A look at lecturing: The future of examinations

Exam time is stressful for the students and docents alike. Whether they are written exams, oral ones or some other form of work, they all have their advantages and disadvantages for both sides. But how will they change in future? Do we really want to let students learn books by heart and how will the examinations purpose change in the future?

As having given lectures, I was also requested to take exams at different stages of the students career. I personally prefer oral exams, as it is often possible to make an exam fairer for the students. But when there are too many or other reasons like lecture layout requires it, written ones are a acceptable alternative. What students prefer depends, some like more the written ones, others the oral ones. Every student is different and as in lecturing, docents have to adapt for this fact.

But in recent years, compared to the times I wrote my student examinations, many changes happened in the study environment. Digital media allows to do alternative learning, like never before. Digital technology allows to have information at your fingertips at every time and without notice from your surrounding. And changed study systems have increased the amount of exams, tried to standardise them and lead to ever more learning for exams instead of for life. These challenges are our daily business and under the pressure to offer more individualised learning, everybody sits in the same boat.

So how will examinations look in future? A hard question to answer, like every forecast it is poised with huge uncertainties. But one thing is for certain, they must change. The most important change goes along the change whole lectures have to do, away from knowledge learning, to learning for methods and abilities. It certainly helps to have the knowledge as a background, but in a digitalised environment, it cannot anymore the sole aim of a class. Exams are under even more scrutiny, because pure knowledge exams won’t work anymore in a few years. All required information for such an exam are nowadays available in a size of a watch. In a few years, they might be small enough to fit into the ears or glasses without being noticed by anybody. At this point, even strip-searching wouldn’t help to prevent cheating. Forbid the use of technology will be useless and as a consequence, pure knowledge exams will get extinct.

Therefore, we will have to ask us what will be the future use and aim of exams. How can we ask students tasks, which help them in learning, but also are still a test for their abilities. Oral exams might survive a bit longer, as it is harder to cheat in them than in written exams. But even there technology will offer opportunities to do it and exams like essays, theses or home-works are already a main target for cheating students all around the world (ghostwriter, plagiarism etc.).
A radical idea would be to evaluate how good students are able to cheat. By simply allowing every available technology, it might be an idea to overcome the problem. Make the tasks as hard as possible and see how far everyone gets. But do we really want that exams become a technology race? What will be the consequences? Will students with a richer background will get even more advantages than those of poorer ones? No, it cannot be the solution.

We will have to work on crating a fair playing field for everyone, adapt our strategies from year to year and be up to date on the technology sector, because it is clear, that students will always be better educated in the current technologies than their teachers.

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