When No-One is Looking

 Earlier this month, a group of students asked me an important question about online quizzes.

“How will my professor know if I’m using my book and notes during an online quiz I complete at home?” they asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, “she asked you not to use them.”

Some scoffed. Others looked frustrated.

I get it. As an English professor, I often assigned quizzes online and expected (and encouraged) my students to complete them with their notes. I wondered about fellow faculty members who expected students to complete online quizzes or exams, unproctored, without using their notes. It seemed… impractical. I used to joke to my students, “I won’t be there to slap them out of your hands, if that’s what you’re asking.” It was usually enough for a chuckle or two. I felt this way because I didn’t see online quizzes as an effective assessment tool, but, instead, as a way of encouraging comprehension. Once, I had a student say, as if they had just discovered something, “Dr. Brown, with this much time to complete the quiz, we could read the entire story and answer the questions!”

“Exactly,” I said.

But underlying the students’ disbelief that their professors could expect them not to look at their notes is a dangerous assumption: I only have to be honest when someone can verify that I am.

Or, put another way, I only have to do right inside a system that ensures that behavior anyway.

What about when no-one is looking?

In early October, Major League baseball provided us with another sad answer to this question. Atlanta Braves General Manager, John Coppolella, resigned after it came to light that he had broken important rules governing how teams acquire international players.

I don’t want to go too deep into how Coppolella broke the rules, but, in essence, it had to do with contacting and making agreements with players who were too young to sign AND then breaking rules on how much some prospects were paid. The point is that there were rules and he broke them. He was caught and now a multi-million dollar franchise is reeling because of the actions of a handful of individuals.

For all of the eyes on Coppolella and his associates now, there was no-one looking over his shoulder on the days he (or his associates) authorized those payments and made those visits. 

Today, he no longer holds his dream job. He has much to explain to his family. Simply put, it mattered a lot that he didn’t behave honestly in moments when no one was watching.

You can have sympathy for someone like that, and I guess it’s in my nature to feel pity for someone who has had such a fall.

When we’re only students, it’s only a quiz and potentially a course grade that we risk. But in a short time, the consequences we risk (a job, a home, a family) are so much larger.  So, yes, it does matter what we do when no-one is looking.


Photograph courtesy of University Historic Photograph Collection, CSU.


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