Turning Education Swords Into Plowshares

A decade ago the Connecticut Community College System implemented a certification process for instructors who were teaching online courses. Although I had already spent the past decade teaching courses on-ground and online I thought it would be helpful to take the certification course. I recently re-read a reflection paper I wrote then.

I think one of the most significant things I’ve figured out is the real purpose of exams and how to build effective ones. I had the epiphany several semesters ago that I had always viewed [in retrospect mis-viewed] assessments as measuring devices rather than learning devices. I don’t blame myself too much – it’s hard not to hold that notion when we categorize exams as “assessment” and the Oxford English Dictionary defines assessment as “The process or means of evaluating academic work; an examination or test.”

I now build my exams to provide students with a learning experience.  My exams offer students the opportunity to take what they remember and understand and apply, analyze, evaluate and create with it.  I remember Peter Senge saying that one of the main problems with education in this country was that it wasn’t about learning, rather it was about “being right.”  That profoundly influenced me, and I work hard to help students learn that in most things in life there is a set of feasible solutions to any problem, that we need to determine which one(s) is/are advisable, that it is extremely important to make defensible proposals, not “right” ones.  For several semesters my networking class exams have been open book, open notes, open Internet.  The response has been very positive [after one mid-term a solid student told me, “I don’t think I did very well, and it was really difficult, but I really enjoyed it.  I liked this exam more than any other I’ve taken because I learned from it.”], so I intend to continue this practice.

As we engage our hearts and minds exploring what gives our lives meaning  it is important that some of that time should focus on those things that have proved useful, helpful, that, in those old words of wisdom, we should, “prove all things, hold fast that which is good.”