Today I gave my year 8 Astronomy students a test. But it was not like the tests I have given in the past. I told them that they were allowed to use any resources they wanted to. Their test still had to be their own work, but they were allowed to “phone a friend*”, or use any tools they brought with them. Some brought their iPhones with astronomy apps on them, some brought more traditional plansipheres, some used the Mia Mia service to text away for information they needed to complete the tasks I had set. They were, of course also allowed to use their class notes, etc.
The questions on the test were suitably open-ended so that finding factual information was not sufficient to answer a question. They still had to be able to apply the facts they were finding. And I hope that students who know more, and understand more, will have been able to answer the questions more fully and in a way that shows the fruit of their study. But even weaker students (who didn’t know much) were able to make an attempt on the test. To me, this kind of assessment seems much more relevant to the real world than a more traditional test. Its hard to imagine many situations in the future when these students will have to complete a task without access to information from outside their own heads. The ability to resourcefully and selectively access needed information and then use it judiciously is more important, I think, than remembering a list of things that the teacher has told them “will be on the test”.
More importantly, I think it helped my students to see that I am serious when I tell them that I don’t want this to just be a class, where they turn up, learn what they are told to learn, and then prove it in order to “pass”. No – i want it to be a learning experience, where they learn for the joy of learning, and show me and each other what they have learned. There is a difference.
*as long is it was a friend outside the class.