By Prof. (Dr.) Naveen Das ,Dean Academics & Dean School of Business & Economics, Adamas University
Examinations and grades are temporary, but education is permanent – says the learned. Yet, the word “Examination” evokes fear, anxiety and nervousness among students of all ages, who have dreaded, disliked, and even detested them, ever since Henry Fischel invented standardized assessments as proof of learning in the late 19th or early 20th century.
Open-book examinations (OBE), restricted or free-type, is one in which examinees are allowed to consult their class notes, textbooks, and other approved material while answering questions. Sometimes, it also allows students to be provided with examination questions prior to sitting the formal exam or to complete as a ‘take home’ examination, popular in some US universities. OBEs allay the fear, anxiety and nervousness to some extent.
Evolution of examination and assessment
In ancient India and China, assessments were holistic, whether administered on a well-equipped student leaving “Gurukula” to face vagaries of the world, or on an aspirant tested under the watchful eyes of Emperor Zhang of Hen before joining the elitist club of government officials. Somewhere, down the ages, the holistic nature of assessment gave way to the transactional examination.
Today, technological advancement has replaced traditional classroom/paper-based examinations with online one. Through collaborative of subject-matter experts, creators of online examination platforms with auto-evaluation features facilitating rapid result generation, the conduct of examinations has come a long way. This has also cut use of paper on question papers and answer scripts, thereby helping the environment in a big way. But, the issues with closed-book examination have largely remained unsolved.
Issues with current examination system
With the body of knowledge in any domain growing and changing faster than ever adding to the cognitive load, there is increasing need to concentrate education on competences. The traditional closed-book tests end up testing only memory and recalling abilities. Another challenge of traditional examination is low correlation between examination performance and future success of examinee. Research has found students subjected to open-book examinations acquired higher levels of learning motivation, and attainment.
Learning is seen as meaning-creation, and the teachers are seen as mentors who provide opportunities for the students to use their knowledge
Is OBE the solution?
An OBE has clear advantages. First, it does not rely on the power of memory and recall of students. Second, a student gets a second chance to learn, in case she had missed out earlier. Third, it enhances a student’s ability to retrieve the right information from different resources, to think critically, analyse objectively and apply skills in line with learning goals formulated. They also assess how students deliver well-structured and well-presented arguments and solutions, reflecting real understanding.
Votaries of OBE system claim that it brings about a fundamental change in attitude towards teaching and learning. It implies students understand concepts, and use them to solve problems, thereby learning how to apply what they have learnt. OBE also reduces the examination stress considerably and obviates cheating. But, the adoption of OBE has not been very encouraging due to some challenges in implementing OBE.
Challenges of an OBE system
In OBE, since the answers are not to be found easily, the challenge for students is what material to take to the examination hall. In fact, intelligent students with experience of OBE do not bother to carry anything. In addition, conducting such examination needs more desk-space and is time-consuming. Questions in OBE need to be devised to assess the interpretation and application of knowledge, comprehension skills, and critical thinking skills rather than only knowledge recall, making it difficult for teachers to set them. Even evaluation is time-consuming and demands more attention and hard work from teachers.
Advancements like smart classrooms and Learning Management Systems (LMS) have enabled teachers to conduct interactive learning sessions, share teaching-learning objectives, and also map students’ knowledge on known parameters. But, in a “digitally divided” world about half of the world’s population (some 3.6 billion people) still lack an internet connection, according to UNESCO. So, equitable education is a pipe-dream even now. Some purists also point out security and integrity of online examinations, in spite of remote proctoring and biometrics-based authentication features.
OBE can restore the true meaning of the word education for both teachers and students, if properly implemented. It will take some time and effort on the part of students and teachers to adapt themselves to the demands of OBE. But the changes will be inevitable. Till then, it is wise to use a mixed method of examination, more closed-book among primary and secondary students and more open-book among higher education students. Each type of examination helps develop different skill sets in the student.