Open Ended Questions

In the past couple of weeks I’ve come across some blogs/articles that talk about open ended questions on physics tests. A great example of this can be found here at Physics! Blog! I think the idea behind this is to allow the student to showcase everything that they’ve learned and demonstrate a deeper understanding of the topic by applying their knowledge. I think this would correspond about 1/2 way up the cognitive domain in Blooms Taxonomy.

According to the examples that I’ve seen, I’m not sure if a higher level of thinking is happening with the students when they answer the open questions. I certainly think that there is the potential for a student to take each question to a level of analysis and evaluation, and it looks like this is the intention. However, when I look at the results from the students, I don’t see it. The answers look like a brain dump, a type of brainstorm. This is interesting in itself and not something to be dismissed. When done correctly, it demonstrates a level of comprehension of the physics material at a very satisfactory level.

My hunch is that the open ended questions are not necessarily eliciting the most from students though. There is a very big difference from doing a brain dump as opposed to a brainstorm. A brain dump to me is just a massive regurgitation of knowledge. On the other hand, I would argue that intelligent brainstorming involves very high orders of cognitive thinking, perhaps it relates to creativity on Blooms Taxonomy. I say “intelligent” brainstorming because brainstorming also consists of “any thought that pops into your head, there are no wrong answers.” In other words, blind guesses are a type of brainstorming too.

When I look at the big picture of the open ended question, I therefore have a somewhat cautious feeling. I love how it allows the students to really showcase what they know, and gives them opportunities to show a breadth of knowledge. On the other hand, I also very much appreciate the idea of an “elegant solution.” Perhaps there is an opportunity to take open ended questions and follow up with a corollary question such as, “what do you think is the best way to solve for xxxxxxxxxx or determine yyyyyyyyyy?” In any case, I hope to try and use this type of questioning at some point in the future.