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Research and Teaching: Assessing and Refining Group Take-Home Exams as Authentic, Effective Learning Experiences

Journal of College Science Teaching—May/June 2015

The learning goals of a lower division honors course, Science as a Way of Knowing, include critical thinking, scientific literacy, quantitative reasoning, communication, and teamwork. To help students develop skills and competencies for the course learning outcomes, we used a case study and developed scaffolded activities and assignments that targeted discipline-relevant tasks, for example, primary literature search, evaluation of source credibility, hypothesis construction, data interpretation, and restatement of scientific content into lay terminology. We then implemented group take-home exams, which feature rigorous, open-ended questions in authentic contexts, requiring students to apply knowledge and competencies cooperatively to new situations. Data from five semesters show that, in comparison to traditional exams, many students feel that group take-home exams reduce test anxiety, foster interpersonal skills, are more rigorous, and better enable them to apply and synthesize knowledge and deepen their comprehension of the subject matter. Our study augments research on group exams that use an open-ended response format.
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