Monday, October 5, 2009

Exams on PC?

When was the last time you wrote the "old-fashioned" way - pen and paper - for three hours straight?

Think about that last big report, academic paper, or letter that you wrote, and it's likely that it all happened on a keyboard and screen, not on paper. And the younger you are, the less likely you hand-write much these days - except for exams! We still expect our students to do something very unnatural when it comes time to sit an exam - up to three hours of handwriting. But that looks like changing...

The NSW Board of Studies has indicated that, by 2012, computers will be used in exams. This gives us three years to work out some of the complex issues that are inevitable with such a change - cheating, collusion, and invigilation to name a few.

So, is this a good idea, or do you mourn the loss of an important skill - the ability to use a traditional writing implement? What do you think?


Zac Martin said...

Something like this should have been implemented years ago.

Simple software that "locks down" a computer for three hours could easily be installed that runs a simple version of Word/Notepad.

Every issue that comes up could be sorted out, but no one is willing to take the leap.

Gabriel said...

And about time too!

I was always jealous of those kids in year 12 who due to their dodgy handwriting were permitted to use a laptop for exams.

After 2 hours of furious handwriting I really can't be bothered anymore. Yet I type at speed of about 60+ wpm and can do that for hours on end.

Stephen Saunders said...

Check out Time Magazine (3 August 2009) for the cover story that dealt with this very issue: Mourning the Death of Handwriting.

Wags said...

@Stephen: For those looking for the TIME article, here's a link to it.

Personally, I have to agree with Zac and Gabriel - we should be using the tools that our learners are familiar with. Should exams really be testing a skill that is no longer used in the "real" world?

creative and meaningful said...

I don't see the problem, apart from cost. just as institutions provide script books in the exam venue, so too can they provide simple terminals with all communications disabled (temporarily) if they wish. But that's not really the point - why try to replicate a long-outmoded form of assessment anyway? A written exam is a really poor way of testing important skills. Viva voces (mini-interviews) have been scaring and training Monash students for many years, and group assignments, if done properly, are a great way of developing team working skills. I've tried a few times to come up with a wiki-style assessment, but it's been too hard for teh large numbers of students I have. I'm still keeping on the lookout, though; let me know if you come across anything of potential use please!

Wags said...

@c&m: I have read (somewhere?) about the idea of "open" exams. Not open-book, but completely open. Students are able to use ANY resource that is available to them in everyday life... the internet, telephone, PC's, books, etc.

This situation more closely resembles how our students will be operatin in the workforce, with access to all of these resources, so why not assess their resourcefulness, and the level of "information-literacy" that they can show in time-constrained conditions (an exam).

Do you think this would work?" Would it accurately assess the ability and knowledge of each student?

creative and meaningful said...

nice idea. Take-home exams have been around for a while in other disciplines (Law comes to mind) - could we do that? No limit on group size, could be solo, could be 20 - it's the piece of work that gets assessed. But what sort of question would we ask?