Buzzfeed reported yesterday that "multiple universities are starting to actively ban all watches from the exam hall". The schools were reportedly concerned that students could use their connected smartwatches to pull info from their tablet, smartphone, or other device. And since it is difficult to tell the difference between smartwatches and a regular watch, all were being banned - or so the story goes.
When this story crossed my desk I thought it was an urban legend. Sure, it sounds plausible, but then again so do most urban legends. No source was named, and Buzzfeed did not link to a specific policy, so I at first doubted the story. But after I spent a few minutes researching I can report that this story is actually true - to a limited degree.
I cannot yet confirm the claim that "multiple universities" are banning watches from exam halls, but I do have confirmation that at least this part of the original story is true:
London’s City University told BuzzFeed News it has recently joined with other British universities in stopping students from wearing any watches into exam halls.
I don't have many details about the other British universities, but with a little work I found City University London's exam policies.
To start, with the exception of certain calculator models, all electronics are banned from exam halls. This includes computers, tablets, smartphones, and of course smartwatches. So even if they did not have a specific policy against watches, smartwatches were already effectively banned.
And as it turns out, all watches are now banned:
Due to the introduction of smart watches, candidates are no longer permitted to wear any kind of wrist watch in an examination venue. Please ensure that your wrist watch is placed in your bag before the start of the examination. Anyone found wearing a wrist watch in the examination venue will be asked to remove it and to place it on the floor under their desk.
So yes, this story is at least partially true, and I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be completely true - at least inadvertently.
For example, I also found that the Royal College of Physicians has a dress code which effectively bans watches, although it's not clear that they are trying to prevent cheating rather than maintaining a professional appearance.
King's College London also has a policy which specifically bans smart watches during exams (PDF), and in fact it specifically says that if you bring a watch it has to be placed on the desk in front of you.
And Southampton University has a policy which does mention watches:
Mobile phones, watches and other wearable electronic devices: when you take your seat in the exam room, the invigilator will instruct you to place your mobile phone(s), your watch, activity tracker or any other electronic device that can transmit or receive data from a mobile device in a clear plastic bag on your exam desk.
But not all universities have posted a policy which bans smart watches from exams, much less all wrist watches. Many are like the University of Glasgow, which bans all non-approved electronic devices, but doesn't yet specifically ban smart watches or wrist watches.
And then there are some schools like Cambridge University and Oxford University which say that you can bring a watch, but it is subject to examination by an invigilator. Smart watches are not mentioned by name.
In short, the claim that watches are being banned is a tad overblown. Yes, some universities are banning watches from exams, but most of those schools already had a ban on gadgetry in general, and they are simply interpreting and expanding on their existing rules to reflect the fact that students now have a wireless computer sitting on their wrist.
Today's news is really no more shocking than if the report read that tablets are being banned. Most of these schools had a policy against electronics anyway.
But it is an interesting story, is it not?