Biology online/open-book exams, Part 2: time for reflection & discussion

In a previous post, I shared some tips on making online open-book tests. Those were mostly practical points, pulled together quickly after COVID-19 abruptly pushed us online. Originally, I anticipated writing a second post going more in depth about some of the challenges, practical and ethical, of online testing in large courses, particularly survey courses in biology (and other disciplines) that tend to be content-heavy. (It’s drafted, and a VERY LONG READ …) Instead, I’ll just mention my concerns at the broadest level … and why I’ll likely revisit the details later.

As with all the educators I know, I have a number of goals and values guiding my teaching and assessment choices. I want to be as fair and transparent as possible about what students need to know (and be able to do) for graded work. I try to align my learning objectives (LOs) with my teaching approaches, what I ask students to do in their learning, and how they will be evaluated. I want assignments to contribute to student learning, be as authentic as possible, and help both students and me identify areas of confusion and where further clarification/practise would be helpful. I believe that academic integrity should underlie scholarly and academic activities. I also believe that it’s part of my role to help students understand the nature of academic integrity, and help them develop the associated skills and habits.  Respect for students (including their diversity, privacy, and dignity) and the partnership between the instructor and student are vital for meaningful and successful earning.

These goals and values are not unique – I am sure they are shared/overlap with most of us involved in teaching. I mention them here because there is a very good possibility (though not yet determined) that the Fall 2020 term at my institution will be completely online for undergraduate courses.  Right now, I have the concern that online testing in my larger courses will make it very difficult to adhere to my goals and values as an educator.

Rather than going into more detail on this here as I’d originally planned, I have decided to take a step back. I need to do some more reflection, collaboration, and consultation. The oCUBE UnConference (May 19-21) will be virtual this year, and we’ll likely be discussing various aspects of our courses going online – I’m particularly looking forward to hearing the various perspectives and experiences of other oCUBErs regarding online testing. At some point, I may come back to sharing some of the original points I was intending to write about, but I’m hoping I can do so with more potential solutions/options.

If online testing in large courses is something you’re also grappling with, (or have solved!?!) and are interested in discussing further, please let me know!

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