Is putting away your devices in class old-fashioned?

I came across quite a dilemma at my first set of mid-terms at our newly formed School of Technology. Not only was it our first actual “test,” since we focus on project or problem based learning, but I also had to decide would the students actually be allowed to have their iPads out during an exam??? The thought at first seemed appalling, after having worked at a college previously where instructors would actually collect student devices as they entered the classroom. Also as a parent, I am well aware that students are not to have devices for any reason in school, unless they are classroom supplied devices (and there are exceptions, so there is hope in the future…). The biggest problem is that in our classroom we use iPads everyday, all day, without exception. So how could I ask students to put them completely away on test day? I couldn’t. So my next dilemma was, well what sort of test am I going to give them?

In class we talk a lot about personal learning networks and refer to the text by Will Richardson on the topic. He is also the author of, Why School?, where he says,

“Stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a Google Search.”

Well, there’s an idea. If it is not a simple Google Search that will answer it, then having the iPad, or any technology device available will not exactly give them the answer. He goes on to say that if you do have to ask questions like that on your test, then allow them to use the device to find the answer. Why? Because that is how real life works. Yes, it is important to know terms and vocabulary for your discipline, but in the real world, even a doctor can refer to the PDR to get up to date drug information, they aren’t expected to memorize every minute detail. The real education comes from learning how to use the reference source and why.

I took his advice and I tried to create some interesting, varied questions for the exams that not only gave the students the opportunity to use their device to look up what ever they wanted, but also directed them to a number of websites where they then had to read, examine and then answer questions related to that site. Because none of the questions were able to be answered by a quick Google search, they could in fact attempt to use the wisdom of the crowd to produce answers, but doing so would take too much time and would cause them to not be able to finish the exam. They had to be prepared and have an understanding of the terms, definitions, and topics we covered, but then had to come to their own conclusions in order to answer the test questions.

I will admit, it is certainly a lot easier to come up with a true/false or multiple choice test, but in the end it was worth the extra work in order to have it make sense in a classroom where technology is common place. I will definitely continue to change question and be more creative in my formulation of the questions but, it was absolutely a worth while process.

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