Patrick Diemer commented on my previous posting, All you can cheat, the web & learning by saying:

Do you have any words of wisdom or resources on how to create appropriate questions? This sounds great, but easier said than done in my humble opinion.

I started writing a response to his comment, but as I wrote on, I realized that it was better as a post in its own right. So here it is…
Patrick, I agree that this is not easy, at least not as easy as pulling out a set of multiple choice questions. However, it is not all that hard either. What we need to do as educators is look for open-ended questions, questions that test for understanding require reflection on the part of the learner. For instance in the courses I teach here at MSU (undergrad and grad level) we strive hard to develop assessments that students of this nature. There are many examples I can give but here’s one.

In a fully-online undergrad course on educational psychology we ask students to view a series of video clips taken from popular movies and documentaries that deal with different aspects of learning. This happens at the very beginning of the semester (sometime in the first week or two). Students are then asked to write their response to these clips speaking to “what they see” that is of educational relevance.

Students then go through the semester and then at the end of the semester are asked to do this again. This time the comments they made the first time around are hidden from them. Then we reveal what they had written the first time around. They are then asked to go back and read what they had written the first time around (as well as what other students had written). Finally, they write a response discussing what has changed in “what they see” – providing examples from their own writing and those of their classmates.

This task – spread out as it is over a semester – does a bunch of things. First, it allows us to see how much students have learned. If there is no significant difference between what they wrote the first time and the second, it is clear that not much learning has happened. Second, and more important, this is not something we need to tell them. They can see it for themselves, particularly when they compare it to what their classmates have written.

Now we could give them an end of semester exam that asks them all kinds of questions about different theories of learning and development – but don’t you think this is much better?

As for using (or not using) the Internet… it is not an issue at all. There is nothing they can do to cheat to find the right answer. They can use the Internet (and we recommend that they do) to reference and justify what they write but that is neither here nor there. If they don’t “see” the clips through ed-psych eyes, they won’t know what to search for in the first place.

An important question here is whether this assignment will  fit for each and every course we teach? No way. But that is what makes this interesting to me as an educator. These assessments have to emerge from the instructors deep understanding of course content and course goals. We need to keep asking ourselves what do we want our students to take away from this class – and try develop assessments to match. In this class, our goal is the help students develop an ed-psych way of thinking and looking at the world and this assignment does that, I think. As we have written in our TPACK related work, there is no general solution to the problems of teaching. Solutions are local, unique and depend on finding the “sweet spot” (so to speak) that connects content, technology and pedagogy. This solution works best in an online course, it would have to be modified somewhat in a face to face version (particularly the part where students can read all of the other students’ responses). Can it be done? Sure. Will it be the same? Not really. This is where teacher creativity and innovation comes in.

I must add that this is not the only assignment in this class. There is a book review, an interview of an educator and a bunch of others. So all of these work together to help us (and them) develop a better understanding of all the ideas we cover in the class.

Image: Wikimedia