Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Engaging Students with Constructivist Participatory Examinations in Asynchronous Learning Networks

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Engaging Students with Constructivist Participatory Examinations in Asynchronous Learning Networks

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION AND MOTIVATION

Examinations are regarded as a standard way to measure the mastery or achievement of education, and well designed examinations are a vital part of education assessment (Lowel, 1926). It has perplexed educators to find objective and creative ways to test students' knowledge that will add to learning rather than seeming like an unpleasant interruption, especially for courses that use pedagogy based on constructivist and collaborative or team-based learning. Traditional education is based upon the objectivist model of learning, which regards teaching as a process to transfer knowledge from the expert to the learner (Leidner and Jarvenpaa, 1995). Jonassen (1993) interprets this process as a mirror of reality rather than an interpreter of reality, so in a traditional examination, most students cram assiduously to memorize the course materials in preparation for examination questions designed by their instructors. Leidner and Jarvenpaa (1995) state that the traditional objectivist learning model often causes imperfect and incomplete knowledge transfer, so it is questionable whether the students really comprehend, retain and master the subject with the traditional examination preparation and assessment processes.

Currently, asynchronous learning networks (ALN) are the most prevalent use of information technology in the higher education field. This is a term used to describe instructor-led online courses that include extensive student-student as well as instructor-student communication, and are taught mainly on an "anytime, anywhere" basis, though most also include other media (e.g., synchronous chats, recorded lectures, limited face to face meetings, or computer-assisted modules such as tutorials or simulations). The pedagogical emphasis in ALN courses is typically collaborative or team-based learning. Considering only the higher education sector in the U.S., overall online enrollment in for-credit university courses exceeded 2 million students in 2005 (Allen and Seaman, 2005). Compared to a traditional classroom, accurate and appropriate assessment learning quality in the "virtual classroom" (Hiltz, 1994) is more complicated even with cutting-edge information technology support. For example, IT technologies can effectively support multiple choice type online examinations derived from surface knowledge of a specific subject. However, such memorization is not the objective of ALN courses, and in-depth research is needed to further understand the roles of instructors and students and the appropriate pedagogical assessment strategies for virtual learning spaces (Alavi and Leidner, 2001; Hiltz and Goldman, 2005; Benton 2007).

Our participatory examination research in ALN radically changes the roles of instructors and students as compared to traditional examinations, by shifting students from passive exam takers to active exam designers and judges. Our goal in designing the participatory examination is to motivate students' active engagement and deep learning in a virtual learning environment. The participatory examination transforms the traditional teacher-dominated exam process into a constructivist, cooperative and engaging learning experience. Students are authorized to participate in the entire exam life cycle including creating, grading as well as answering the exam questions, which all takes place in a virtual learning environment. Although each student individually answers his or her questions, all students in ALN can see the questions, answers and grading commentaries of others, thus fostering a collaborative learning environment.

There is a particular need to re-design the examination process in online courses, which emphasize self-paced learning, "deep" learning, and collaborative learning. Requiring students who are taking an asynchronous course online to travel to an examination site to take a timed examination in isolation from the rest of the class, for example, is contradictory to the pedagogical principles of effective online teaching (Alavi and Dufner, 2005). …

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