An Experiment in Testing Digital Literacy

As I mentioned previously on my blog, this semester I tried something different in my class on the Bible. Rather than focus on recall and testing memorization, I focused on the ability to identify reliable sources of information. And so the final exam allowed them to use computers and presented them with questions that we had not addressed directly that semester. They had the usual two-hour exam period to answer one question (as well as a few short-answer questions). The following were the essay-type questions for the final exam, from which students had to choose and answer one of them:

(1) What historical evidence is there for King David?
(2) What did Jesus mean by “the kingdom of God”?
(3) Who wrote the Book of Revelation?
(4) How might a historian answer the question “Was Jesus illegitimate?”
(5) Where do historians believe it is most likely that Jesus was born?
(6) Are Acts 15 and Galatians 2 describing the same event?

As I predicted, students who chose #4 found my article on the topic. On the whole, they seem to have done a good job of finding scholars as sources, including books on Google Books as well as articles via library databases as well as the wider web.

Before giving the exam I actually did a test run myself, to make sure that the questions I asked were ones about which it was relatively straightforward to find reliable information. Obviously at a more advanced level it might be appropriate to ask questions for which finding reliable information is more challenging.

The only major hiccup we encountered was that our media services department failed to deliver the scheduled cart of laptops on time. But apart from that, things went fairly smoothly.

What do you think of this approach to exam-taking, as a way of testing different skills than traditional exams?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Keith Reich

    I'm curious, what did you actually require the students to turn in? Did they have to provide the answer and the source? Did they have to provide multiple sources knowing that scholars differ on some of these issues? In general i like this idea for exams.

  • James F. McGrath

    I had them type their answers in a Word document. I advised them to at least copy and paste the web address of any sources they used into the document as soon as they used them – they could then go back and fill out the biographical details if there was time.In the two "research reports" they had to write earlier in the semester, I specifically gave them the task of figuring out what the consensus is (if there is one) in various areas, and why. I think that makes more sense at this introductory level than getting them to jump right into drawing their own conclusions before they've understood what most scholars think and why.My overall impression is that it went well, focused on crucial skills for the present day, and was in some ways less stressful for students than more traditional exams tend to be.

  • Pro. M. Washburn

    I have been doing this in my midterm/final exams since I turned paperless and required every student to bring laptop. I allow them to consult not just their tbasic extbook (which is also online) but also to make use of the web as long as they cite reliable sources. I do not limit them to their textbook but encourage them to explore and find other views than those espoused by the authors of their textbook.