Teaching Without Tests

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Teaching Without Tests

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Last week I read an interesting blog by Jane who is "an assistant professor in a computing field." Jane has decided not to use the typical small number of high stakes tests that are common in university level computing courses. She is using only projects in her advanced level courses. In her intro course she has gone to weekly quizes. I think she is on to something here. This quote made a lot of sense to me.

So I thought, why not use an evaluation model that reinforces the idea that learning CS is a gradual process in which topics build on previous topics. Quizzes seemed better suited for that.

In computing courses, even more so then in many other courses, you have to build from one concept to the next. Math tends to be like this but often a lot of the social sciences are not so dependent on this.

Jane also lists some good things about weekly quizes vs. tests:

1. It's easier to make up one question at a time than 5-6 in one sitting.
2. It's easier to focus on one particular concept in each quiz.
3. It's easier to remember how I covered a concept in class and structure the quiz questions accordingly.
4. Oddly, grading has been easier. Mentally, I find myself saying "hey, they're only quizzes, so I'll just sit down and grade them and get it over with". And even though I love asking open-ended questions, I've found that I can grade them pretty quickly.
5. Students are much less stressed about the weekly quiz than they typically are about tests.

My experience is that there is less difference between college freshmen and high school seniors than we'd often like to think. So I think that a lot of what Jane says here should logically work with high school seniors. And perhaps even more so with younger students. What do you think? Are a few large scale tests better at evaluating students or would weekly quizes be the way to go?

  • Personally I believe that this method is superior. I remember when I was in college that I retained more information from the Professors who taught using this method. I always knew where I stood in the class and where I could improve upon. I personally felt more relaxed and when I was more relaxed I retained more of the material.

    You should check out the work by Dr. Grandon Gill and what he is doing at the University of South Florida. It is interesting work.

    Check out http://2005papers.iisit.org/I17f83Gill.pdf

    I worked with Grandon on this course as a teachers assistant and know the difficulty of teaching this subject to any college student.

    Anyways I hope this comment helped a bit.
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