Every semester, when the exam is quickly approaching, students always ask for a study guide. In one instance, the course was an introductory general education class with a lot of terminology being introduced. I decided to have the students work together to make their own study guide. That guide would ultimately form the basis for their exam.
- Create a collaborative spreadsheet. Because the class enrollment of my course was large (50-75 students) and the classroom was not designed for group work, I used the collaborate functionality of a spreadsheet from Google. The students were provided with a link to the document a couple of weeks before the test was to be given. I explained that I wanted a total of 75 terms by a certain date. They were responsible for posting three concepts from the textbook and providing a definition or explanation for each in their own words. These words could be added to the list or replace those already present. In this way, the students could influence what was on the test. Since there were more than 50 students in the class, there was a lot of shuffling of terms going on.
To encourage participation from all, I told them that if I did not get the prescribed number of terms, I would add the hardest and most confusing concepts to the list myself. I need not have worried; the number was reached more quickly than I predicted. Words were added and dropped, only to be put back on. I could see from tracking the revision history that most of the class was involved in these “negotiations,” suggesting an engagement not seen in other courses.
The advantage to a spreadsheet is that students have access to the file on any computer and at any time. The program allows concurrent edits, so if more than one student is accessing the file at the same time, they will see a different colored cursor adding test even as they do so themselves. There is a “revision history” button that can help undo any accidental deletions. By setting the access of the file so that anyone with the link could edit, the students did not need an account. The program is free and does not require installation on a machine to use.
- Set a deadline. A week before the exam, I halted their editing privileges. They could still see the file, but they could no longer make changes. This list of terms and definitions that they thought were the most important to know became their study guide. It also formed a significant portion of their test.
- Create study guide/exam. After checking the spelling of the terms and the accuracy of the definitions, I copied the file into a word processing document, hid the definitions from the terms I wanted to use, added numbers and additional open-ended questions, and had an exam that was more than a fair evaluation of student knowledge.
In the end, the students learned more from creating the guide than they ever would have if I made it for them, and they were engaged in the process of studying. In one evaluation of the course, a student wrote, “The exams were very fair and covered the right material … Loved that they were student directed.” Another said, “I’m not a big fan of rote memorization, but I liked how the exams were set up and how we got to basically make the tests.” They became stakeholders in their education, deciding as a whole what was important to learn and then using what they made to document their understanding of the material.