A college’s exams blanket ban on watches over fears learners could use outlawed web-enabled smart watches has been branded “a classic example of how the assessment and accountability system inhibits innovation and progress”.

North Nottinghamshire College (NNC) said it took action because smart watches were becoming increasingly similar to normal watches — and it didn’t want to risk cheats sneaking internet devices past invigilators and into exam halls.

But Bob Harrison, a member of the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag), criticised the move, claiming the assessment system needed to “catch up”.

He said: “The key message of the Feltag report was to ensure ‘the agile evolution’ of the FE sector to ensure it is fit for purpose for the digital age.

“This is a classic example of how the assessment and accountability system inhibits innovation and progress.

“In the week that Google and Levi’s announced joint working on wearable computers this just confirms the need for our assessment system to catch up and reflect the digital age and not try and ban it.”

Martin Hamilton, from education technology charity Jisc, suggested emerging technologies could one day be embraced by colleges.

He said: “What this is really symptomatic of is the shrinking and embedding of technology to the point where it will become increasingly hard to tell who is using it and how.

“Invigilators might well spot a student spending a lot of time fiddling with their
watch, but who’s to say that Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids aren’t relaying exam hints and tips from a phone?

“As technology becomes ever more deeply engrained in our lives, I think we will find that assessment changes too, to be much more about demonstrating how a learner can effectively marshall the wealth of open information to be found on the internet to demonstrate a point, solve a problem or create a coherent argument.

“Perhaps it won’t be long before most exams are open book, and the sign at the door of the exam hall reminds students how to connect to the wireless network.”

But NNC director of quality David Barnett defended the ruling, telling FE Week the college was just extending existing rules set by the Joint Council for Qualifications which prohibit the wearing of watches with any data or web capability in exams.

“Previously we have felt we have been able to identify these types of watches through the use of invigilators,” he said.

“Obviously, with GCSEs we have a high volume of exam entrants, and with the advances in technology it is more difficult to tell the difference between types of watches, as a lot of the smart watches look like normal analogue watches.

“All candidates already have a mobile phone pouch on their desks, and we are asking them to put their watches in there too.

“It just seems like the best way of dealing with these advances in technology without causing disruption.”