Designing the Traditional Pen and Paper Final, with a Collaborative Twist

It's finals season and I am torn.

On the one hand, I really believe in Finals. While I am all for alternative assessments, project based learning, performance based assessments etc, I think there still is a place for the traditional summative assessment. In my assessment design, I am heavily influenced by the book Classroom Assessment: Principles and Practice for Effective Instruction (which I was introduced to in Azrieli Graduate School by Dr. Scott Goldberg) which describes many areas of assessment including knowledge, simple understanding, deep understanding, and skills. I find that my traditional exams are an excellent method to test for the first three of these, knowledge, simple understanding, and deep understanding, while skills can sometimes be tested in a pen and paper exam but often is better evaluated through performance based assessments. I also find pen and paper exams to be a valid and reliable measure of student achievement as long as they follow a consistent and predictable design.

So why am I torn? Because while I value tests, I also value student input and would love to find a way to give students greater input in creating their own exams. In a recent exam, I experimented with harnessing two simple educational technology tools, the Learning Management System and Google Docs to do exactly that by giving a pre-assessment assignment in which the class collaboratively created their review sheet for the test.

Here is the assignment that I posted online on our homework pages.

In creating their review assignments, the students did an excellent job discovering the important ideas and details from the units studied. Many of their review items ultimately made it onto the test. There are a number of reasons that I believe this was a beneficial assignment.

  1. Students were given a choice. They could choose to write essay questions, create flash cards and explanations of key phrases, or create a video review. This allowed students to choose a review method that best fit their learning style.
  2. All students saw ALL the review items since they were all posted for the entire class on our Edmodo LMS. Students could post links, type their answers on Edmodo, or even write by hand and post a picture of their work. Through our LMS, students collaboratively created their own personalized review sheet.
  3. Students were required to do this assignment which counted for 10 points on the exam. This guaranteed that every student put in their best effort.
  4. Finally, while I created a much more limited review sheet than usual only listing the units studied and some people and places, through the class review assignment, this review sheet was converted into a shared Google doc where various review items from the Edmodo LMS were posted onto this one document. The review sheet truly became a class created item. Students also posted their own explanations of each of the people and places that I had included on the sheet and even took pictures of the board where students took notes during our review sessions.
You can view the Google Doc review sheet below. Note, as I stated above, that besides the major units listed in Hebrew and the people and places in Hebrew EVERY other item on the review sheet was student created. This then became the basis for the entire test that was given. I feel that this was an ideal way for me to combine the traditional aspects of pen and paper assessments with a more collaborative and student-centered test design process. 

One other big advantage of this process was that the night before the exam, everyone was literally on the same page. Students were all reviewing from the same Google doc and many of them messaged me questions when they saw that I was on the doc as well. 

One recommendation though when using this method. DO NOT copy items directly from this Google doc. Students will be able to follow your highlighted cursor and see which items you are copying for the test, even if you are creating the test on a separate private document. I learned that the hard way ;)