“Rethinking assessment in a digital time.”

“For exams, is using the internet considered cheating?” I wrote this article published by KQED in 2012. That was the year the Ministry of Education and Research in Norway initiated pilot projects using the internet during examinations. The aim was to make the examination content more like the task-solving work students encounter in the workforce. The exam questions were designed so that students could not simply search for facts on the net and reproduce these. Discussions were many. In my county, teachers were worried that students would communicate with parents, relatives, or friends who were ready and able to answer the exam questions for them. And some of the students were reluctant to use online sources because they had been so overly cautioned about where to search and what to use that they were afraid of being accused of cheating.

Why wouldn’t we encourage our students to find information outside the classroom? The world is constantly changing, and keeping up with the most critical new content in any high school subject is complex. Imagine writing about global challenges like famine, drought, or global warming without looking up facts and numbers. If communication and collaboration are valued 21st-century skills, it will not be possible to hone these skills unless exams are changed in radical ways.

We have luckily moved on since 2012. How to find useful and reliable information online is on the curricula today. And in Norway, using the internet during exams is no longer a pilot project. That said, the number of exams remains low. Only seven exams in Norway allow open internet access. I wish there were more. How about other countries? Denmark, a model for Norway in 2009, changed their approach in 2017 when restrictions were reintroduced in order to prevent cheating. Countries that did pilot tests, the Netherlands, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland, are no longer allowing the use of the internet during national examinations in upper secondary school. Their view is that it is too difficult to manage the exam situation in an open environment. Only Norway, it seems, still sees the advantages here.

One would think this might change now. Since the pandemic, most teachers have had to open up for assessments at home, a so-called “open book testing.” This is much more aligned with the way we learn outside school. Therefore, the argument should is no longer be if using the internet is considered cheating, but if we can see evidence of more learning and better results when students can access material outside the classroom.

It is my belief that opening up, using sources outside the classroom will add to the learning and the understanding of the world outside. In Norway, we started revising our subject curricula in august 2020. It involves Primary, Lower Secondary, and Secondary Education. Priority is to be given to three interdisciplinary themes: democracy and citizenship, sustainable development, and public health and wellbeing. Many of these priorities can not be assessed by traditionally multiple-choice tests nor by answering specific questions. Students need to discuss important issues outside the classroom. Gaining knowledge about democracy means modeling it in the classroom, and digital citizenship is about making your community better and respectfully engage with people who have different beliefs from yours—encouraging students to shape and change public policy and recognize the validity of online sources of information.

“Students are more engaged in their learning when they have ownership over it, and they take ownership when they’re given the opportunity to discover the answers themselves.” Edutopia. We need to move away from classrooms with summative assessments with pre-prepared correct answers. Only summative assessment after specific material is “covered” is not a good way to ensure that every student has a chance to learn the material. “Year-end tests are autopsies, not assessments. They explain what went wrong after it is too late to change course”. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo in leveraging leadership.

if we model the way we work, like asking a colleague to look over your writing or working in teams to find the best solutions, we are on to a good start. In a digital classroom, this is easy. We have many digital tools that can help us here. My favorites are peer assessment, writing blogs for a larger audience, and digital portfolios to monitor how the students are progressing in their learning. When you involve the students in their education, giving them the option to show what they know, when, and how, they will be more engaged and interested. You can easily do this using learning management software to track competency goals for improvement. Let the students decide when they want to present their learning goals, not the calendar. Flexibility and cooperation between teachers and students are keywords here.

Factbox Norway’s use of the internet during exams.

The pilot project started in 2012. In 2015, 56 schools participated in 8 different exams.

Students; 94 % were positive and found it beneficial because they could double-check facts and use statistics. Students positive experiences varied between exams. Internet was helpful when they needed facts about the latest news, in subjects like International English, English social studies and politics and human rights. Some students worry that they will spend too much time online and that stresses them.

Teachers,  2 of 3 teachers thought the use of the internet during exams is positive because it models how they work in the classroom. Teachers were overall positive, but some were skeptical of the students’ use of sources.

The evaluations showed no significant effect on the students’ grades.


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