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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fall 2007 Post Mortem - the Closed Book Problem

Another quarter done at Drexel and it is time for a brief post-mortem analysis of my teaching this term.

I taught CHEM 241, introductory organic chemistry.

In order to standardize testing conditions with other instructors of the course, my tests were run under closed book rules. Many years ago I opted for an open book policy after comparing performance under open and closed conditions. There was no significant difference, which I would expect for subject matter that has more to do with understanding rather than memorization. Open book tests are much easier to monitor and I was able to run a walk-in testing policy lasting several days using only video surveillance.

Moving to closed book conditions required a proctor. This would not be a big problem for a small class. But my class had 175 students and our computer rooms only have about 25 machines and are usually in demand. Based on previous student behavior with a walk-in policy in effect, not more than half the class typically showed up before the last day. So I booked a room with more time (at least 6 hours) on the last day and shorter sessions on previous days.

This worked fine for the 90 minute tests but we ran into a crunch on the last day of the final exam with a 3 hour duration. Luckily, I had an extremely competent and flexible proctor who handled the situation by finding additional rooms and extending the time. In fact the proctor was there for a total of 13 hours on the last day.

In terms of security, I made use of the "proctor password" tool in Blackboard/WebCT and changed it at least once per day. Although there is some IP filtering possible with BB/WebCT, the restriction is not specific enough to isolate specific classrooms.

Next term, we can solve a lot of these problems by allocating specific students to designated classrooms and using a printed class list where the students will show ID to the proctor and check off their name immediately before taking the test.

Unfortunately, this removes the convenience of multi-day walk-in testing, which many students appreciated.

There are probably many instructors out there with large online classes and I would like to get some feedback on how they handle testing under closed book conditions.

From what I gather most online programs rely on the honor system.

The other major news this term is that one of my students executed his extra credit assignment building molecules in Second Life.


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