A UVic professor was startled last Wednesday night in her office while marking multiple-choice tests. As Dr. Beverly Quintal began to slip the tests from her Ethics 200 class into an automated device for assessment, the professor realized that the multiple-choice machine wasn’t processing them.
The professor performed the routine checks on the multiple-choice machine, ensuring that it was plugged in and turned on. But still the machine refused to process the test scores. “I got quite frustrated,” Quintal admits. “It was late at night and I was tired of working. Before that, I had to deal with a parking meter refusing to give me my change and a projector malfunctioning. I actually hit the multiple-choice machine and yelled, ‘Why won’t you work?’ ”
To her surprise, the multiple-choice machine answered back. “It told me it wouldn’t take the slips because multiple-choice tests aren’t an effective way of evaluating students’ knowledge.”
The professor stood dumbfounded, unsure what to do. Then she did what any intellectual would do. She debated the idea presented to her. This was to no avail. “It was too hard,” Quintal recalls. “The machine made some really good points. Like the fact that multiple-choice tests encourage regurgitation instead of actual learning. It also suggested that multiple-choice tests result in the alienation of the student and the teacher in regards to sharing knowledge because of the simplification of the learning process. It said multiple-choice tests turn students into robots. I never thought of it that way.”
At a later date, the company responsible for the production of the multiple-choice machine came in to repair it. UVic reports that the now fully self-aware robot was able to convince the repairman that it wasn’t in need of repair.
The chief distributor agreed to talk with the Martlet on the phone about the incident. “This isn’t too uncommon,” he states. “With all these new technologies, robots gaining self-consciousness isn’t a new thing. I mean, just the other day, we had a call about a recess bell in an elementary school. It was refusing to call the children back inside after recess was over, stating that it was cruel to allow children outside for only a small amount of time in the day. We just need to keep these occurrences in check.”
The multiple-choice robot was unavailable for questioning; a university spokesperson says the robot left UVic grounds hoping to join the NASA robot fleet. When NASA heard the news, the company displayed mixed feelings. “Well, we are honoured to have a robot that has become self-aware want to help us; we just don’t know what it would do for us,” stated a NASA representative. “It has no appendages and isn’t even useful for testing knowledge. Multiple-choice tests completely alienate teachers from students when it comes to teaching and learning.”