They have banned students from wearing dumb or smartwatches during exams at Kyoto University. According to the Wall Street Journal, they couldn't tell them apart, and they were worried about cheating:

“The university said the proliferation of smartwatches has made it difficult to determine whether someone is using a watch to communicate with a friend or calculate figures. The ban “is required in order to conduct a fair test.” a university official said.

This follows a ban on mobile phones, after a big cheating scandal at the school in 2011, where a student cleverly crowdsourced an answer to the entrance exam, by simply using his smartphone and posting the question on the Japanese version of Yahoo Answers, then picking and choosing from the people who responded; it all happened in minutes. The university was shocked: “This is unprecedented, and we still don’t know how exactly it was possible,” said one official.

London’s City University faced this problem earlier this year, and now considers watches to be like mobile phones. According to Buzzfeed,

Students are already asked to place mobile phones in a plastic wallet under their desk, so we adopted the same procedure for watches. Students either don’t wear them to an exam venue, or they remove the watch in the venue and place it in the plastic wallet.

Cheating by students has been going on forever; I will admit to writing equations on the inside of my slide rule in high school. But it is a tech war that the proctors and the universities cannot win. Soon Google Glass-type technology will be built into conventionally styled frames; will they ban glasses?

GoldfingerHe's the man, the man with the Midas touch. (Photo: Screen capture from 'Goldfinger')

Goldfinger cheated by radio and hidden earphone; my hearables deliver audio over Bluetooth, are they going to ban hearing aids? Smart technology and even computers are being woven into clothing now; will students have to take exams naked? Technology, and the smart kids who are years ahead of the adults in figuring out how to use it, just moves too fast these days.

Maybe they should fix the exams first.

As an adjunct professor teaching sustainable design, I face the problem of cheating at exam time every year. I am marking essay questions and they are take-home exams, which obviously makes it very easy to cheat if a student wants to. And I have caught a few of them, mainly because cutting and pasting a definition of sustainable design from Wikipedia is pretty obvious. No doubt others were a little more sophisticated and got missed. I could, if I wanted, feed all the exams through anti-plagiarism programs that the university supplies. I prefer to think that after getting to know the student and see their earlier work, then I can tell if the exam is in character, what I expected. (You can see most of their work here if you are interested). But then I think I am measuring the whole person, not just the stuff dumped out for the exam.

Perhaps I am naive, but maybe instead of fighting a never-ending technological war, we should figure out better ways to determine the best candidates for a school than crazy do-or-die exams testing rote memorization. Then we can all put our watches back on.

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.