I recently finished a book called iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives by Craig Detweiler. He is a communications professor at Pepperdine in California. As such, he has a unique approach to testing which I think makes sense, especially in light of my previous post about Bit Literacy.
In my media and communication classes, I insist that students close their laptops and turn off their phones. I want to capture that elusive and essential commodity: attention. We can’t think, learn, or get in touch with our feelings unless we’ve focused our attention. The social contract is clear: be here now. I even try to teach in a manner that defies note taking. My class is a lived experience that cannot be replicated, captured, or reduced to any other medium…What happens among our community of learners at Pepperdine is designed to spark thought that will reverberate until the next class session. However, when it is time for midterms or final exams, I encourage students to bring their laptops to class. My tests are open book, open notes, open computers. They are even welcome to text message their friends. In real-world scenarios, the challenge is assimilation: sorting through too much information as quickly and wisely as possible. A timed test, surrounded by information, approximates the kind of decision making we face every single moment. With too many sources, where should we turn for advice? Which authorities do we trust, and when do we stop gathering information and start crafting it into something uniquely our own? My classroom illustrates a key tension for every person and every family: When should we immerse in and when should we withdraw from the information torrent (or is that “tyrant”)?
It sounds a bit like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. I bet my students would like their tests but hate the fact that they couldn’t use computers during class. However, if discernment and assimilation are the most important skills for future careers, it may be necessary to change how and why we test.
What do you think? Would you like an open format for exams and a closed format for the classroom experience?