ethical decisions in the digital age. exam preamble

Students in my high school classes recently wrote their semester exams.  Before turning to the test questions, they signed the following “Exam Preamble.”  Last week, I asked them to write a brief response to the preamble, so that the paragraph would not surprise them during the exam and so that I could revise parts to fit their thinking.

I welcome your feedback, too.

Before you read it, though, you need background information.  First, throughout the semester students have been using a “prescribed writing template” each time they submit a digital document.  Almost all of their assignments are submitted to, where I leave scores and comments they can access.  Second, they wrote their entire exam on a laptop, which means they had ready access to the internet during the test.  They submitted the completed exam to Turnitin.

I explained to students last week that I am taking a risk in placing this preamble at the front of their test, but this risk represents my respect for them.  The following preamble is founded on several other ideas that I won’t discuss here, but not because they aren’t important.  We have been through an agricultural revolution, an industrial one and now the digital/information age is upon us.  We’re in the thick of it, and we have to wrestle with new flavors of ethical decisions.


Exam Preamble. December 2014

Acknowledgments: Philosophy and Policy

Using a prescribed writing template, with a default pledge-header and acknowledgment-footer, gives you, today’s students, the important experience of recognizing and appreciating your individual interpretations. Waist deep in the digital revolution, today’s students need guided experience of meaningful struggle because the media-saturated culture is relentlessly telling you what to think and do. iPhone sales are up, again. We need to have the newest model, or we won’t keep up with our friends or the world. Stories of long lines outside the Apple store reveal this compulsion. Whether you are eyeing a new phone or considering your stance on immigration policy, other voices are poised not only to give you their chosen information, but also to tell you what you should think. It is important to know your own thoughts, independent of other people. How else can you digest their information or opinions? Experience tells me people, not just students, import other people’s thoughts because they lack confidence in their own thinking. Struggle is natural. Everyone has his or her own struggles. Don’t run away from yours by borrowing someone else’s solution. Stay with the problem and work through it. At schools across the country, I have served on Integrity Councils. Students appearing before the student-faculty boards almost always reveal that a lack of confidence helps explain their wrongdoings. These students, be they freshmen or seniors, say they were worried about their grades or reputation. Sometimes, they simply did not want to be wrong. Ironic? You have reason to feel confident. I want to know your ideas, your way of seeing things. Plus, it is unfair and dishonest to represent someone else’s ideas as your own, when you know you have found them in a source other than your own mind, our class discussions or the literature we have been studying. Class work, brief exercises and past exams all show me the creative ways students respond to questions about character motivation or thematic development. For example, seniors have offered new ways of seeing the sources of Dr. Frankenstein’s struggle, and sophomores are producing insight into the central tensions within Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Students who are creative, confident and honest can make a difference in this world. The world is smarter and stronger, when diverse individuals clearly express their particular perspectives.




I, the undersigned, hereby confirm that I have read and understand the above paragraph.


Also, I understand that if I should access any online source(s), which Mr. Brown strongly advises me against doing, I am responsible for clearly identifying the source(s) in the acknowledgment-footer of my exam. Failure to do so will result in an exam failure and further disciplinary action.



Student signature___________________________________________(date)______________



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Filed under challenge, creative solutions, reasons for writing, trust

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