Photo Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogerjones/103724190/

Two weeks ago I posted on Twitter that I was giving an “open-wiki” test to one of my classes. I was a little apprehensive at first since I’m teaching a very content heavy class (HSP 3M – Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology) but with the support of my PLN, I decided that it was worth a try. Well, after giving the test and having marked their responses, I am truly a convert to open book assessment. (In fact I am not a big test supporter and if I had the power, I would potentially go to a project-based model, but that’s a blog post for another time.)

In this class, I have struggled all semester to convince my students that critical thinking is much more important than the regurgitation of facts and after this test, I might have actually converted some of my non-believers. When I pitched the idea of an open-wiki test, (we don’t really use a text book so all our information is stored on my wiki) some were skeptical of the idea and some were excited because they thought the test would be ‘easier.’ I think what my students realized, however, was that even though all our information, theories and the internet were available to them, they still had to use their own brains to respond effectively.

The premise of my test, in essence, was to have the students take the information we discussed in class and apply to various situations. Here is an example of one of the questions from my test:

Carl Rogers was known for his “fully-functioning” personality theory. Review some of the information found on the wiki about the fully-functioning person and think about this theory. Pick someone from the media (either fiction or non-fiction) and explain how this person or character embodies Roger’s theory. You need at least 4 reasons to support your ideas.

One student’s answer:

“After reading over Rogers theories on the “fully functioning person” I felt that Larry Birkhead embodied his theory well. In case you don’t know who Larry Birkhead is, he is the father of Dannielynn, who is the daughter of the deceased Anna Nicole Smith. Birkhead had to jump right into the existential living as soon as he found out that he may be the birth father of Dannielynn. Birkhead went through many struggles in order to get Dannielynn, days upon days of court appearances and court battles just to find out who his birth daughter would go to. Throughout the whole ordeal he had to live in the here and now view, he had to get in touch with reality and realize that the whole situation had nothing to do about him it was all about his daughter, and her safety. Larry Birkhead definitely fit into the creativity theory of Carl Rogers as he had to become very creative after he became a father. This was a whole new role to him and he had to start a whole new lifestyle and provide for a new human being. Birkhead definitely had to and did get touch with actualization and he has basically saved Dannielynn’s life (who is now 3 years old). Lastly Larry Birkhead had an openness to experience, not completely by choice at first but soon enough he was open to the things that life had thrown his way and he was totally open to new experiences, especially if this meant spending the rest of his life caring for Dannielynn.”

Another student’s answer:

“The character I chose to portray Carl Rogers’ theory of the fully functioning person (or in this case, elephant) is Horton, from Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who”. He demonstrates his ability to contribute to the actualization of others by teaching the youth of the jungle about nature. (…and by doing so in a creative manner.) Horton is open to experience, for example, he notices a voice coming from a tiny speck of dust and embarks upon a whole new world that would otherwise be overlooked.
Horton focuses on the “here and now” because his priorities shift to what he can do to save Whoville, the village on the speck of dust. He demonstrates organismic trusting by following through with what he feels is right, even though the other animals in the jungle doubted that the dust particle was a village and called Horton insane. His theory was that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” and by sticking to it, he saved whoville.”

For this particular question, I asked them specifically to think about Roger’s theory and that theory is really quite deep. On a recall based test, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have received the depth of answers or creativity demonstrated in these two answers. The fact that one of my students could apply this concept to a fiction based character (and an elephant to boot!) really displays creativity and the application of their knowledge. In all honesty, I was blown away by most answers to this question! The students really took the time to think about the theory and then apply it to someone (or something) from the media and that synthesis of information and creativity really solidified that this is a very valid assessment tool!

The other aspect of this test that I found to be interesting, was that the students actually enjoyed this task. Many of them thanked me for letting them look at the information rather than having to memorize; which leads me to consider the real world yet again. When do we ever have to completely memorize anything anymore? I mean, outside of education, where is the straight memorization of facts useful? In most careers, if you don’t know something, you are allowed to go research the answer and then apply your knowledge. Isn’t that what we should be teaching our students? My good friend Zoe always says that if you can look the answer up, you’re asking the wrong question…

Thoughts? Opinions? Ideas? Experiences? Further questions? I’m definitely open to exploring this idea further.

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10 thoughts on “Open Book Assessment

  1. I allowed my grade 8 students to use their texts and notes for tests when I taught history and geography, for many of the reasons you state. I found the quality and depth of the answers was far superior to what I got when I used traditional tests because the students didn’t get so hung up on trying to remember all the little facts. I’d throw in the occasional very quick quiz if I really wanted them to remember basic facts, but the application of knowledge is so much more important! And eventually, my students recognized that keeping their notes organized in a way that worked for them was actually helpful. I love the extension of using a wiki, as it also requires them to be able to skim for information, use the technology effectively, etc. That’s something I’ll definitely have to consider when I move back to the classroom!

    On a side note, I’d love to meet the student who used Horton on your test!

  2. Very interesting. I’d love to see how this can play out in other types of subject areas. Being a science teacher, I can predict the hesitation in my colleagues in doing this kind of thing. I wonder what an open book physics or biology test would look like. I agree that in ‘the real world’ we don’t actually memorize much, unless it’s by accident of repetition (passwords etc… ). We are always able to look things up and then apply that info to the problem at hand. I’m keen to see what else this can lead to. Very cool indeed.

    1. @baded: I’m a science teacher & I can definitely see the challenge in reformulating assessments in this manner. Some content is easier to assess this way than others (not that it’s impossible). It might be more difficult to create a quality assessment of students’ understanding of the concepts of atomic number, atomic mass, and the periodic table (for example) using this method than in other content areas.

      1. I know, that’s just the thing. We focus on the things that they can look up in there notes (atomic mass etc…). It would be interesting to see what a true application of that info would be in a typical grade 9 or 10 science class. What kids of thinking questions can we ask? I like Jamie’s examples of using the info and applying to a problem. I can think of a few ways of doing that, but it’s a mind shift for sure. Need to ponder that one further I think. Maybe come up with some examples. I know of only one science teacher in our area trying things like this. Think I need to talk to him too. 🙂

  3. When I saw the title of this post I was very interested in how things went for you. I tried an open-book assessment earlier this year & wasn’t really thrilled by it. However, your example gives me some good ideas how I could improve mine for next year.

    I gave students what were more or less traditional essay questions on my “open test” (as I called it). Since the questions didn’t require a reformulation of the ideas I ran into problems with copying & pasting and the rambling off of large amounts of unnecessary information. I’ve just added a note to the file for my test linking to this post so I remember to rephrase & refocus the test for next year.

    Two quick questions:
    1. Did you have students take the test in class, or was it a take-home activity?
    2. Is the wiki you use with your students open? I’d like to see it.

  4. Hi Ben,

    To answer your questions, I had them start the test at school, they could work on it at home if they wished, but I also gave them two full class periods to complete the test.

    My wiki is open and you’re more than welcome to visit 🙂 msjweir.pbworks.com

    Thanks for the comment and compliments 🙂

  5. I love the idea and I, myself, am not a great “test” taker. Although, since I have not looked at the wiki test itself, what kind of rubric did you use for grading?

    How did your stduents respond after the test? Did they like this type of assessment? or did they prefer the 1.0 version.

  6. What a great experience you are sharing with us! I love how your robust questioning techniques have allowed the students to enhance their critical thinking. There is no better way to make students think and apply their knowledge than a well-developed question. I find “question development” to be at the top of the list of conversations during recent PLCs. It’s a hard skill to teach and work on. I will definitely use your example to show how it can be done effectively.
    On another interesting note, my son just completed a science ISU and ended up doing very well on it (77/75) – he is proud, I’m still doing the math:) Then the day he handed it in, was told they were going to have an “open ISU” test. At first I thought, this is an interesting way to see if the kids really “got” what they were writing about. Then I thought about the poor child who did poorly on the ISU, and then got hit with a double-whammy with the test too. So, in my opinion, an assessment strategy that might be ok for some, but not for all. I need to think about THAT one a little more and see the questions on the test portion before I am convinced either way. If the questions are higher-level questions like Jamie developed, I’ll be happy. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. Thanks again for sharing your real-life assessment experiences!

  7. Congratulations on pulling it off, although I suspect that you knew it was going to be successful before you even started. I heard a quote once opining for telephones in the classroom saying that if the answer was on Google, it wasn’t a very good question. By allowing students access to the facts, you undoubtedly were able to challenge them with better questions invoking deeper thought and understanding. You know, the T and A in TACK.

  8. Asking students for fact-based answers is an invitation to plagiarism. Your test was an excellent example of asking students to apply knowledge and demonstrate critical thinking – which can’t be copied and pasted from the Internet. Or copied and pasted from each other, either. Thank you for this post!

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