Friday, October 09, 2009

My last examination

Today I told my fellow educators for the course COMP3410 at the Australian National University that this was my last examination. What I did not expand on was that this was not just for this course, I will not set any examination questions for any course. My hope is to able to continue to contribute to courses at ANU and elsewhere, and to design assessment for them, but do not ask me to write examination questions.

Last year I decided to give My Last Lecture and put into practice what I have been learning about combining online teaching and live group work. This was not an easy decision and has taken considerable work, both in reformulating course material and explaining the change to my colleagues.

My first ANU course with no lectures and no examinations finishes in a few weeks time and so far has gone reasonably well. Reformulating the material did take some work. What surprised me was the amount of explanation I had to do to colleagues. Many had difficulty with the idea of a course with no lectures. Even after I had announced that I would not be giving any more lectures there were many who asked me to give lectures. It took some time to reassure them that there were workable alternatives to lectures and this was permitted under university rules.

What I found surprising was that the formal university processes had no problems with a course with no lectures or examinations. Provided what was being taught and how it was being assessed was clearly spelt out, there was no impediment to a course without lectures or examinations.

The group who did not need any convincing were the students, who were very happy with the idea of no lectures. Some students seemed to think no lectures meant no work and an easy course, but soon changed their view when they saw there was compulsory assessed tutorial work each week. Some dropped out early, but not as many as for a conventional course.

I don't like setting examinations to be conducted on paper, over several hours, without the student being able to use external resources. This is not an effective form of assessment, nor is it useful for learning.

An examination is very different to the ways the students could expect to use what they are learning the real world. What is more realistic is have them briefly reply to a few short questions, discuss issues in a group and to write reports over days or weeks, with a library and the Internet at their disposal. That is the form of assessment I have used in the Green ICT course, with assessment for weekly discussion and written assignments.

There is a role for tests in courses and this can be by interactive assessment. These can be used to asses the student's level of knowledge to help with the learning as well as to give them a final grade. But the assessment should be a realistic facsimile of what happens in the real world. Assessment can use simulations and other techniques for being more realistic. Tests can be online and in part multiple choice. There can be many short tests, rather than a few large ones. I hope to explore this next year.

No comments: