Thursday, May 19, 2011

Charlie don't surf (but we think he should)

Here's an innovative testing idea from an undergrad professor that might make sense to adapt to the law school classroom. Rather than prohibiting students from web-surfing during exams and other graded assignments, instead make those assignments all about: 1. measuring their abilities to seek our reliable information on the web; and 2. then using what they find to solve problems posed by the teacher.  From Inside Higher Ed:

A Danish university has adopted an unusual strategy to tackle cheating: allowing unfettered internet access, even during examinations.

Lise Petersen, e-learning project coordinator at the University of Southern Denmark, said that . . . administering exams via Internet software would allow lecturers to create tests that were aligned with course content rather than "trivia" quizzes. Petersen added that, far from being a soft option, using the Internet as an academic tool was a challenge for most students because of the sheer volume of information available. "The skill is discerning between relevant and irrelevant information and then putting it in context," she said.

"What you want to test is problem-solving and analytical skills, and ... students' ability to reflect and discuss one particular topic," she said.

. . . .

Petersen said that another benefit of the new Web-based system was that a strict limit could be imposed on the length of work submitted by students. This would force them to rethink how they write and prevent them from copying and pasting from other sources, she said.

"We have had situations where students submit many pages and obviously they have been cutting and pasting from their notes." Peterson explained, "That’s perfectly legal but … if they can write only a few pages, they have to reshape and reform their notes to get to the answer."

While I like the idea of testing a student's ability to discern reliable web sources from unreliable ones, I'm also thinking it might be very difficult to design legal problems that would test those abilities. I say that because unlike researching a factual issue where, depending on the issue, there might significant amounts of material to wade through and assess, it seems to me that with a legal issue, determining the authenticity and reliability of statutes, cases, etc. is pretty self-evident.  Of course just sending students on a hunting expedition to find certain legal sources is a different type of skill that most of us already test. And this idea certainly would work well for teaching law students how to investigate and authenticate factual sources on the web.

Anyhow, if you'd like to check out the rest of the article, click here.


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