This may be ill-advised, but I'm not going to let Steve and Adam off the hook by retreating to the idea that Adam's piece (or the at least the most ridiculous parts of it) were meant to be "tongue-in-cheek" or that it merely presents what Steve calls "a transhumanist reductio of the increasing identification of academic authority with the catching of cheaters". Maybe that is how it was intended, I don't know. But it seems to me to be much easier to it read as a piece that argues for the identification of intelligence with the ability to retrieve information, i.e., "getting the right answer", and the further (surely transhumanist) celebration of the ability of new technologies to "augment" this ability and, indeed, render the memorization of known facts obsolete as a life skill.
Most charitably, I take him to be saying that an exam that requires memorization is somehow "daring" students to use their smartphones instead of actually memorizing the required material and, importantly, that having a mind that can actually remember facts is so, you know, "1.0". I don't think Adam is making fun of these ideas. I think he's promoting them, whether he thinks so or not.
I don't know how else to take the following:
This is the age of augmented cognition, or the extended mind. When teachers ask a student to put away her cell phone or iPad before the exam is handed out, it is like asking her to put away her occipital lobe or her frontal cortex.
Is this a joke? Is it supposed to mock the whining student who makes this claim? If so, I'm with Adam, but I just don't see how it can be read that way in context. As Steve makes clear, the argument is that something important changed with the invention of the smartphone: "the stuff you’re discriminating is now located outside rather than inside your head – the ‘mind’s eye’ has been effectively distributed between you and the ‘cloud’." And this means, as Adam says, that to ask students to function without their phones is like asking them to function without some part of their brain.
But surely nothing has radically changed. Some stuff remains inside the head (the result of years of experience and study) and some of it remains outside (in the "library", however virtual it may now be). Examination is the means by which we find out how well the student can use what's inside, sometimes (but not always) by putting it in relation to what's outside, but always (and not just sometimes) by showing us what was inside at the time of examination. The "augmentation" of the mind has been going on since the invention of writing and the abacus, and at each stage of development, examiners have had to distinguish between the not very impressive ability of a student to merely look something up, or plug something into a calculating device, and the much more impressive accomplishment of having internalized a part of their own heritage. Adam's piece (and especially Steve's comment) is suggesting that the game has now radically shifted and that all that needs to be known can be "instantly and ubiquitously" looked up. Therefore all we should be examining is the ability of students to do that.
But a mind that can actually retain three or four hundred relevant facts for the purpose of passing an exam is demonstrating a far more important ability than this information retrieval skill ever was or will be. And also a more important ability than memorization as such. Again, Adam may just be mocking a position when he says this:
The brain doesn’t obey the boundaries of the skull, so why do students need to cram knowledge into their heads? All they need in their local wetware are the instructions for accessing the extended mind. This is not cheating, it is simply the reality of being plugged into the hive mind. Indeed, why waste valuable mental space on information stored in the hive?
If all he's doing here is mocking some imagined smart-ass student, I'm with him. But, again, I can't get his piece to read like that. If I do, the whole thing becomes satire (which is a possibility I explicitly considered, and then rejected "for the sake of argument"). And to think that a course and a subsequent test that values memorization is calling for students merely to "cram knowledge into their heads" simply fails to recognize the value of a having a mind that can actually retain facts (regardless of how important the individual facts are).
The sensible view is to treat smartphones, and the "cloud" to which they are connected, like we have treated books and calculators in the past: sometimes they are allowed and sometimes they are forbidden. The bar for the exam is set accordingly. And cheating remains what it always was: the unauthorized use of a technology or technique for the purpose of passing an examination.
I'm going to write one more post on this. I think I'm now obliged to go after Farhad Manjoo's denialism of the cheating scandal at Harvard on the grounds that they were merely "collaborating".
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