Saturday, June 4, 2011

Using the computer for essay tests

Since I teach blended classes, some work is online, some face-to-face, and some in the computer lab.  This year, I experimented with having my final exam in the lab.  The multiple choice vocabulary went onto the scantron with the keyboards up on the CPUs (and yes I know you can give tests in Moodle, but I find setting up the quiz function excruciating, so don’t use it). 
hands on keyboardphoto © 2007 Mike Traboe | more info (via: Wylio)

The part of the test I wanted the computers for was the essay – I wanted them to type it.  Here’s what I saw:

Students were on task, focused.  They edited and even spell-checked their essays (something students sometimes seem to skip on written homework).  Some even printed out and revised their essays.  A few students chose to hand-write their essays, and that was OK, too.

Students are used to keyboarding their writing, which lets them focus on the writing, and not on keeping their writing neat.  Most can key rapidly, so their writing keeps up with their thinking.  And cut-and-paste revision is so much easier on a computer.

One result:  since they got to use a tool they usually use for writing, their writing was significantly better than I usually get on exams. It was organized, cohesive, thoughtful, and mostly spelled correctly.

Another huge benefit for me:  it was all legible.

Two things that worked particularly well:  1) assigned seating (to separate buddies, to isolate kids who need quiet, and to isolate kids who are noisy;  2) giving students the choice of typing or hand-writing, so they could use their preferred writing mode.

I will do this again.

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