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Open Web Examination – OWE

November 14, 2018

Some thought experiments.


Revisit one of your recent examination papers. Make just one change to the rubric – “Students will have full access to the World Wide Web during this examination.” (Assume, at least for now, that they will still handwrite their answer.)

How would the nature and quality of students’ answers be different from the actual answers they wrote? Why?


You might want to narrow things down a little. You might want to ban the use of email and other forms of communication, within / outside the examination room. You might or might not want to let students access their Dropbox folder, or the University VLE. Your call. (Why did you make the choices you made?)

What differences would this additional item of rubric make? What would be gained, what would be lost, what would be?


Use the results of thought experiment 1 to plan the next examination, in the same subject, with the same new rubric – “Students will have full access to the World Wide Web during this examination.” What difference will that make to the questions you set? What would be a good Open Web version of last year’s questions? Or would you need to set radically different questions? What questions? Why?


Changing the exam without telling the students at the start of the course would obviously be wrong. So, assume that you have decided to set an Open Web Examination in this subject next time. First of all, whom if anyone would you have to persuade? What objections might they raise? How would you respond to these objections?  What concerns might you have? What are your responses to these concerns?


Assume that you have decided to set an Open Web Examination in this subject next time, and have obtained any necessary permissions.

How will the change to an Open Web Examination affect:

  • The design of the course?
  • The Intended learning outcomes?
  • The assessment criteria?
  • The way you teach the course?
  • The kinds of learning activities, both individual and collective, that you ask students to undertake?
  • The kinds of feedback they receive on their work?
  • The information and advice you give them on finding and sharing and using information?

In each case, again, why?


Jump forward a few years. Assume that the University has been using Open Web Examinations for the last few years, certainly all the time your current cohort of students has been at the University. Imagine announcing to them that you, are going to change to closed book examinations. What reactions would you anticipate? What questions would you expect to receive about the change? How would you answer these questions?


Imagine that, instead of handwriting their answers, students can word process their answers onto the same machine they are using to access the Web. Again, how do you think colleagues and students will react? Again, what changes would this make to the kinds of questions you ask, and to the way that you plan and run the course and teach the students? (One interesting side-effect would be to make plagiarism detection easier. It is difficult to run a hand-written examination script through Turnitin.)


You might want to go even further. Imagine students can communicate with each other, inside and outside the examination room. What differences would that make?


These thought experiments, these scenarios, obviously clarify differences between the conditions under which students are required to demonstrate some of their graduateness and the conditions under which, in the real world (including Universities), academic and professional work is done, with access to libraries, the web, email, interchange, conversation, feedback. Articulating these differences may encourage us to revisit conventional examination conditions, and check their continued appropriateness as part of certification for life and practice in the 21st century.

The scenarios draw attention to some of the capabilities that we do not assess – in the examination, at least, we may examine them elsewhere.

They suggest to me that closed book examinations show a sustained belief in the importance of memory, even in an age where we increasingly outsource our memory, though hopefully not our critical faculties. Thinking about Open Web Examination may encourage us to think hard about relations between knowing and doing in an age where both knowledge and action are changing faster than ever.

In a little more detail – Open Web Examination invites us to focus more closely on what students can do with, and to, what they know. It also invites us to focus on how they do what they do: For example, as we fervently hope, in ways that are critical, reflective, scholarly, principled, and values- and research-informed. In the good senses of both words, to act both academically and professionally.

Open Web Examination – OWE – also, Open World Examination.

What would it take for you to bring these OWE thought experiments to life? Again – what would be gained, lost, changed?



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One Comment
  1. All this is quite valuable information, why did you come to this?

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