Why do most elite colleges and institutions of higher learning (including law schools) resort to proctors and complex rules to prevent cheating on exams? Why don’t we trust our students to do the right thing, like they do at Caltech? (*) According to this fascinating report, for example, undergraduate exams at Caltech are regularly taken at home and are never supervised or proctored.
Caltech’s “Honor Code” is short and simple — “No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community” — and Caltech students are routinely given 24-hour access to labs, workshops, and other facilities on campus. Moreover, Caltech tells its undergraduates from day one that “collaboration on homework and other assignments is not just encouraged, it’s practically essential for success.”
The report mentioned above also features some interesting remarks by Markus Meister, a professor of biology at Caltech. According to Professor Meister, “The expectation is that students will follow the rules without being proctored. Proctoring is not part of the repertoire — many of the finals are take-home.” Professor Meister was himself a Caltech student 30 years ago, and he remembers the huge degree of trust placed in him and his fellow students. “I took a lot of take-home exams – it is a challenge to complete stuff in three hours and usually you don’t finish, so you draw a line and say ‘this is where I got to in three hours’ and then you continue. The teaching fellow might only give you credit for what you did in the three hours.”
Are the students at Caltech graded on a curve?