Lesson 1

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Lesson 5



Creating Distance Learning Courses

Exam Design Checklist

As you begin the process of finalizing your exams, keep the following points in mind, as they are important to your planning process:

Framing Exam Questions

Present your exam questions with an introduction that provides a framework joining learners' experience of the exam question to their experience of the same idea in the course materials. Write clear questions that will enable learners to organize and clarify for themselves their own understanding of the material; this should also allow them to make connections from one point to the next and to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts.

Consider the following question from the final exam for Speech Communication C102, Speech, the Individual, and Society, taught by distance learning instructor Gerry Philipsen:

"In Lesson Two, we studied several definitions, models, and perspectives on communication. Briefly describe the differences between three major perspectives on the study of human communication - the psychological, social constructionist, and pragmatic perspectives. In your answer, be sure to give examples from Frank Conroy's essay, Think About It: What We Know, and Don't. This question will be evaluated on your ability to discuss the uses of different definitions of communication employed by various models, how particular behaviors do or do not fit into particular models, and your ability to accurately use these key terms: communication, psychological perspective, social constructionist perspective, and pragmatic perspective".

This question allows learners to get right to the task of describing the differences between the three perspectives by reminding them of the context in which these perspectives were presented in the course materials. In Speech Communication C102, communication is a term with many definitions; this exam question locates the area in which students are to work with the term, preventing them from spending time wondering what definitions are wanted. Additionally, this exam question outlines what types of examples learners are to provide and states clearly the other key terms they are to employ in their answers.

Stating what the question is testing for not only helps learners understand what they are to do, but also lends a sense of wholeness to the course by making reference to the various skills they've acquired.

Stating What Constitutes a Satisfactory Answer

Let learners know what they need to do to successfully demonstrate their knowledge. An exam instruction to "define," "describe," "analyze," or "discuss" can leave them guessing about how long their answers should be or what specific components their answers should contain. Write clear instructions that state exactly how you want students to demonstrate their knowledge in a particular exam section.

The following example of exam instructions is also from Speech Communication C102:

"Part I: Definitions. Briefly define two of the three terms listed for each chapter section outlined. Your answers should consist of (1) one to five sentences defining the term and (2) at least two examples illustrating the term".

Sequencing the Level of Difficulty

Whether you are writing an exam for the sciences or humanities, sequencing questions in the order of those that use lower-level skills (e.g., recall and understanding) to those that use higher-level skills (e.g., synthesis, application, and evaluation) allows students to demonstrate how they are able to build upon fundamentals learned earlier in the course. This might mean moving from a fill-in-the-blanks exercise to short-answer questions to solving a hypothetical problem or writing an essay. Beginning the exam with questions that draw on skills learners are likely to have thoroughly mastered builds confidence, which will help them as they approach more challenging questions. You are therefore more likely to elicit answers that accurately reflect learners' knowledge, not their nervousness in an exam situation .

See the exams for German 102 and Geography 277 in the supplement to this guide for examples of exams that arrange questions in this way (Make link to .pdf of this or find online link).

Making Your Exams Additional Learning Experiences

Offering learners a new discovery process as they demonstrate the skills they have already practiced in previous assignments is another way to help students learn as much as possible from your distance learning course.

In her final exam, Carol Orlock, instructor for English 284, Beginning Short Story Writing, has learners complete an exercise called "Smoke" that prepares them for the primary task of the final - writing a short scene introducing a character. This exercise gives learners a chance to warm up to performing the larger creative task, and it helps them maximize their writing time by getting something down on paper immediately. The exercise also gives learners a tool to take with them into future writing situations. By incorporating the preparatory exercise and modeling what she expects learners to be able to do, Orlock makes this exam more interactive.

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