“. . . wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”1 —Thomas Jefferson, 1789
What can you learn about someone from their play? Quite a bit, we think. Games can be platforms that illustrate the relevance of many of the skills that are taught in school. Even better, they can be effective tests of many of the higher-order skills that are the most difficult to measure with traditional assessments. To top it all off, they can be highly engaging, which encourages learners to put in the time required to realize this potential.
One of the main objections to traditional approaches to assessment is the claim that the testing experience itself is an inherently flawed way to measure many important skills. For example, wouldn’t it be strange if the only thing you needed to do in order to become a dentist was to pass a multiple choice test? Wouldn’t we want to require prospective dentists to actually perform dental procedures before trusting them with our teeth? How about barbers, or bakers, or nurses, or teachers? In each case, there might be some aspects of the job that can be measured effectively with traditional testing approaches, but those approaches would have to be supplemented with an actual (authentic) display of the skill in question.
While multiple choice questions and other traditional question types are often very useful, they can feel artificial. When you’re taking them, you can always tell that you’re “taking a test,” and that process always feels different from anything you’d have to do outside of the testing environment. Complex question types address this problem by simulating the kind of task you would have to perform in a realistic scenario. In this way, they make assessment more proximate to the discipline while allowing learners to get instant feedback. For example, complex question types could ask you to:
Fill-in-the-blank questions are fundamentally different from multiple choice questions in that the examinee provides his or her own answer. This advantages and disadvantages of this question type spring from this essential feature, because coming up with something by yourself is fundamentally different from choosing one of the options that the test creator provides.