Piaget and Cooperative Exams

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) argued that when a learner encounters a new thing that their current explanatory schemes cannot explain, the existing schemes will change – and often times it’s changed incorrectly. (Loosely paraphrased) In a nutshell, this is why I champion group learning AND cooperative exams.

I took an EdX course on Deep Learning and Transformative Pedagogy. The big thing I brought away from that course is “fear learning”. When we learn something when stressed or fearful, it’s very effective – but almost completely immalleable. When students are exposed to a new exam question, they will use what they know and do their best to interpret the question. When I see groups attempt the 2nd stage of a 2-stage exam, they come together with preconceived notions of what that question is asking and it’s difficult to overcome that. The stuck is hard to unstick during a high stakes event.

In 2017, I began giving cooperative assessments as part of our large introductory biology course. These were very successful but relied on a large learning theatre that I no longer have access to. I’m forging ahead regardless as I return to first year biology next term – I will need to re-think how to do these exams in a standard lecture theatre, but I’m full of hope!


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