As we determine Remote Assessments, one important option to consider is using open-book exams. This format reduces exam stresses on students and allows instructors to worry less about policing the exam process. This approach is common in many disciplines, utilizing more conceptual or applied questions that students cannot quickly lookup in a textbook.
For many faculty, the shift came when they realized that they have to look up information, formulas, and details in their work. But they also remember the broader concepts, remember enough points to go look up the specifics and synthesize or apply them in my given situation. (Who didn’t do that by the time you got to your dissertation or thesis?)
That’s the reality many of our students will face in the future, so how can we structure our assessments to measure their ability to do that synthesis and application, rather than test on discrete pieces of information they will forget a month from now anyway? If your discipline does require significant amounts of factual recall, open-book exams may not be for you. Still, they are an excellent option for many of us with learning outcomes that focus on higher-order thinking.
Ask higher-order thinking questions (Bloom's Taxonomy)
- Describe the next step in this process
- Define X within context Y
- Explain this situation through the lens of theory Z
- What would have happened if…? (could be historical situations, chemical reactions, public policy analyses, and more)
- Identify the error in a proof or computation. Or better, explain and fix it.
Multiple-choice questionsYou can write multiple-choice questions that require more conceptual knowledge, moving students from the recall of information to applications of it. Provide a mini case study and ask students questions related to it.
- “Based on the case study, which of the following is the most likely cause of the patient’s pain?” or
- “Based on the client’s needs above, which of the following is the preferred course of action?”
- “What would happen to the reaction if we added compound X?” or
- “Given the provided diagram of the collision, in which direction will the projectile head?”
- Even better if you can include an open-ended opportunity for them to explain their reasoning.
- “Which is an example of a norm-referenced interpretation?” or
- “Which of the following best exemplifies the principle of synchronicity?”
STEM Essentials for open-book exams
STEM and other quantitative courses face a particular challenge in creating practical online exams because it appears to be easier to cheat, and so many questions are computational. Joe Guadagni, Rutgers University, has compiled this advice from the Mathematics department:
- Ask more conceptual questions (e.g., “what is the next step in this problem?”, “state the definition of…”, “explain why this hypothesis in the theorem is necessary”).
- Ask students to identify an error in a proof or computation (this is particularly effective since students will be unable to Google it).
- Eliminate multiple-choice and fill-in questions in favor of show-all-work questions where students have to scan and upload their work.
- If using a textbook’s problems, change not only the numbers but also the names (e.g., Chris to José), and the scenario (e.g., pulling a boat into letting a kite string out). This one-step helps because popular textbooks will probably have many of their problems already solved online somewhere (e.g., Chegg).
- Use letters and variables in place of specific numbers.
- When randomizing the exam, don’t just randomize numbers. Also, randomize discrete parts of the problem. For instance, one version might have a question like “maximize the volume of the box given its surface area,” whereas another version might have “minimize the surface area of a box given its volume.” (The numbers can even be the same for the two versions.)
- Avoid questions that consist of only simple computations. For example, instead of “calculate this integral,” present students with some application in which they also have to set up a proper integral.
- “Write an integral expression that is equal to the probability that…” or “Write a triple integral which is equal to the mass of the region” are good alternatives.
- Some online calculators will solve not only many computational problems but also give step-by-step solutions. Adding more words and applications to a problem makes it more difficult to cheat and tests the real learning goal: do students know how to apply basic principles? (Ultimately, anyone can use a calculator, but only if you know what you want to calculate.)
Tips for open-book exams
- Instead of multiple-choice or fill-in questions, have students show their work by scanning/uploading it to the exam/assessment.
- Create a video submission assignment. You can use the Studio in Canvas tool to provide a demonstration for students to address or record their answers, which could be their demonstration.
- If you use a textbook publisher’s problems, be sure to change names, numbers, and the scenario, since popular textbooks may have many of their assessments already solved online.
- Instead of asking students to do a simple calculation, ask them a more complex problem that forces them to figure out what they need to calculate, maybe sorting through other information that isn’t necessary or relevant. Present them a question and require them to figure out how to calculate the solution. That way, you make them choose decisions surrounding the calculation, not just doing the computation (or finding an online calculator to do it for them).
- Use multilevel thinking, using questions that include phrases like “most appropriate” or “most important.” This approach forces students to make judgments and demonstrate a fuller understanding of concepts and the subtleties between different answers’ correctness levels.
- Work to find the right amount of time to give students complete the exam–enough time to complete it with minimal stress, but not so much that they will obsess over their answers. Since students’ schedules may be disrupted during this crisis, provide the flexibility of when they can take the exam.