November 5, 2009

Face The Facts


I read that Danish students are going to be allowed to use the Internet during examinations.

According to the BBC, 'Sanne Yde Schmidt, who heads the project at Greve, says: "If we're going to be a modern school and teach them things that are relevant for them in modern life, we have to teach them how to use the internet."'

I can't argue with the statement that young people need to know how to use the Net. Am I the only person who would point out, though, that young people generally manage to work that out for themselves?

But the argument is that this kind of examination tests the ability to research a subject and work out the answer to a question through the integration of information derived from various sources, rather than just the learning and regurgitation of facts.

And I certainly approve of children being taught those skills as early as possible. And I'm aware that there are now sophisticated computer programs that do a good job of spotting plagiarism, generally seen as one of the biggest risks of access to the Internet.

But I can't help wondering whether this is going a little too far. We do need to learn how to commit information to memory and how to use the information we've stored away to answer questions. This can be a simple regurgitation of facts, but the ability to do more than that should be what distinguishes the top grades from the average.

If I'm employing someone, I want that person to be able to think on his or her feet. Though there may not be total recall of every fact related to the matter at hand, that person should at the very least remember enough to have an idea of possible solutions rather than being able to do little more than stare blankly at me until they've had a chance to dive onto the computer.

We are, surely, in danger of creating a generation who are data-rich, but information- and understanding-poor.

This is an interesting concept...thank you Ro.

Currently the issue for us when assessing written work at tertiary level, is making sure that students do not just copy and paste their work off random internet articles... and yes, we can tell. The language and words let us know, let alone that much of it is rubbish. But we want them to read widely, journals, and textbooks and internet articles, then reflect on what they have found... and in the process, learn about it. This is what fosters deeper learning and helps them remember the information, and recall it when required!

When training a vet nurse, we are looking for the overall picture that demonstrates: knowledge, skills and attitude. All our students will fit somewhere on a spectrum of highly academic through to highly practical. We want to develop the skills they need to cope with both areas. At the same time, their attitude can be seen in how they deal with other classmates, workplaces and whether they are ethical, honest, and professional.. it can be reflected in their dress sense for work, their following of safety precautions, the development of their knowledge and skills and their application, and various feedback from the places they do "work experience" at...

We also talk about "dangerous and useless" - as in
Don't know how to do it = useless...
Don't understand why they do it = dangerous.

If we allowed the use of the internet in class, then it would make little difference to their success in assessment, as long as the assessment process takes it into account. An open book test allows students to refer to their notes and textbooks, but the questions need to encourage interpretation and application of their knowledge, not mere rote learning. Many closed book tests foster a cram and forget mentality...but they also let us check what sort of essential, must know, knowledge has got in there..and makes them at least read the notes again!

With the increasing use of wireless technology, being able to search for information on the spot has become normal... and I love it that I can check my facts and learn as I go. So I can handle students having the potential internet access.. just make sure the educators learn how to ask the right questions!

Posted via web from Fiona's posterous


  1. I guess this would be something similar to the open book test...while I'm sure my Vet does a good bit of book study when a particularly difficult case comes across his purview, I would hope not to be aware of his industrious study...but would rather the diagnosis came immediately to mind from his years of study and practice...practice making perfect...which is why my 95 year old father is still at the game of medicine...he says he still has not perfected it...hence the practice of medicine. So, I vote no on the use of internet for testing. They need to get the knowledge in their heads first, they can second guess themselves later.

  2. As long as it can be verified that the person has the knowledge inside of their head, for that time when they are without any other resources, it's fine. Otherwise, it's useless.

  3. While I didn't deny the possible value of "open-book" tests at some stage, for me primary and secondary education seems too early.

    I can certainly understand your point when you say that much of the knowledge that you'd want to test in your line of work is "why" rather than "how", and you do back that up with the quite correct comment about wireless technology makes quick access to information easier.

    For me, though, it's still important to demonstrate a grasp of the basic facts of a subject so that they can be recalled and worked with instantly, in any setting.

    Perhaps you're right that making sure the educators learn to ask the right questions is key. I'm far from convinced they know how to yet!


Comments welcome....always love to hear what you think!


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