It’s time to change the way we test our students.
Friday 11 February 2011
by Nik Peachey
This posting was prompted by a question I was asked during a recent teacher training session that I was delivering on digital study skills and digital literacy.
I can’t remember the exact wording of the question but in essence it was this;
“How can we get our students to appreciate using digital tools and web based activities to develop their study skills, when in their exams they are only allowed to use pencil and paper?”
Of course the easy answer is that the digital study skills are ‘life’ skills and so students should see the importance of these beyond their exams, but of course that is a very naive answer, because many of our younger more exam focused students are too stressed to see past the piece of paper they need to continue with their studies.
So, my answer to the question was that it’s the exams that need to change.
I can’t imagine why schools that are equipped with computers and internet access are still getting students, especially those in an EAP context, to hand write exams. I guess in part this leads to a larger question about what we are testing and how we can be sure that the answers actually come from our students. Are we testing hand writing skills? If so, why are we testing those skills rather than keyboard skills? The only texts I can remember hand writing in the last week are a birthday card to my daughter and post-it notes to myself.
Are we worried about our students copying texts from the Internet and Googling for their answers? Well if we are, shouldn’t we be testing their ability to use the Internet honestly and transparently as this is a fundamental skill for most people living in developed or developing societies.
Why aren’t we testing the skills and abilities that our students really need to be successful participants in a 21st century society? Is it because exams haven’t moved forward with the times or is it just that it is so much easier to test memorisation of discrete items that can be ticked off an assessment list?
I really believe we should think again about the kinds of skills our students will realistically need for their future and start helping them towards achieving those skills. Then perhaps we can start designing tests that are truly relevant to life in the 21st century rather than the 19th.
As for where to start, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that connectivism offers us a convincing set of principles. Here are a few which I have taken from ‘Connectivism: A learning theory for today’s learners’ (If you visit the link you can see these and some others explained in more detail):
- The integration of cognition and emotions in meaning-making is important.
- Learning has an end goal – namely the increased ability to “do something”.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources. A learner can exponentially improve their own learning by plugging into an existing network.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- The capacity to know more is more critical that what is currently known.
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate learning.
- Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
- The ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
- Learning is a knowledge creation process…not only knowledge consumption.
Personally I believe we need to start developing skills based around these kinds of principles and then designing exams which test what students are able to achieve using these skills, then perhaps we will have students who leave our schools with skills that prepare them for this century, not the last one.
What do you think?
- Do your students do paper based or computer based exams?
- Is there any reason why students shouldn’t be doing exams on computers and utilising their digital literacies?
- Can we integrate the forms of learning and the kinds of abilities described by the principles of connectivism into our language teaching and testing?
- Is it part of the English language teachers role to develop students’ digital literacy, or are digital literacy skills simply transferable from L1?
Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
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