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Letter to the editor

Online exams prove useful to students

April 13, 2012

I recently had the gratifying experience of taking a midterm exam for Art 213, an art history course skillfully taught by Kylee Spencer. First of all, it was wonderfully easy to do: I sat in my office at home and logged into Desire 2 Learn (D2L), where the test popped up and I activated the start tab to use my allotted 65 minutes to take the exam. When I got stuck in a term or name, I could switch over to Google and look up a detail. One might think, “That’s too easy! Who will learn anything when they can look up the answers?”

Well, I did, for one. Two things were gratifying about this experience. The amount of time I put into studying for the exam (about 4 hours) proved to be just about right in enabling me to finish answering the 60 questions in 40 minutes, leaving me time to check my responses and make sure they were completed and saved, and I would not have learned the material as well, not stored it in a longer-term memory bank had I not spent the hours that I did.

I call this gratifying because I spent a fair amount of time in my teaching career persuading students that exams were a good thing because they helped you learn. Lots of students remained skeptical. A lucky few have good reason to: the ones with those brains that hear or read something once and comprehend and store it automatically. But most of us need the studying process to scaffold that data and concepts onto structures that make sense to us and suit our retrieval mechanisms. Did I get a perfect score? No, I got five wrong. That’s the same as the number of classes I’ve missed-which corroborates another naggy teacher argument: going to class is a good thing.

Ruth Wood
Professor Emerita of English