Exam time

Interesting experience of the day: I had an exam this morning. I’ve been taking various courses from Coursera and Edx over the past year or so, which have had differing means of assessment, but this is the first real exam I’ve had to do for a long time.

It was a very useful reminder of what exams feel like. We always tell our students that what you learn is what matters, not exams and grades–and we’re right–but it doesn’t feel that way on the other end. The nerves beforehand, and the feeling like an idiot because you don’t know the answer to a question, sent me right back to my experiences at school. One big improvement on life circa 1993 was that this was marked in real-time: I could open another browser tab with the results page and watch my percentage gradually creep up as I squeezed out a few more answers. 🙂

Assessment for MOOCs is a tricky topic: a large part of the forums for many courses consists of people complaining that the tests are too easy, or that the peers who assess their work are idiots. Programming courses like this one (6.00x on Edx) have it relatively easy, as problems can be set so as to allow relatively complex work to be graded automatically.

In this case, the exam had to be taken within a window of a few days, and one had up to 12 hours to complete it. This had the advantages of keeping time stress to a minimum, while ensuring that all the course participants stay at roughly the same stage. Another likely reason for the shortish window is that the course forums were shut down over the test period to discourage “accidental” sharing of answers. Solutions to the questions can be easily found on the web, but I suppose it puts temptation slightly further away.

TEFL teachers do not generally excel at language-learning: we tend to arrive in a new country, attend the first few classes of a course in the local lingo, then retire defeated (or apathetic) to an expat bubble. Meanwhile, we conveniently insist that our language is the only one allowed in the classroom–for the students’ own good, or course. We forget how difficult it can be for the other 96% of people in the classroom, and the stresses of being publicly assessed every week. When I’m DOS of my fantasy school, language classes with real exams will be compulsory for all my lucky staff.

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