Universities Ban Smart Watches During Finals

Some Australian universities warned students this month not to wear wristwatches during final exams, amid concerns that increasingly popular wearable technology, like the Apple Watch, could foster cheating.

La Trobe University, in Melbourne, and the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, both issued warnings at the start of their final-exam periods that students would have to remove their watches before testing began. The University of New South Wales required students to put all wristwatches in clear bags under their desks. La Trobe students could place traditional watches on their desks while taking exams, but they could not have smart watches in an exam room.

Such policies are likely to be in place soon at American universities, said Eric Klopfer, director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish a smart watch from a traditional watch, he said, so if colleges don’t want students to wear smart watches during exams, they’ll probably have to ban all watches.

There has also been a push to create tests that would be immune to students’ efforts to store answers on their phones or watches, Mr. Klopfer said. He compared the approach to open-book exams, which focus less on memorization and more on analysis.

“As we get better at our educational system, it will seem less like we need to ban these things,” he said, “because the kinds of things we’ll be putting on an exam students won’t be able to store on a watch.”

The Australian universities aren’t the first to ban smart watches from exam rooms, though. The Educational Testing Service, which administers the Graduate Record Examination and the Test of English as a Foreign Language, started using wands years ago to ensure that test takers didn’t carry cellphones into exams, said Ray Nicosia, executive director for ETS’s Office of Testing Integrity.

Proctors can use the same wands — similar to those seen at airport security lines — to check whether test takers are wearing watches. So now the proctors can ask to inspect the watches and store them in a locker, if necessary. The company wants to “stay ahead of anyone taking an unfair advantage,” Mr. Nicosia said.

“The test takers comply,” he said. “They want to get in, take their test, and move on.”

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