Final examinations are probably the single most important learning activity in a semester. A final exam presents an opportunity to consolidate a semester’s worth of activities into a cohesive summation of demonstrated student performance related to content, skills, or values. Yet the system used is often rigid, inequitable, and inefficient.
Most of the time, a fixed final exam schedule locks students into a system where the difficult exams fall on the same day—even back to back, with nothing the next day. After exams are over, students enjoy returning to their homes; but if they have an exam that falls during the last possible time, they have to stay for that one exam. All in all, the final exam system does not work for students. Instead, students conform to a schedule and “take their lumps” regarding timing and study.
“We knew there had to be a better way to accomplish this important assessment activity,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. John Brock. “At first,” he continued, “I shared my thoughts with the faculty about having an ‘open concept’ schedule. Ideally, finals exams could be taken during allotted days, and students could choose when they would study and take each exam. The spacing and timing would be up to the students, and when finished, they could leave.”
Sounds simple, right?
Concerns surfaced once the idea was on the table, explained Brock. Teachers give many different kinds of tests and opportunity for cheating may increase as students could pass on information to those who had yet to take the test. These logistics frustrated attempts to break the tradition of the existing system.
“Over the last few years, we periodically revisited the idea,” commented Brock. “There were suggestions for overcoming the challenges, but nothing could answer all of the issues. Most agreed the concept of open finals was good, but it seemed like an impossibility.”
Then technology came to the rescue. Maranatha Baptist University has acquired various pieces of technology to assist both its growing online offerings and its traditional on-ground offerings. This software, called a Learning Management System (LMS), facilitates many learning activities, including online testing. In addition, MBU has a number of well-equipped technology laboratories and an infrastructure that provides robust wireless access in classrooms.
Executive Vice President Dr. Matt Davis immediately saw the advantages of the open finals concept and set about to wed several new ideas and technologies together to make this dream a reality. Student government also sought ways to help by addressing the potential problem of testing integrity by crafting a new “Open Finals Honor Code,” which clearly defines expectations and penalties for violating the code.
Dr. Davis developed a system of proctors and access codes to ensure exam security. Class periods and locations were set aside to facilitate the limited number of skill and lab classes. A large room was set aside for “paper and pencil testing” (math, writing, etc.) and the rest of the classes (85%) were prepped for the online objective testing capabilities of the LMS.
Faculty produced all final exams in an online format to be ready at the beginning of the final exam period. Faculty and proctors were trained and checklists and procedures were refined. IT conducted a “dry run” to make sure the technology infrastructure backbone and bandwidth could handle the load. Classrooms were set up to provide a quiet (earplugs provided) and secure testing environment. When each student signed in for an exam, the honor code was displayed and affirmation made.
The first semester finals schedule resulted in a system that allowed students to take exams at the time and in the order they selected. Laura Wagner, a junior English Education major from Pennsylvania, echoed the overall sentiment of the student body when she shared, “I absolutely loved the new finals system! It is so convenient, especially for those of us with jobs on campus. It was also great to be able to space the finals out in the order that I wanted to take them and when I felt prepared for them. Thank you for implementing this. I really hope it stays because it was truly a blessing and was wonderful.”
Final exams are upon us once again at MBU. Though this time is stressful at best, we trust the open final exam system works for our students and promotes better study, preparation, and outcomes.