Open Testing

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.

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*as long is it was a friend outside the class.

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4 thoughts on “Open Testing

  1. MMMMM I like this idea Andrew but some questions sprang to mind. Did you assess it in an innovative way too? Do the ‘marks’ mean anything (ie a summative assessment) and if so how do you get around the authenticity aspect or is that a silly question (three questions in one there)? Do your students have this facility in other areas of the school and in examinations? What did they think about it? What do your school colleagues think about it? You’re an ideas man Andrew (sorry couldn’t resist!).

  2. Great questions Warren. Truthfully, assessing the tests was (or would have been) difficult – if i was trying to fairly and consistently assign “marks” for the test in the traditional (outcomes based) sense because students showed me that they had learned all sorts of different things.

    So i suppose (in answer to your first question) my assessment of their work was somewhat subjective. It involved looking at what they had shown me that they had learned, and making an assessment of whether that gave evidence of progression. But it also gave me the opportunity to assess such things as their personal learning skills…. which we are also reporting on under VELS.

    If by ‘authenticity’, you mean authenticating that work is a student’s own, individual work, I would question whether that is even really necessary in the 21st century. There is a place for it, sure, but when I think about my professional life, I ask “When was the last time in my work life, that I was expected to complete a task without being able to reference the Internet for ideas, or talk to colleagues or PLN?” At the end of the day, my success or otherwise is judged (by my students or colleagues) on my ability to pull all that together and put it into a context and deliver it effectively to meet a need – but the tasks I perform are rarely done as individual tasks. So when i stand up at a conference to give a presentation, or when I introduce a learning task to my class – I am being assessed – but I am really assessed on what I have done with the information and ideas I was able to source – not on whether I have been able to memorize the information.

    So then, where is the place for teaching students to hold information in their heads, and complete “tests” while cut-off from the rest of the world? The only place I can think of… is that it prepares them for future exams in VCE or at university. But there again, my argument is that VCE and university are preparing our students for last century’s industrial age, not for this century’s conceptual age.

    I don’t think that the way I did this was faultless. But I do think it was valuable, and I’ll do it again. Not all the time, though.

    In many ways, really, I am just pushing boundaries… testing ideas to see where they lead. Like you, I think that teaching and learning needs to change – to meet the needs of a new generation. Sometimes its not clear how that change needs to take place. But unless we are willing to take risks and do things differently, we will continue in our 20th Century paradigms and become increasingly irrelevant to the students we care about. If no other good came out of this experiment, one good that came out of it is that my students are excited to see their teacher taking risks with his learning, just as we all encourage our students to do with theirs. That kind of “open teaching” has to be worth something in itself.

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