I like this assessment experiment from UCLA. A professor used an exam to demonstrate the theories his students had been studying: cooperation, reciprocity, social organization.
I told my class that the Game Theory exam would be insanely hard—far harder than any that had established my rep as a hard prof. But as recompense, for this one time only, students could cheat. They could bring and use anything or anyone they liked, including animal behavior experts. (Richard Dawkins in town? Bring him!) They could surf the Web. They could talk to each other or call friends who’d taken the course before.
Students responded well:
One student immediately ran to the chalkboard, and she began to organize the outputs for each question section. The class divided tasks. They debated. They worked on hypotheses. Weak ones were rejected, promising ones were developed. Supportive evidence was added. A schedule was established for writing the consensus answers.
My immediate thought was: it’s all in the framing! I suspect if he’d announced ‘your assessment will be a loosely defined, oddly unstructured group project’, his students would have (rightly) cavilled. Instead, he said ‘It’s an exam – but you can talk to your friends and look things up!’ And the students liked the idea, and it created a splendid outcome.
I then (selfishly) wondered what I could learn/borrow/steal for my own teaching.
Students learn through the process of assessment. As the professor said: ‘I got them to spend a week thinking like behavioral ecologists. As a group they learned Game Theory better than any of my previous classes. ‘ But how does he then test *that* learning? Ideally, it would feed back into another assessment. This is another reason why formative assessment’s incredibly useful – the skills and subject content required by an intensely focused task can be learned in advance of the final trial. How can I persuade my students to make the most of the formative assessment, and take it as seriously as possible?
Can I encourage students to support one another more? Criterion-referenced assessment already means that students have little to lose by (for example) sharing a resource they’ve found with a friend, but it rarely happens. Do they understand that even if their friend’s work gets better as a result, their own grade won’t go down? Maybe I need to talk with my students about marking – and about legitimate co-working, so they’re not scared of accidentally plagiarizing.
Can I teach my disciplinary content through the students themselves? Is it fair, for example, to use students themselves to demonstrate philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology? In some disciplines, it’s common for students’ experiences, and the way they behave towards one another, to be under scrutiny; in others, it’s pretty much unheard of. My usual stomping ground is English Literature, and I’ll be looking out for opportunities to (tactfully, ethically) explore how my students embody bits of the discipline they’re studying.