As our planet’s information revolution continues to sweep over us, we are coming to understand that what is most critical for success is not what you know, but what problems you can solve with the information you can gather, evaluate and apply.
In previous times, information was limited in volume and hard to access, but times have changed dramatically. Content memorization must no longer be a primary goal of our learning programs, especially in secondary and post-secondary education. Instead, our goal must be that students can effectively access and evaluate the voluminous quantity of information which will forever be at their fingertips, and use it well.
Our students are preparing to work in professional environments where they must tackle and resolve complex problems. They will have laptops or other mobile, Web-connected, digital tools to address those problems. Let’s assess their understanding in situations parallel to those for which we are preparing them.
If this is the case, why shouldn’t tests evaluate our students’ ability to do exactly this? Why not structure tests appropriately, and invite and welcome – and require – students to use their computers on their tests? Won’t this be real-world, and real-life, preparation?
At our school, St. Gregory College Prep, we are pleased to be pioneering what is becoming known as “open computer testing” or “open network testing,” and proud to be receiving increasing national and international recognition for our efforts. We believe this assessment approach is valuable in promoting deeper learning, information literacy, and analytic and organizational skill development over memorization and regurgitation.
To be sure, the thinking of teachers must shift significantly when creating tests like these. In our chemistry class, Scott Morris must design questions that require students to discern what information they require, gather that information, evaluate it and then apply it to solve what are now much more rich and complex problems. This is assessment for genuine understanding, not assessment of recall and regurgitation, and, we believe, more likely to be assessment of lasting understanding and future applicability than typical memorization-based testing.
Students recognize the value of this alternative testing. “I liked this test because it allowed me to show what I know,” one St. Gregory student reported. “This approach also forced me to think about the test long before the morning of.”
But students do not find this testing approach less rigorous. “This test does not have multiple choice or terms that we had to define. This is more about testing your ability to find resources that you need and write a quality essay under pressure.”
As Will Richardson, an author of several recent books about learning in the internet age, wrote about the open network testing we are doing at St. Gregory, “think of all of the new ways we would be able to prepare kids to answer the questions that they will be asked in their real lives if we gave them a handful of ‘Open Network’ tests before they graduated. I mean, why wouldn’t we be doing this?”
Jonathan Martin is the head of St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson. He and St. Gregory science department chair Scott Morris presented on Open Computer Testing at the National Association of Independent Schools Annual conference this week in Seattle. More information and sample open computer tests are available at 21k12blog.net/oct