Watch this session below or at the new KABTv page.
If you weren’t able to attend the 2014 KABT Fall Conference, I presented a session on how to provide students with group assessments which still hold each student accountable for their own individual learning. My experience using collaboration on assessments began after I read an article from Popular Science about a professor, Peter Nonacs, from UCLA who was trying to provide his students with a lesson in Game Theory. I have never been the most vocal advocate for tests in general, and final exams specifically, but even I was uncomfortable with the idea of every student taking the same test, and only answering one question. However, after some reflection, I began to realize that, had I properly done my job, my students shouldn’t need 50 or 100 multiple-choice questions to prove they had mastered the content. In my elective classes especially, my own personal goals were not to create student-experts in Microbiology, Environmental Science, or Prairie Ecology; what I wanted was to have students that could solve problems, think critically, evaluate complex issues, conduct investigations, and communicate science effectively. None of these goals necessitates the creation and existence of a multiple-choice test. So I decided to give it a try.
To sum up the experience: I loved it. My students, in 90 minutes, showed me everything I could have wished for and exceeded my own inflated expectations of their ability. In the same vein as the author of the article I had read, I wrote the most difficult questions I could. I gave my students advanced warning regarding the format of the exam. I encouraged my students to prove to me that, given a challenge unlike any they had faced before, they would rise to the occasion and perform creatively and with maturity beyond their years. I even gave them the email addresses and phone numbers of several experts I knew in our area, people that knew more about the subject than my students could possibly learn in their semester-long elective course. And they did everything I could have asked for. They wrote up a plan and agreed to stick to it. They all took a job and completed their individual tasks. They peer-edited, shared sources, and encouraged each other. They took their draft to other teachers in the building (Luckily the AP Government and Economics teachers were on their plan periods), and asked them to contribute a quote for their final paper and asked for feedback. And they completed the assignment on time, with smiles on their faces. This may come as a surprise, but a smile is not the normal response I receive at the end of an exam.
But the best part? My “best” student and my “worst” both told me the same thing after class. They said that it was the hardest, best test they had ever taken, and they thought that it would prepare them to be successful after high school. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Our students are like our own children, and we want them to have the best possible chance to be successful once they leave our classrooms. The current assessment model is unrealistic. After students complete a traditional 4-year college education, very few people have to pass a multiple choice exam in their jobs on a regular basis. Perhaps for licensing purposes, but not for any other reason that I have ever experienced. If they want to advance, they need to be able to work in groups, finish their assigned tasks, solve problems, present their information, and complete difficult jobs that have no known solutions. And if they’ve never practiced that before they encounter that situation, how likely are they to succeed?
At the end of this post, I have attached the original questions which I used in my Environmental Science course that first year. I encourage you to read the original Popular Science article, then use my questions, adapt them, or ignore them and make your own even-better questions for your students. Even if they fail, the teachable moment will be a powerful one, and it can be a lesson that sticks with them for years to come. And besides, Dr. Nonacs isn’t kidding: their faces are priceless when you first describe the test to them.
If you take the leap, let me know how it goes; I can’t wait to hear about it!
Drew Ising can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (email), @Mr_Ising (Twitter) or at 920-Ising-Ed (SMS).
KABT_CollaboratoryExams (Conference Presentation, PDF)