21st Century Exams?

Today during my senior Physical Education class my students completed a test under exam conditions. The test was on the topic of ‘Biomechanics’ and to the naked eye it looked very much like one of the traditional tests I sat while I was at school. However look a little deeper and this exam was a little different; Here’s why…

  1.  In the days preceding the test, I scheduled SMS messages to be delivered to the students phones that contained questions requiring them to employ a series of higher order thinking skills, such as evaluation and synthesis. It was clear that the ability to reflect on the learning process of a period of days was a real advantage to the questions the final product.
  2. The next difference was that some of the questions required the students to seek outside help. In the example below students had to SMS a friend who would then choose a random sport and send this back. The students then used this sport as the basis for their responses.  In my opinion this question is more aligned with the real world, in that the students had to be able to apply their knowledge and understanding into a situation that was determined by a friend as opposed to a concrete question on a piece of paper.


       3.    The final difference was in that I encouraged the students to bring in their Mp3 players that had been pre-recorded with a series of student created podcasts of all the lower order elements of blooms taxonomy such as definitions and discussions. They then used these throughout the test as prompts to assist them in responding to the higher order questions. 

Overall a very successful approach that has certainly proved to me that the powers of reflection & collaboration in the learning process can have a  dramatic effect on the quality of the work presented. Well done students.

5 thoughts on “21st Century Exams?”

  1. Great Comment thanks heaps for taking the time to ask a question such as this. Here is my response.

    My students are lucky in that they all have 1c text with Telstra Pre-Paid. This alone allows me a massive amount of freedom in setting tasks that utilise SMS. However with all good things they need to be used occasionally as I think using this all the time will quickly grow old. With this in mind the 1c text doesnt seem to be a problem with my students and they are from a very low socioeconomic community.

    Pedagogically speaking I agree with you their needs to be a genuine reason for this to be used as an improvement so it can be justified by teachers and approved by the ‘bosses’. I think SMS does this. It allows students to think more succinctly about a given topic in order to fit it into a single text message i.e. ”How can you summarise todays session in 160 characters’. The other benefits is in the ability to connect with the world in an instant, thats the real reason I use it in my classes. Sure email and MSN offer this but its SMS that is completely infiltrated our students lives. Portability is also a major benefit here as well.

    Now I wonder if there is a reason we couldn’t remove textbooks from the booklist and replace it with credit for mobile phones? In my opinion this could be a more worthwile approach. Here’s why

    Students already have mobiles, so in this regard there would be no cost outlay. For those who didnt Im sure they would rather purchase a $100 phone then a $100 textbook.
    The money saved on textbooks could be used for credit, in the case of my students this is a much cheaper alternative and with the natural reduction in sms costs this is only going to get cheaper.
    As phones with internet capabilities become standard students will be able to research anything that was previously contained in those textbooks direct from the phones. Mobile data is quite expensive at present but this is bound to change in the near future.
    Now given the fact most of our kids already these devices in my opinion they would be ahead.

    Anway I could go on all day here as to why mobile phones are the tool that will change education. Yeh big statement I know….but this is no ordinary device and they open up a new door in terms of pedagogy in our classes.

  2. I think you will find that this is what they have. So many providers offer services similar to this if not even better. My students aready had this and this is probably because they dont have much choice but to be with telstra in Boort as its all we receive. Word soon spreads around with the students about what is good value and as this is their communication method of choice its not suprising that they have cheap options for sending sms.

    Before introducing anything to do with mobiles in my classes I setup a survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com that asked questions ranging from access to service providers and text message rates. I also picked my year levels starting with the senior years and after a year of use I will be rolling it into year 10 next semester, which they cannot wait for.

    Hope this helps


  3. Hey Jarrod – great to see you are pushing the boundaries and continuing to explore ways to engage students and make learning more meaningful. I particularly like students being able to bring in their mp3’s with their own podcasts etc and I can see that this would help motivate students to produce meaningful work in class time. I like the focus on applying knowledge and higher order thinking skills. Great stuff all round here.
    I must say the sms in the classroom is something I have pondered for a while but have not taken the step with for a number of reasons and thought you may be able to ‘open my mind’ a little. My issues are outlined below.
    1. Equity – requiring students to use sms in class and to complete assignments has a financial cost and some students may find this to be quite an imposition over time. I am not sure how often it is used but if used a few times a week and if was adopted in a number of classes, I could see students resisting this once the cost reached a threshold that imposed on their ability to use sms to communicate with friends etc. Have you had any experience of this resistance? Do you see this as an issue?
    I see the value of using ‘tools’ to engage students in an activity and sms clearly has potential to engage students. From a pedagogical perspective it seems that there are many other ways to get a similar result and other ‘free’ tools essentially can do the same thing. Eg: email, msn. I can see that sms has the potential to be a lot quicker in getting a reply but beyond this I see the cost barrier as something that is holding me back from using this with my classes. I guess my question here is – Do you think that sms adds anything to the learning process that cannot be achieved with other tools?
    You are obviously having a lot of success with using the sms and I must say I think mobile phones have great potential in the classroom and this will only increase as they become more powerful and advanced in the future. These are just things that have held me back from adopting sms into my own practice but I don’t claim to be an expert here and look forward to hearing your point of view.
    Keep up the great work

  4. Hi Jarrod,

    Telstra 1c sms certainly changes the equation. Did you organise this with them all to have this, or is this just what they have. I know I have free texts to my own carrier also so this would be handy too.

    I do see the fast response time as being a real clincher and other mediums are generally not as speedy in their response time and they do allow a real connection with the ‘real world’.

    I am not a fan of the textbook either and would prefer have students create their own textbooks via wikis and creating their own knowledge through more student centred activities. Current educational models and systems will ensure the textbook is around for a while longer though in NSW with the big bang HSC exams making them a critical component in the vast majority of teacher’s classrooms.

    I also agree that mobile devices have the potential to really shake up education and it is great that you are leading the way and exploring their use. I think once data costs decrease, speed increases and viewing and navigating improves they will be the way to go. For the moment I think I would choose the laptop due to functionality but I wonder how much longer I will be of this opinion!!


  5. Nice work Jarrod. I think I’ll try something along those lines with an upcoming test. Following my own experiments with using sms in class Im really keen to explore where this kind of practice can lead. Im sure we’ll continue to swap notes on this. Keep up the great work.

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