The Paperless American Lit Final

 Last week I was able to give my first ever entirely paperless final. I’ve had 1:1 laptops in my room for four years, but the batteries were never strong enough to make it through two back to back two hour finals.  With new netbooks this year the paperless final became a possibility.

I was inspired by @TeachPaperless who shared his all digital Human Geography final in January. His approach was to have students complete a number of tasks and create a separate blog post to answer each task. My students haven’t used individual blogs this year, so I had them create a Google Presentation and use each slide as the answer to a different task.

I presented the tasks list to the students through the class blog and they responded by sharing an presentations with me in Google Docs.

This was my first time creating this type of assessment so I wanted to see what students retained from the semester, use a variety of question types, use a variety of technical skills and keep it interesting for all of us. The final product was a presentation of 15 slides covering ten assessed tasks. Sometimes two slides were necessary for the task. I did not count the title slide or the last slide.

Some questions required students to write original responses. Others asked students to find and paste in specific information or images along with citations or the URL. I told students that I would be happy to help them with technical issues, but that I could not answer questions about content.

Final exams tend to reinforce a grade that the student already has and I found that here too most of the time. Well prepared students who had studied and done the course work all along found that much of the content came easily to them and in some cases they were able to paste in answers on the final based on responses they had written earlier in the semester. Students who had struggled with the material struggled with the exam as well. But there was another group. Students who had not done much of the course work but still did quite well on the final.

There were 5-6 per class who did much better than expected. Perhaps they had studied hard in fear for their grade or perhaps the format of the final had something to do with their unexpected success.

The questions are posted on the class blog.
An exemplary product: (Published with student's consent)

The exam turned out to be more rigorous than I expected. Almost all students worked very intently on it for the full two hours. Few finished on time and many asked for extra time. Initially there was anxiety about some technical details.  I learned they need more practice adding images to slides during the year for example. But in the end only 2-4 students per class ended up with incomplete exams.

I would give a paperless final again. I think I would be more careful to ramp up the tasks. On this final too much of the difficulty came early on. I think that had to do with the chronological nature of the questions.  I would require more student writing, but also more opportunities for students to pull directly from their earlier work. 

Assessing the finals went more quickly than I expected. Many slides could be assessed with just a quick look. I assigned 1-5 points per slide and then added them up. The trick was communicating the grade to the student.  I ended up using the speaker notes on the first slide to enter a grade, but I had not told my students that I would be doing that. So, they probably don't know where to look. These are things I'll be able to tell them about before hand next time.

One more great example: (Also published with student consent.)