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Technology and assessment

So this is a question that, to me, has an obvious answer but to others may seem a little complicated.  If you are a history major, you know your writing hand starts to tremble the second you walk into the room for your midterm or final: why?  It’s not because you don’t know what you are talking about.  It’s because it knows it has to write three essays in three hours and thus over 10 pages.  You’ve been doing calisthenics for the past week, trying to strength train your hand muscles.  Still, you know what is coming and mentally you are prepared, physically you are not.  My last history final of my undergrad days was three essays and 10 identifications in 3 hours… just because you went to Yale does not mean I am capable of your superhuman mental capabilities Dr. W!

Ok, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but essay exams still hurt!  And I find it so much harder to sit down and plan out an essay for a test by hand rather than on a computer.  What I mean is it’s way easier for me to organize my thoughts on a computer screen than in writing. 

So the question is, is it far to let kids use Microsoft Word for written assessments when possible?  I think so.  The point of assessment is not to punish but to give them the opportunity to succeed.  I know personally that the ligaments in my hands are too close, it makes writing for a long time painful, and I can’t hold a pencil the proper way (I also can’t snap my fingers, in case you were wondering).  My left hand has gotten better as I have learned to play the guitar, but my right hand, my writing hand, is still pretty weak.  Typing is sooo much easier for me.  Shouldn’t we give all students this option?  Sure there are issues, not every school has a computer lab.  Also, even if it does, it may be hard to reserve it.  And, how do you know they’re not using the internet to cheat?  Well turn the internet off!  I just know that my essays come out much better when I can type them.  My penmanship is lousy at best and so is my spelling.  Using Word, I can also format so you can tell when a paragraph ends and begins.  I can underline, bold, or italicize important parts of my essay, and I can easily delete parts that I no longer want- way better than the scribbly cross out or the erased, but not completely erased smudge of a pencil eraser. 

Pen and paper just seems outdated to me.  We have resources that can aid students’ work, why not let them use it?

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3 responses to “Technology and assessment

  1. Stephen Ransom ⋅

    Yes – once we have learned to hand write and have achieved an acceptable level of proficiency, one should be able to choose and use the tool that works best for him/her. I know my handwriting muscles have atrophied over the years and I would not like to write copious amounts of text without a keyboard and editing tools. Granted, in testing environments, there can be security issues to consider – such as Internet and bringing in files on USB drives, just to name a few. However, cheating has always been a problem for some, whether with paper/pencil, or electronic. Perhaps the issue may pertain to how we require students to demonstrate proficiency in a subject. If assessment involved more application rather than recall, it might be different. There’s certainly lots of advice to be found for those who want to cheat.

  2. adunn7

    In my 5+ years at Nazareth I have been continuously killing my writing hand to convey all of the knowledge in my brain about topics learned on final exams.
    This year was the first time I was able to use a computer and Microsoft Word on a final and it was WONDERFUL. I wrote 4 coherent, organized, relatively concise, single spaced pages without any spelling or grammar errors.
    The experience of writing the final was improved for me and the use of the computer helped me focus on conveying my ideas. I am inferring that the experience of reading and grading my writing was much more enjoyable for the teacher as well since I am the student who is constantly crossing out, rewording and going back to add more once I have finished. This way she was not bogged down in the trenches of my first draft either, the information was delivered to her in a more manageable way.

  3. cwirth5

    I think the only major exam where I was allowed to type out my responses was on my French Comps, and for that we had to do three essays in three hours and I still felt like I was racing to get it finished–I don’t know what I would have done had I been obliged to write it out by hand.

    Speaking of this, I took my French CST exam over the weekend and there was a speaking portion that I had to record onto a cassette tape. I was really surprised that they were still using tapes since there are a myriad other ways to record sound that could be transported more easily and cheaply than a cassette (since I assume they have to send the tapes to Albany). Maybe security reasons was why State Ed. hasn’t chosen to use some other means so record speaking samples for their exams.

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