Dr. Crider on how the Epic Finale redefines the final exam

Posted on: November 3, 2014 | By: Casey Brown | Filed under: Instructional Technologies
Students show off the phones they used to record video during the exam.

Students show off the phones they used to record video during the exam.

The creation of a good exam is a tricky art. An exam should test students what they’ve learned, but it is hard to spice things up from the monotonous multiple-choice format. However, Dr. Tony Crider has found a way to test his students in a way that challenges deeper thought and ended with students standing, applauding and actually thanking him for the exam. This is the Epic Finale.

The key to the Epic Finale

Dr. Crider and his fellow teacher, Dr. Anthony Weston, developed an “epic finale” for the co-taught Honors Fellows seminar entitled Life in the Universe. The class, focusing on life and intelligence outside of Earth, discussed topics spanning from animal intelligence to nonverbal communication. For a class with such dynamic material, the professors wanted to evaluate their students’ learning in a deeper way.

“Having no complaints about your exam is a pretty low bar,” Crider said. “By the time the students are done with this exam, you have students applauding, hugging and thanking you for crafting such an experience for them. It was sign we had done something right. It was a great way to end the semester and a way to evaluate them in a deeper manner than multiple choice questions and essays.”

How did they do that? The pair tailor-made an exam to reflect the direction of the course and challenge the students to put their knowledge and thought processes to the test. During the first year, the exam started with a large black box (related to The Monolith from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey) in the middle of a classroom that students had to decode. Then, students were faced with three live chickens and the ethical dilemma of whether to eat barbeque chicken pizza in front of this “foreign race.” The second year, when the focus of the class was more on symbols, students had to analyze a series of images which directed them to go out in the community, take pictures and eventually hand them in to a pair of overlords.

MORE: To learn more about how the Epic Finale, check out Dr. Crider’s lecture about its conception and the first time it was used in the classroom.

How technology changed the game

With both exams, Dr. Crider and Dr. Weston wanted to remain hands-off and leave the process completely up to the students. The first year, the instructors stayed off site, leaving cameras to tape the students as they worked through the problem. While Dr. Crider liked that they as faculty remained uninvolved, he noticed the poor quality of the video and audio made it hard to grade students on an individual level.

A screenshot from the video camera used to tape the events of the first exam.

A screenshot from the video camera used to tape the events of the first exam.

To overcome this, the second exam invited students to make supplementary videos to show their individual work throughout the exam. This was particularly helpful when the exam required the students to go into the field. In this case, the students used the videos to show the discussions and thought processes they used while away from the classroom.

“We recorded tons of video,” Crider said. “The students could to submit other things to support their case for their grade. It was better than me trying to analyze who said what based on my own videos.”

Dr. Crider believes this inclusion of students’ own smartphone videos has been a benefit, because it allows the professors to create an even more creative exam. They were no longer tied to one space with a few, low-quality cameras.

“Of the current student population, ninety-nine percent of them have a smartphone; most of them have iPhones,” Crider said. “This means that as instructors, we can expect them to use GPS and capture quality video. The video I could capture with my own iPhone and the videos they took themselves were much better quality than those from the video camera.” 

Dr. Crider and Dr. Weston plan to do the course again in the spring of 2016, and want to continue exploring how technology to might allow their exams to go further. Dr. Crider believes this kind of vast, creative, interactive exam is the key to keeping physical presence on a college campus relevant in the technology age.

“This was a once in a life time experience for our students and we didn’t want them to be focusing on what their grade would be,” Crider said. “We wanted them to do the exam and experience the finale. That’s what we’re looking for. People ask what will happen in colleges when there are free online classes. This is one of the responses to that question. If you offer educational experience that cannot happen online, you’ll have students continue to come to college for a long long time. “


Do you have an interesting way to test students’ comprehension? Let us know in the comments below.


Opening image via Flickr user Anthony Crider / CC BY 2.0

Second image via Flickr user Anthony Crider / CC BY 2.0

Casey Brown

Casey Brown is the Writing Intern for Technology with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies Department.

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One response to “Dr. Crider on how the Epic Finale redefines the final exam”

  1. Highly Impressive points and useful thank you for sharing