Should they Know it in 20 Years?

A couple of weeks ago, I started a blog post recalling a course that I once took as part of my Masters degree. The 1992 course was about developing applications using dBase (look it up). The buzz in tech circles at the time was about Gopher, Veronica, FTP, and something brand new called the World Wide Web. The course was mostly programming – and I loved it. I suspect that many of my classmates (mostly educators in the same degree program) were not so thrilled nor the least bit interested in programming.

The gist of this story concerns the final exam.  A couple of weeks before the end of the semester, I sent an email to the professor suggesting that real programmers, as they worked, almost certainly did not rely on memory alone. They had reference books open on their desks so that they could look up various obscure coding options and syntax that might help them solve problems peculiar to the task at hand.

“Shouldn’t we be tested the same way, with the book open on our desks?”

He bought it, announcing at our next class meeting that, “Thanks to Mr. Warlick’s suggestion,” the exam would be open book. “Cheers!” He added that he was changing the exam appropriately. “Silence.” I suspect that some of my classmates felt more confidence with the memory of the solutions to problems they had studied.

I got my “A.”  But it occurs to me now that the difference between the exam given and the one intended, was that we ended out not being tested on what we knew – that is to say, just what we’d been taught.  Instead, it tested us on what we could do with what we’d learned.

I initially intended for this story to promote open book or open content learning. But I want to come at this from a different angle, owing partly to several pre-Educon blog articles I’ve recently read.  You see, if I were to take the originally planned dBase test today, under the originally intended conditions (memory only test), then I would fail it miserably — and I would probably be none-the-worse for the knowledge I’d lost.

However, if I were to sit down and take the test the professor actually administered, with appropriate reference materials available to me, I would probably do respectably well — even 20 years later.

My point is this. What should we, as educators, really care about? Is it just what students can recall at the end of the year or the course? or is it what they can do and whom they will be 20 years later?

If it’s the long haul that we are about, then I wonder, as we write our final exams for the students in our class – or end-of-year state tests, shouldn’t we be willing to ask ourselves, “Can I reasonably expect these children to be able to pass this test 20 years from now?”

If the honest answer is, “No!” then we’re just playing a game.

 

…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.