Online testing functional but could be improved by implementing more project-based learning

May 26, 2020 — by Preston Fu and Viraaj Reddi

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis that has forced schools to be held online, teachers are scrambling to find alternative assessment methods. This is largely because most online tests can’t be properly supervised and are subject to cheating. 

Though online schools such as Stanford Online High School and UC Scout often have video conferences where a supervisor makes sure a student is focused on their test, this method is logistically impractical at larger schools. Recognizing this, most SHS teachers have gravitated to solely having open-book and free-response tests.

Even better than these methods are projects, like slideshows and write-ups, that allow teachers to assess how much a student knows. In general, projects have the advantage of revealing the depth of students’ knowledge, and they are harder to cheat on.

Free-response questions and take-home tests simply aren’t enough to cover the huge hole left from the lockdown. Beyond the repetitive and tiresome nature of these tests, their quality can vary tremendously depending on the class. 

In English classes’ unit tests, where much is subject to interpretation, take-home exams can be very effective if grading is based on the quality of student thinking. However, in rote memorization or wording-based courses like Statistics and AP Biology, it is easy for students to find everything they need in their textbook or online. In these cases, there is no point in administering such exams.

Since most teachers are already familiar with and have planned out several project assignments throughout the year, they could reuse the basic framework of those while using current content to make a more effective alternative to take-home exams. Creating completely new projects or curricula from scratch is extremely difficult, but since teachers across the country are all undergoing the same issues, they could work together by categorizing their projects and moving them to public Google Drive folders for communal use.  

Even math teachers, who typically assign few projects, could compile projects involving real-world applications like estimating digits of pi with Taylor Series in Calculus or designing water towers to meet certain regulations in Geometry.

One good thing from this crisis is that more teachers will be forced to move outside the comfortable box of testing. 

Traditionally, much of the high school curriculum has been dedicated to memorizing formulas and recalling events, unlike the more analytic activities done in college and real life. When faced with this type of curriculum, students commonly cram and proceed to forget all they learn after the AP exams. 

Replacing tests with projects would certainly be a start to give them a more memorable and relevant method of learning. In fact, the basic material and concepts from many AP courses like Computer Science and Calculus must be applied in upper division college courses, so it is better to develop a firm understanding of how things work early on.

With more of a free rein than usual in terms of their curriculum, teachers could use this period to try methods of education that may have intrigued them in the past. The long-term result might be a more engaging, relevant curriculum in the post COVID-19 era.

 

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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