The Open-Note Final Exam in a Flipped Classroom

This past semester in my renaissance art class, students were allowed to bring their notes to the final exam.  Because this class was largely flipped, I decided to run the final exam as I would for in-class activities. Students could look at their notes or refer back to readings to prepare their answers. My hope was that the quality of their answers would be increase from past semesters.

There were only 3 questions on the final, one of which they knew ahead of time. The first two were unknowns, which are common on art history exams. I chose objects that I knew could relate to a lot of material we’d discussed over the semester and some of the big ideas that we’d been developing. I chose images that weren’t as obvious as ones that I might normally choose, specifically because I wanted students to struggle a little bit, to have to really think about what they were seeing, and to have to make specific choices around evidence to support their argument. They could turn to their notes for specific terminology or examples that they felt supported their claim. Their answers on the two unknowns were the best I’ve ever had.

The third question was an open-ended one, and the one that certainly required the most thought and time. I have students the remaining 90 minutes to write it. They also had the question ahead of time. “What is renaissance art?” They had to define it, discuss specific characteristics, elaborate on three examples that supported their point, and draw on 2 scholarly articles that we read during the semester. A seemingly simple question, but over the course of this semester we challenged older, more traditional ideas about the renaissance. We spent time looking at art made in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, as well as less-commonly studied objects (e.g. maiolica, wooden sculptures, decorative arts). We’d already attempted to answer this question several times during the semester, so it seemed a fitting way to cap the end of the semester, and to see where students positioned themselves.

Overall, my students did exceptionally well. I could see in their essays that most of them had put considerable effort into their definitions as well as the examples they chose. And they could turn to their notes to help them expand on their own ideas, their own positions. Many of the students even noted their earlier ideas as a way to position the evolution of their thinking about renaissance art. The open-note exam for this class proved to be a fitting way to end a flipped class. It was a win-win for everyone!


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