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Talk About a Wrong Number: Students Take Exams by Phone

September 25, 1990

CHICAGO (AP) _ Thank you for calling Telequiz. After the tone, please leave the answers to your college exam.

In what is believed to be the national debut of student testing via push- button phone, students at Governors State University telephoned in the answers to their Psychology 519 quiz from the comfort of home.

″I loved it,″ student Teresa Barker said Monday. ″It was totally relaxed and really fun.″

Students were allowed to call anytime Saturday or Sunday to take a multiple choice test of 10 questions. They answered by punching in numbers that were registered with computerized voice-mail equipment.

The Management 421 class will try the program this week, taking an exam of 15 true or false questions by pressing 1 for true or 2 for false.

″It’s a replacement for the old-fashioned No. 2 lead pencil,″ said Donald Fricker, a professor of management information systems who developed the idea.

Fricker said the set-up saves time and money.

″I can administer any quiz in just two or three days as opposed to where the secretary has to type it, I have to copy it, the class has to meet, and I still have to grade it,″ he said.

The system also eliminates the need to travel to the college in suburban University Park. The school has about 5,000 students and no dormitories.

Teachers record the test and then tell their students which days they should call. It’s up to the student to decide when to dial.

Barker summoned up her courage on Sunday night, sitting at the kitchen table after she had cleared the dinner dishes.

″Being at home, it was different than being somewhere where there’s a lot of pressure,″ said Barker, 52, a child-welfare worker who returned to school to get a degree.

Some students called as early as 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The last student to call Saturday took the psychology test at 10:38 p.m.

The system ″gives a student tremendous flexibility,″ Fricker said. ″The student can be at his most relaxed. He can call in at 4 a.m. if that’s when he’s achieved nirvana and feels he knows the material.″

Psychology professor Suzanne Prescott acknowledged the system is largely limited to testing students’ ability to recall facts.

″You can’t ask a student what he thinks is the impact of 20th century literature on lifestyles in the 1950s,″ she said. ″But I think it’s the wave of the future.″

The system lets instructors record up to 30 questions, though only one student can call in at a time. A student has six or seven seconds to think of an answer before the next question is asked - too short a time for a student to cheat by looking up the answer in a book, Fricker said.

Telequiz will be demonstrated in November to representatives of 600 schools at the annual Computers on Campus conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Students already have provided some input. They talked instructors out of giving pop quizzes.

″We thought about the idea of calling them at home and forcing the test on them at the time of the call, but there were massive protests,″ Fricker said. ″They argued that people could be in the middle of dinner - or in the middle of giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation.″

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