ProctorU is Pseudo-Education

I have fortunately been spared this dystopian bullshit, as I'm too old for tools like these to have been popular back when I was in school. It is, as @edent post shows, the kind of scourge that no sane educational institution would inflict upon its students. I think ProctorU, and tools like it, are not dystopian bullshit just through the sheer invasion of privacy they advertise as completely normal. I think they exhibit another aspect of a dystopian world as we understand them: a decline of education I think it's one of the many facets of pseudo-education, a peculiar form of cargo cult that used to be mostly restricted to corporate training grind houses but is increasingly being practiced by higher education institutions.

University was a long time ago for me but I do vividly remember some things. One of these is a Digital Signal Processing class, a tough nut to crack, whose natural hardness was compounded by a professor who blended the bold, inventive thinking of an extraordinary engineer with the severity of a true academic in a single, soul-searing person that everyone feared and... well, mostly feared. On average, about half of us would fail the exam on the first attempt.

Nobody cheated, and he had a neat trick for that: it was an open-book exam.

You could bring your course notes, you could bring your DSP textbook, you could use calculators, hell, if you wanted, you could bring your computer. If you forgot a formula or a theorem, all you had to do was ask, especially if it was something that was more math than DSP. If it was truly fundamental, like the discrete Fourier transform, it would earn you a stern talking to, but you'd still find it written on the blackboard.

The point was that the questions and the exercises were devised to test a thorough (and I mean fucking thorough, I don't think anything remained untouched) understanding of the subject. All the cheat sheets and all the textbooks in the world would not help you pass if you didn't understand the subject. There were enough applied questions, and enough exercises, that the chances of winging it based on nothing but math prowess and intuition were practically zero. I mean, yes, armed with nothing but math, a basic understanding of signal processing and a textbook, you could probably solve all of them, but not in two hours. Probably not in twenty hours.

That's why he was so relaxed about these matters. Even formulae. He figured there were two reasons why someone would ask him about a simple, fundamental formula. Either they were entirely clueless and there was no harm in telling them the answer, as it wouldn't take them much further anyway. Or they were a smart kid who just had a brain fart or was doubting his reasoning or the validity of an intermediary result, which was entirely understandable under pressure, and he was more interested in teaching us DSP than working under pressure.

Obviously this guy was an exception. Most exams weren't open-book exams. But this was one of the things based on which you could tell the good teachers from the bad ones. After a semester spent on a good teacher's course you had considerable difficulty naming the main sections on the course on the spot, but the machines made sense in the labs and the questions you got on the exam felt like second nature. After a semester spent on a bad teacher's course, if you did your homework and read all the books and crammed all the bullshit they taught, you could pass the exam, but it felt like the course was basically "how to pass this exam 101" instead of whatever the course was supposed to be about.

Now I am firmly with St. Augustine on the beauty and importance of the spacious palace of memory. I don't want to argue that we should abolish all written forms of examination in favor of a light-hearted discourse. That's not the point.

What I'm getting at is that attempting to solve the problem of academic cheating by doubling down on cheaters and coming up with shit like ProctorU is not just unproductive, it's missing the point entirely.

Why do students cheat? Is it because they're disrespectful little pricks who don't want to put any work into it? Or is it because they feel getting good grades is increasingly a whole other business than acquiring knowledge and understanding of a particular subject, and they realize they need the latter, but the society they graduate into insists on the former?

If cheating diminishes not only the validity of a particular examination, but the value of that university's diplomas (and university diplomas in general), is that not already an extremely poor reflection of the way we appraise academic and individual merit? If academic examinations can't tell a fraud from the real deal, that's a severe indictment of how they teach and how they carry out examinations: maybe it's hard to tell if they're a fraud or the real deal, too.

Our society increasingly mistakes education for training. Training is what you do to dogs. The fact that the corporate world can't get enough training already speaks volumes about how much (and why!) they suck at nurturing and retaining talent. It's bad enough that, once they graduate, people get sucked in to the cesspool of corporate training packs, which (half-deliberately, half by incompetence) mistake instilling reflexes and building habits for building knowledge and channeling curiosity. The fact that we're inflicting that kind of pseudo-education on people even before they graduate is outright dangerous.

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