Reconciling Blogs and Standardized Exams

Students making use of hypertext systems participate actively in two related ways, acting as reader-authors both by choosing individual paths through linked primary and secondary texts and by adding texts and links to the docuverse (George P. Landow, Hypertext 2.0).

The end of the school year is approaching. This means that my students, after a lengthy period of blogging, will have to write a final exam that, to say the least, is rather standardized: essays, short answer questions, etc.

This realization has prompted me to try to revise the exam and, for the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed doing it. When I first looked at the exam I used last year, I realized that it wouldn't be very effective in helping me collect any evidence of learning. First of all, I already have that evidence. After months of blogging not only as individual students but also (perhaps primarily) as a community of learners, my students have already shown to me how much they have learned about course content (which they have co-generated with me and each other) and how much they have improved as writers and independent thinkers. So, I asked myself, Do I even need this final exam? What is it going to show other than what I have already gleaned from participating in the class blogosphere?

The final exam cannot take place online. Instead, there will be rows, examination booklets, and sharpened pencils. One of the challenges I was facing as I sat down to revise the exam was the question of how to reconcile the demands of a final exam and the characteristics of a blogging community, a virtual place that my students transformed into an online repository of texts and ideas. They have located, commented on, and discussed various texts (articles, interviews, essays, etc.) that have enriched the community and their undestanding of the novel that I have brought into the course. In fact, that one novel is the only text that I have contributed to the course. The students responded by finding and writing about (engaging with) approximaltely 50 other texts that both relate to the novel and also expand their understanding of its key themes and characters.

I did not want to reduce all of that knowledge construction to a series of short answer questions. How, then, do I test them on knowledge that they themselves have found, commented on, and engaged with as a community of reader-authors? How do I translate the rich hypertextuality of this community into a linear world of a final exam? How do I give them an opportunity to bring this live environment of the blogging community into the examination room?

I haven't worked out all the details yet but I know that the exam will give them an opportunity to share some of the insights that they have gained into the topics we've studied. There will be many open-ended prompts. They will write about the texts they have been introduced to by their classmates and the effect that these texts have had on them and their understading of the material. In order to prepare, they will immerse themselves in the world that they themselves have created and think about how the individual contributions of their classmates have helped them grasp and engage with the studied material.

I'm tempted to ask: What have you taught each other?

[I should add that I am very fortunate to be able to completely redesign the final exam. I know from experience that not many teachers have that luxury.]