Prisoner’s Dilemma: Harvard Tells Professors Not To Proctor Exams To Reduce Stress For Students Working At Home

There is an interesting article in the Harvard Crimson where professors are being encouraged to trust students in taking exams rather than attempt to proctor to avoid added stress. The approach however raises a type of prisoner’s dilemma where students who might not be inclined to cheat must factor in the expected cheating of other students in their calculus of risk.

According to the guide posted: “Because exams are already stressful for students and using technology to proctor closed-book, timed exams adds additional stress, we advise that you modify your exams to allow them to be taken without proctoring,”

Following this advice is Economics Professor Christopher Foote who told his colleagues:

“Aside from the technical challenges of making sure that that software ran for everybody on their home computers no matter where they are, I just didn’t think it was appropriate to sort of introduce that level of intrusion of technological intrusion into the test taking process.”

For students, the unregulated environment raises a type of prisoner’s dilemma where you must act in anticipation of the decision made by another person without the ability to communicate.

Of course, in the prisoner’s dilemma, both prisoners acting in their self-interest will lose. Here is one description:

Two prisoners are accused of a crime. If one confesses and the other does not, the one who confesses will be released immediately and the other will spend 20 years in prison. If neither confesses, each will be held only a few months. If both confess, they will each be jailed 15 years. They cannot communicate with one another. Given that neither prisoner knows whether the other has confessed, it is in the self-interest of each to confess himself. Paradoxically, when each prisoner pursues his self-interest, both end up worse off than they would have been had they acted otherwise.”

Here a rational student would have to assume that other students will cheat. The questions is whether, by not cheating, they place themselves in a less competitive position. In this case, both rational actors end up in a worse moral or ethical position by cheating.

113 thoughts on “Prisoner’s Dilemma: Harvard Tells Professors Not To Proctor Exams To Reduce Stress For Students Working At Home”

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    The impeachment crisis was over when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell first acknowledged Coronavirus on February 25. And even then, during a news conference, McConnell deferred the question to another Republican Senator.

    Democrats, however, are very much on record, expressing concern about the virus all through February.

  2. This is like requiring ID. Tests are proctored to discourage cheating. If you have a problem with that, then you might be considering cheating.

    If you have a problem with stress, then you don’t belong in college.

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