Monday, April 4, 2016

Alternatives To Traditional Final Exams Encourage Student Engagement, Learning

When students leave college classrooms at the end of the semester, what are they really taking away with them? Too often, courses culminate in a student turning in a traditional multiple-choice final exam, quietly muttering "Thank you" to the professor, and walking out of the lecture hall having learned little of substance that will stay with them for more than a couple months. The suggestion to exchange final exams for semester 'finales' may seem far-fetched, but the idea might have practical value.

The most common reason students walk out of a course without having learned meaningfully is that they never made course material relevant to themselves. Past research indicates that students experience greater levels of motivation to learn when their teachers make content personally relevant to the students. Personalizing knowledge by putting it into one's own context is all that it takes for students to understand more deeply, rather than just hearing information, memorizing it, and regurgitating it without having ever really thought about it.

There are plenty of examples as to what a semester "finale" might look like. In general, they all focus on giving students an ultimate experience they can use to make course material personal and practical for them- something they can take with them into their future. The idea is to get students thinking,especially on the last day, so they can leave the course still mulling over what they've learned and how it can continue to apply to their intellectual life. Presenting students with just one particularly novel, perplexing question, for example, and asking them to solve it within a confined time is one way to change the final assessment paradigm. Perhaps instead of a final exam, the last day of the course could be a rubric-outlined debate or a collaborative assignment.

The point is, there is a serious lack of genuineness and creativity in the way most professors assess their students at the end of their courses. Final exams as they stand now often make the end of the semester feel more like a chore than a crescendo of an academic experience. By adding a little novelty, a little intrigue, and a little excitement, professors can create an end of the semester assessment that students will be talking about, and thinking about, long after the course is finished.

How do you add creativity and engagement in your final exams?

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