I recently ran into a former student whom I have not seen in nearly 15 years. I was surprised he remembered me since we did not part on good terms — he was caught cheating on his major term paper and responded by throwing it in the garbage. At the time I was pleased with myself for having found his essay through a quick Google search (0.63 seconds he told his now girlfriend when we saw each last week). While I still remembered him and the incident, I doubted he would. He surprised me however by saying that he was glad I caught him and taught him a lesson about taking the easy way through life. Over the years I have referred to this student, his paper, and my actions; interestingly the intervening years have caused me to rethink why I tell the story. There was a time when I told this story to show that I was diligent about maintaining the academic integrity of my class; for a while I told the story to show how technology can be used effectively in class by teachers; more recently, though, I have told this story to highlight how my assessment and evaluation practices had changed.
Fifteen years ago I wanted to make that student know that he could not hand in work that was not his. I was certain that I had assessed him fairly for having cheated, but did I really assess anything? Did I help him learn anything abut my course or have him actually show me what he learned? If the same situation occurred in my classroom today, I would have told the student what he had done wrong and worked with him to get me his own writing. I wish I had taken a moment to have my former student rethink his actions in class and show me what he could do. Instead, I have had years to rethink what I do and how I can help my students learn from their mistakes so I can actually assess their learning.