Assessing and refining group take-home exams as authentic, effective learning experiences
Johnson, Corey M.
Green, Kimberly A.
Anelli, Carol M.
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The learning goals of an honors course, “Science as a Way of Knowing,” include critical thinking, scientific literacy, quantitative reasoning, communication, and teamwork. As a direct measure of student attainment of these goals, we implemented group take-home exams, for which students performed authentic, discipline relevant tasks, e.g., primary literature searching, hypothesis construction, data interpretation, and restatement of scientific content into lay terminology. To develop these skills, students completed a series of “scaffolded” activities and assignments. As indirect measures of performance and attitudes, we scored students’ responses on pre- and post-course questionnaires, post-exam self and peer performance forms, and end-of-course evaluations. Data from five semesters show that, in comparison to traditional exams, many students felt that group take-home exams reduce test anxiety, foster interpersonal skills, are more rigorous, and better enable them to apply and synthesize knowledge and deepen their comprehension and relevance of the subject matter. Owing to group dynamics, some pitfalls might occur, which can be avoided proactively. Based on our assessment and student performance, we conclude that group take-home exams can serve as powerful, authentic learning experiences. Our study augments research on group exams that utilize an open-ended response format.