be on a list of what not to wear to school."

Think you might want to try one yourself? Check our lab reviews of smart watches.

Is cheating using a smart watch really practical, though?

Most of the smart watches we’ve tested so far can receive texts and e-mails, but they usually truncate the notifications or messages—so there's a limit on how much information cheater wannabes can send to their watches. However, there are text-reader apps available for smart watches. If the apps work as promised (we haven’t tried them), they’ll let students upload and access text files. The student's phone doesn't even need to be in a pocket: The watches sync with phones through Bluetooth, which has a range of about 32 feet.

We’d hope that most teachers these days insist that smart phones be put away before starting the clock on exams. That may not be happening yet with smart watches. On the other hand, even if teachers don't know just what the technology can do, students may find it hard to keep checking their watches without attracting some unwelcome teacherly attention. As wearables become smaller and less obvious (most smart watches are still rather large and clunky-looking), teachers could have a tougher time figuring out what to ban from their test rooms.

—Carol Mangis

   

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