What if every exam-based class in college started with the final exam?
Students would file into the lecture hall (or multimedia interactivity space) on day one and take the test. Their teacher(s) would then use the students’ responses to gauge – immediately and precisely – what kinds of prior knowledge and experience they’ve brought into the class. Meanwhile, students would encounter the learning goals of the course, having already seen what knowledge and skills would be needed to achieve those goals. No mystery, no doubt: students and teachers would know where they stand, and where they need to go.
Fast forward to the end of the semester: on the last day of class, the students would take the same test again. (Students with photographic memories aside, most would not remember the exact questions from the first time they took the test. And the exam could be constructed in such a way – using mostly essays, for instance – that remembering the questions would be the point.) Their teacher(s) could then do a before-and-after comparison of student learning to gauge whether the course had satisfied its learning goals. Each students’ progress would be apparent to both teacher and student. Grades could be determined on the basis of progress or standardized achievement. And teachers would have a fascinating body of data that they could use to tweak future iterations of the course.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to have this idea, but I haven’t heard of its application anywhere, either – with one exception. As Head TF of First Nights last semester, I had the opportunity to administer an ungraded, low-stakes version of this exact assessment. In the coming weeks, I’ll “publish” some of what I learned from this experiment. In the meantime, if you have experience with something similar, or have thoughts about its implications (positive and negative), please share!