Opening up #learning: Google in the exam room

Learning is changing, but are schools systems and testing methods keeping pace with these changes? Should they? In a recent BBC TV interview, the head of the examination and qualifications organisation OCR, Mark Dawe, argued that exams and other testing should change to accommodate the new ways of learning that are emerging. He suggested that we should now allow internet access into the exam room, because 'it reflected the way pupils learned and how they would work in the future.'  His ideas were immediately shot down by Chris McGovern ,representing the Campaign for Real Education, who remarked that this proposal was tantamount to dumbing down education. 'We have to test what children are carrying in their heads,' he said.

Dawe of course disagrees with this conclusion, preferring a more progressive approach to testing. He suggests that Google and Internet enabled devices in the exam room is inevitable. He argued that 'when we are asking a question and we know there is access to the Internet, we could ask a different question - it's about the interpretation, the discussion.' This is a fundamental challenge to the way examinations are conducted, and a positive nod in the direction of the new ways of technology enabled learning that some educators find entirely problematic.

What are your views on this debate? Do you think children should be able to access the Internet during their exams? Or should we be cautious and continue to maintain the status quo? If Internet access is made available during exams, will the questions need to change? If so, what will be the benefits and the challenges? The comments box below awaits your views.

Photo by Alejandro Caicedo on Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
Opening up learning: Google in the exam room by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Comments

Hana Tichá said…
This is a very interesting question, Steve. Given the fact that these days it’s so easy to look up any answer on the Internet, it’s obvious that we need to change the questions we ask our students (in case we want to allow access to the Internet during exams). In the past, it took us a lot of effort just to learn facts we were required to memorize. It was also time-consuming to find the information in books or encyclopedias. As it is much easier and faster now, we need to ask more challenging follow-up questions, i.e. questions that will encourage our students to work with the facts, judge credibility of sources, make connections, and finally create new knowledge. So here’s my ‘yes’ to access to the Internet during exams, provided the questions we want to ask will be designed in a way that they will test students’ ability to think critically and construct new knowledge. Needless to say, this approach also requires more effort and creativity on the teacher’s part. That’s probably why some still resist the change.
Steve Wheeler said…
Hana, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Your last statement is key - teachers will need to rethink and then exercise some creativity to create questions that tap into and assess the connective knowledge learners now possess. There's bound to be resistance to any change :)
Anonymous said…
I was disappointed by the Campaign For Real Education's spokesperson on Radio 4, who seems to equate successful learning with being able to recall facts. I take the view that a question which can be answered by recalling facts (and by extension, can be answered by looking up said facts online) *alone* belongs on a pub quiz, not an academic examination paper.

Exams and other forms of assessment should be assessing the higher order skills, how those facts are applied to solving a problem. Allowing internet access in the exam is just an extension of open book, and it would allow the examiner to set much more challenging questions which are a bit more authentic and are closer to a real world situation.

Knowing that a candidate can select information and apply it is a much more useful skill for employability than having a head full of facts which in the real world are a few key strokes away.
Steve Wheeler said…
Spot on sdbentley - higher order skills are most definitely what employers are looking for today. I often wonder why some teachers get hung up on facts and memory/recall when problem solving skills can overcome most knowledge issues. My view is that the exam system is lagging way behind what society needs - and is in need of an overhaul.
Monika Kern said…
If we agree that 21C skills (how ever we might define them - I use the 6 dimensions of the ITL research) are vital and that learning has to change to ensure our children are set up for success in their future, then assessment should not remain in the 19th century paradigm of 'recalling information'. In many education systems we see the tail = standardised assessment wagging the dog = learning. I spent two days this week with a group of innovative educator who are thinking about ways to embed 21C skills into their assesment system. We believe that doing this will enhance learning as well as improve assessment results, but ultimately I would love to see the dog wagging the tail it truly fits. Use of computers / Google in exams and changing the way we ask questions would be a component in this as would be ongoing assessment & portfolios.
Aaron Davis said…
Interesting post Steve. My initial thoughts are yes. If the questions are so bland that having Google magically allows students to solve everything then to me that represents a poor question, test or exam. However, on the flip side, my concern is that if you allow 'access' and internet goes down etc ... what are the implications? I remember being told of a group of students sitting a Year 12 Music exam a few years back and the cassette tape snapped midway through. Subsequently, the result was null and void giving them all exemptions. Of course, there is a simple solution, get rid of exams? Is there actually any evidence to support their use in regards to assessment?
Steve Wheeler said…
Certainly if I had my way Aaron, we would do away with exams (at least in their current format) and bring in continuous assessment as a fairer means. I leave it to others to present any strong evidence that exams actually contribute anything significant to learning.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for sharing this Monika - it would be really useful to hear more about how your team are embedding these ideas into educational practice. If you have a link to share, please do so!
David D'Souza said…
There is no reason people should be tested on their ability to do things without the tools normally available to them. If we are testing for capability then that capability actually should include the ability to use tools to solve a problem. In the same way the concept of a taxi driver needing the 'knowledge' is a nonsense if you can competently use a sat nav... Not allowing Google is a luddite position 'in a world where we abolished technology how would you answer this question?'. On the other hand I'd like to think tech will also allow us better methods of assessing capability than an exam.
Steve Wheeler said…
Excellent points David. At present the examination system is stuck in inertia. What will it take to advance it into the 21st Century?
David D'Souza said…
There will be a lag in adoption of tech as long as the individuals designing it remain anchored in the era they are educated, rather than committed to educating people for the era to come
sbs said…
Internet in high stakes exams? Oh, you mean like in Denmark who've been doing this for quite a while now. https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/the-danish-gambit-online-access-even-during-exams/416090.article

Requires an epistemological shift in what you want to assess. http://oro.open.ac.uk/39226

Simon

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